By Lowell Wolfe
On the edge of Superior, a small but nevertheless important operation keeps its engine running every day of the week.
Hallett Dock 8 LLC, a subsidiary of EnviroTech Services Inc., helps ensure that streets across the Midwest are clean and safe. As ships and barges bring salt, liquid calcium chloride and limestone into the Twin Ports, the team at Hallett Dock 8 unloads these materials and puts them out to trucks, which transport these de-icing and anti-dusting materials across the Midwest.
Hallett Dock 8 began originally as one of three docks in the Twin Ports under the Hallett name, along with Hallett Dock 5 and Hallett Dock 6. Established in 1961 as part of the Ernest W. Hallett’s Hallett Dock Company, the Dock has received, stockpiled, screened and shipped bulk and liquid materials for a little more than 60 years. However, in 2019 Hallett Dock 8 left the Hallett Construction Company umbrella when it was purchased by EnviroTech, a Colorado-based corporation specializing in soil stabilization products such as de-icing and dust control solutions.
“We’ve been doing our liquids through Hallett Dock 8 for many years, so we’ve had that relationship,” said Amanda Kyander, the EnviroTech Midwest Operations Manager. “The owner of Hallett Dock Company was looking at selling the businesses on Hallett Dock 5 and Hallett Dock 8. So, we were interested in Hallett Dock 8 due to the liquid side of things because we didn’t want to lose out on that storage.”
For those working at the dock, though, little has changed since the acquisition. With an average of 120 to 150 trucks coming in and out of the facility every day, and between 10 to 20 barges and large maritime vessels stopping at the dock every year, the small team of scale and machine operators at Hallett Dock 8 are always busy with something. They can store up to 150,000 tons of salt on the site.
“The liquid side of things [products] come from the Michigan area, and then the salt comes from mostly Canada. We have various customers in Minnesota, in the Dakotas and sometimes we don’t know the final destination because the customers are set up through suppliers that have the salt.”
– Amanda Kyander, EnviroTech Midwest Operations Manager
“I’m dispatching trucks, I’m taking care of customers’ orders, that kind of thing. I manage the trucks for Wisconsin and Minnesota delivering salt,” said Julie Porter, the scale house weight master at Hallett Dock 8. “In the off-season, we do calcium chloride.”
Porter has more than 30 years of experience under her belt running the scales at Hallett Dock 8. She looks back upon the old management fondly, but she also has nothing but gratitude for EnviroTech.
“My job pretty much stayed the same. It’s just working for a big company instead of a little company. But EnviroTech’s been very good to us,” said Porter. “Nobody works on the water in this company but us at Hallett 8, so they’re not familiar with what we do. And I think that’s why they kept Hallett employees. That was part of the transition, too. That was part of the deal. But we know how to run the business because we’ve been doing it for so long, so we’re teaching them what we do. […] Nobody has really changed my job because I’ve been doing it for so long that is what we do, and they’re saying, ‘We’re staying out of your way’.”
Indeed, the Hallett Dock 8 team is made up of only 10 employees – a small fraction of the entire EnviroTech corporation, which employs more than 100 workers. For folks like Porter, Hallett Dock 8 is a small, local pocket of the world. Still, ships come from all over the place, shipping salt they put onto trucks that likewise travel to many different corners of the Midwest.
“The liquid side of things [products] come from the Michigan area, and then the salt comes from mostly Canada,” said Kyander, the EnviroTech Midwest Operations Manager. “We have various customers in Minnesota, in the Dakotas and sometimes we don’t know the final destination because the customers are set up through suppliers that have the salt.”
With their products coming and going across such large distances, it is no surprise that EnviroTech administrators such as marketing manager Amber Irsik can reflect upon the worldliness they feel when seeing operations at the dock.
“Watching them load the trucks and just the sheer size of some of those machines is phenomenal. When you see it in person, you’re up close, and it’s fascinating. It just reminds you that there’s a big world out there and there’s big machines that go with it,” said Irsik.
One such big machine made its debut at Hallett on September 6, 2022. The Mark W. Barker, a 639-foot Great Lakes bulk carrier built by The Interlake Steamship Company, unloaded 23,000 tons of Cargill road salt at Hallett as part of the trip’s inaugural journey on the Great Lakes and its first delivery to the Twin Ports.
However, running a tight ship at the dock is far from easy. For example, winds off the lake can endanger the stability of tarps securing stored salt, exposing the product to unwanted moisture. According to mandates by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation under Trans 277, highway salt must be secured under a tarp to prevent its unwanted contact with the environment. On a lakeshore, this can be difficult.
“Tarping is not an easy job on those piles. They’re 30,000 tons, and it’s a challenge to get those covered,” said Kyander. “You need a lot of manpower to be able to strap that tarp and put the sandbags where they need to be and everything else.”
Recent storms and bouts of inclement weather in the Twin Ports and other parts of the Midwest also have made it difficult for the workers to complete their orders.
Another challenge – one far more unusual – is actually a source of comedic relief for the dock workers: nosey wildlife inhabit the woods surrounding Hallett. Occasionally, they like to make their presence known.
“Watching them load the trucks and just the sheer size of some of those machines is phenomenal. When you see it in person, you’re up close, and it’s fascinating. It just reminds you that there’s a big world out there and there’s big machines that go with it.”
– Amber Irsik, EnviroTech marketing manager
“When I was doing a barge one night, there was a bear on the scale. I tried to chase it down and get a good picture,” said dock technician Jeff Sell. “Bears, coyotes, wolves, deer. They feel they’re safe here.”
And yet it’s easy to understand why any creature, human or otherwise, might want to take a stroll down to Hallett to see what’s going on. Though the work is hard, and much of it is performed outdoors in rough conditions, no one complains. They have nothing but love for Hallett.
“It’s cool to work off of a huge lake and to be able to watch them on the vessels and transfer materials from down on Lake Superior all the way. I just like working with the people,” said Kyander.
And the employees aren’t the only ones who walk away from Hallett satisfied. Salt is in hot demand for EnviroTech customers, and Hallett employees are efficient about loading trucks and shipping them out.
“We’re generating a lot of business for a lot of people right now. That’s good. That’s important. They sure like to come to this dock because we get them out of here fast,” said Porter. “Our guys are pretty good about staggering lunches. We’re trying to keep things rolling all the time, so there isn’t a lot of standstill time.”
Even in the springtime off-season, when the demand for salt dies down and ships still are not stationing at the dock, there’s always something to do.
“We got a scale that’s just a mud hole half the time around here that we got to keep up. There’s maintenance and there’s always something when you have that much traffic,” said Sell.
Regardless of what time of year it may be, or whether there be snow, ice, rain or dust on the ground, it’s safe to assume that the team at Hallett Dock 8 will be busy. PS
Lowell Wolfe is a freelance writer and journalist from Duluth, Minnesota.