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DULUTH — Two hundred containers of kidney beans are being loaded on an ocean-going vessel and will leave the Port of Duluth-Superior this weekend, marking the return of container shipping at the United States' westernmost inland port.

Until recently, container shipping on the Great Lakes was restricted to the Port of Cleveland, limiting importing and exporting opportunities for this region. Duluth Cargo Connect worked to reverse the Department of Homeland Security's ruling and open Clure Public Marine Terminal to the popular way of transporting freight.

The Port of Duluth-Superior said last fall that it would open to containers, and be able to handle a larger volume from international vessels.

Twenty-foot containers of legumes from Menomonie, Wis.-based Chippewa Valley Bean, loaded onto the general cargo ship Nunalik, are bound for what's expected to be a 14-day trip from the Clure Terminal to Europe, where the beans will be delivered to several countries.

It's speedier than what the company has seen recently.

"This last number of months we've fought our way through supply chain issues and have had extreme difficulty in trying to deliver product to our customers in Europe," said Cindy Brown, president of Chippewa Valley Bean. "This is just really a saving grace for us."

The company exports 70% of its product and had been shipping from Montreal — until it faced a strike at the port, shipping congestion and stalled railways. In February 2021, the company loaded a container that didn't land on a vessel until June.

"That's a long time for a product to sit in the middle of the U.S. waiting to find its way someplace," she said.

Clure Terminal has been limited to container shipping by rail and by truck. The addition of the maritime elements broadens capabilities for Duluth Cargo Connect — a partnership between the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, which owns Clure, and Lake Superior Warehousing, which operates the terminal.

"We're always seeking to enhance and increase cargo diversity that moves through this port," port authority spokesman Jayson Hron said. "That makes it more vibrant and brings more vitality to the port."

Before Nunalik could be loaded Friday, wind energy cargo was unloaded by crane. The ability to import and export at the same port is expected to be a draw for other businesses looking to bypass the coasts.

Claus Sorensen, vice president of Spliethoff, the ocean transport company that owns Nunalik, has been in the shipping business for the past eight years. Duluth is now the second U.S. port on the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system able to handle container shipping — a welcome addition as a spot farther west than the company's base in Cleveland, he said.

"There are truck issues around the country; there are rail issues around the country, and it really is easy to put containers on this ship and get them out of here," Sorensen said. "And that's what we do."