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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Former Milwaukee Port director carries passion for equity & climate resiliency to Great Lakes seaway

Adam Tindell-Schlicht inside Port Milwaukee headquarters - his professional home from August 2018 until he took a position with the Biden Administration in October 2022.
Susan Bence
Adam Tindall-Schlicht inside Port Milwaukee headquarters, his professional home from August 2018 until he took a position with the Biden Administration in October 2022.

Adam Tindall-Schlicht shepherded Milwaukee’s port through storms, fluctuating lake levels and the happy arrival of a Great Lakes cruise ship. He is now taking his expertise to a new position on the Great Lakes.

The Biden administration recently tapped Tindall-Schlicht to become Administrator of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.

Adam Tindall-Schlicht is a proud Oak Creek native and graduate of its high school.

He went on to study political science at UW-Madison and later earned a masters in public administration from American University in Washington, D.C.

How did he become a Great Lakes guy? 

Tindall-Schlicht says that’s thanks to mentors along the way, “And people that have supported my career, that have allowed me to develop and understand this passion and find a place in it,” he says.

Tindall-Schlicht says serving as the Milwaukee Port director the best job he’s ever had, but when the Biden Administration invited him to head the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, he couldn’t say no.

“When it became clear that President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have a vision for shipping on the Great Lakes that is both inclusive of economic prosperity and environmental stewardship, it was really too unique of an opportunity to pass up,” Tindall-Schlicht says.

Longer conversation with former Port Milwaukee director Adam Tindall-Schlicht.

It's his job to oversee  the Seaway’s 15-lock navigation system jointly operated by the U.S. and Canada.

“So all of our work is done with a sister agency, called the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation. So that is one of the major elements of my work ensuring that across the border coordination is seamless," Tindall-Schlicht says.

At the same time, Tindall-Schlicht says he hopes to partner with ports around the Great Lakes to build economic and climate resiliency.

"CO2 reduction and moving towards a more carbon neutral future in both how infrastructure is constructed, operated, not only in the Great Lakes, but I would argue worldwide," Tindall-Schlicht says. "That's one of the things I'll be bringing to my job is a strong willingness to partner with Great Lakes ports to realize those opportunities."

That means more than just promoting existing programs that work, such as the green marine certification program. It encourages maritime enterprises, including ports, to adopt measurable environmental actions that go beyond what’s regulated.

Tindall-Schlicht believes in a nurturing, inclusive environment at every level.

“That’s been informed by my own experience. I am the first openly gay administrator in the history of the U.S. Seaway,” Tindall-Schlicht says.

During his Port Milwaukee tenure he was one of the few openly gay port directors in the country.

“I firmly believe at a core level…that if voices, opinions, and expertise are being stifled then organizations are not succeeding because you’re losing something that could be enhancing and really changing the nature of how we see the world and how we make it a better place,” Tindall-Schlicht says.

Tindall-Schlicht brought that vision to Port Milwaukee, and credits his team for fostering a more resilient system, despite COVID and before that a ravaging winter storm in January of 2020.

“The port has 95% reconstituted itself for those areas of our international terminals that were damaged and flooded. We responded in the short term to that event and we responded from a longterm planning perspective,” Tindall-Schlicht says.

The Milwaukee Port team drafted a 50-year outlook.

"Called the Capital Asset Renewal Plan, which is a first-of-its-kind inventory and diagnosis of the current state of every piece of infrastructure that’s owned and maintained by the Port,” Tindall-Schlicht explains.

He says that amounts to $200 million in assets. "And an additional $200 million will need to be spent over the next 50 years to sustain the port’s safe and reliable and efficient operation," he says.

Plan or no plan, he says ports throughout the Great Lakes face similar challenges.

Putting on his new administrator hat, like many others, Tindall-Schlicht is focused  on making the most of Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act dollars.

"I hope as a champion of the Great Lakes to help be a champion some of those dollars coming into our Great Lakes ports like Milwaukee, Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland, you name it. To make sure that they are able to tackle their own projects that are right for their community," Tindall-Schlicht says.

He doesn’t plan to forfeit his local roots during his tenure as seaway administrator. During the week, Tindall-Schlicht’s base is Washington, D.C. Weekends signal home time with his husband, who is a critical care and surgical nurse.


Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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