Great Lakes levels heighten dredging crisis
The water levels on the Great Lakes have begun their seasonal decline, so the impacts of the dredging crisis will become even more pronounced in the fourth quarter, warned the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force in a statement on Thursday.
“Even before the lakes began their dip, the largest ships were forfeiting more than 6,200 tons of cargo each trip,” the task force said. “Each inch that the lakes decline in the weeks and months ahead will slash another 50 to 270 tons from the already deflated totals.”
The task force said funding for dredging the Great Lakes has been inadequate for decades.
“As a result, more than 17 million cubic yards of sediment clog ports and waterways,” it said. “That much sediment would fill 47 football fields from end zone to end zone to a height of 171 feet. To put it another way, 17 million cubic yards would fill 5,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools, which, if placed end to end, would stretch 162 miles, roughly the distance between Toledo and Ashtabula, Ohio.”
The task force estimated that tons of cargo are being left on the docks since the Great Lakes vessels can’t fully load their hulls, which further threatens the region’s industrial and manufacturing supply chain. For example, 6,200 tons of iron ore would make enough steel to build more than 5,100 automobiles, the production of which would keep an auto plant busy for eight and one-half days.
The task force said the dredging crisis should even exist. Cargo moving through deep-draft ports is taxed and the receipts are deposited in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). However, since the federal government only spends one of every two tax dollars collected for dredging on dredging, the HMTF has a surplus of nearly $7 billion, it said.
Ten Great Lakes senators sent a letter this week to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking that the lakes receive a “significant portion” of the $2.4 billion the agency received from the Continuing Appropriations Resolution for fiscal year 2013. The legislators noted the Corps of Engineers itself acknowledges these ports could close if the current budget for fiscal year 2013 is followed, a situation they declared “unacceptable.”
“We urge you to direct a significant portion of these funds to Great Lakes navigation projects to help ensure that goods can be transported efficiently, which is critical to our economic recovery and job creation,” the senators told the Corps.
The letter was signed by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Herb Kohl, D-Wis.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Al Franken, D-Minn.; Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Mark Kirk, R- Ill.