Great Lakes shipping industry hopeful for dredging
Both the House and Senate are reviewing legislation that may help put an end to the Great Lakes region’s dredging crisis.
The legislation, H.R. 335 and S. 218, would require the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to spend what it takes in each year explicitly on dredging needs. Currently, the HMTF spends only $1 of every $2 of the tax it collects for dredging on dredging.
The HMTF surplus, now approaching $7 billion, is used to “mask the size of the federal deficit rather than maintain the nation’s ports and waterways,” the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force said.
The task force, a broad ranging industry advocacy group, said inadequate HMTF use has resulted in 17 million cubic yards of sediment clogging the Great Lakes’ harbors and the largest vessels “losing more than 10,000 tons of cargo in just one trip.”
H.R. 335, the Realize America’s Maritime Promise (“RAMP”) Act, was introduced on Jan. 22 and currently has 67 co-sponsors, 15 of whom are from the Great Lakes region. S. 218, the Harbor Maintenance Act of 2013, was introduced on Feb. 4. The bill was authored by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and has 28 co-sponsors, 10 of whom are from Great Lakes states, the task force noted.
“Congress must quickly pass these bills,” said Donald N. Cree, president of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force and Great Lakes special assistant to the national president for American Maritime Officers union, in a statement Tuesday. “The largest U.S.-flag Great Lakes freighters were leaving behind more than 10,000 tons of cargo each trip by the end of 2012. The dredging crisis is obliterating the efficiencies of Great Lakes shipping.”
The decades-old dredging crisis in the Great Lakes has been compounded by the drought that has sent the water levels on Lakes Michigan and Huron plunging to record lows and reduced drafts throughout the system.
“Initial forecasts suggest that vessels will have to load to less than 25 feet when transiting the St. Marys River this spring,” said John D. Baker, the task force’s second vice president and president emeritus of the International Longshoremen’s Association’s Great Lakes District Council. “If that proves to be the case, oceangoing vessels loading export grain could leave almost 2,000 tons of cargo behind when they depart Lake Superior terminals.”
James H.I. Weakley, the task force’s first vice president and head of Lake Carriers’ Association, added “Plunging water levels are beyond anyone’s control, but the dredging crisis is man-made. In this century the Corps (of Engineers) has received enough money to reduce the backlog of sediment in the Lakes in only two years: 2008 and 2009. The backlog actually shrank from 18 to 15 million cubic yards during that time. But the budget has been woefully inadequate in the years that have followed and the backlog again tops 17 million cubic yards.”
The Army Corps of Engineers estimates it needs $200 million to restore the Great Lakes Navigation System to project dimensions.
“$200 million is only 2 percent of the HMTF’s surplus,” said Thomas Curelli, third vice president of the task force and director of operations at Fraser Shipyards. “Year after year the government taxes cargo to pay for dredging. An adequately funded dredging program is long overdue.”
The task force also said a more equitable distribution of HMTF receipts is long overdue. “In some years, an inland river’s allocation is twice that of the Lakes per dollar of transportation savings generated,” it said.
A recent study determined shipping on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway System supports about 227,000 jobs in the United States and Canada with an annual business revenue of $35 billion. Great Lakes shipping also supports more than 400,000 U.S. export jobs.