Great Lakes Leader Tells House Subcommittee Inadequate Dredging of Ports and Waterways Hurts America

Cleveland---Lack of investment in the country's navigation infrastructure has significantly reduced the efficiency of waterborne commerce said a leading Great Lakes official in testimony before the House's Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development on Friday, February 16. James H.I. Weakley, President of Lake Carriers' Association and an officer of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, told the subcommittee "Marine transportation on the Great Lakes makes manufacturing in America possible. The [Great Lakes] region accounts for 70 percent of the nation's steelmaking capacity, 70 percent of its automobile production, and 55 percent of all heavy manufacturing. Unfortunately, we are not able to take full advantage of our vessels' efficiencies because of inadequate dredging. Today, three of every four vessels leave the dock 'light loaded' because ports and connecting channels on the Great Lakes are not maintained to project dimensions."

Weakley stressed that even an inch of lost draft has consequences for the American consumer. The 63 U.S.-Flag vessels working the Great Lakes lose more than 8,000 tons of cargo each trip when forced to trim just one inch from their loaded draft. "The economic efficiency lost by not carrying those 8,000 tons is borne by the U.S. economy. Those 8,000 tons of iron ore not carried could have produced steel for 6,000 automobiles. Those 8,000 tons of coal not carried could have produced electricity to power the Greater Detroit area for 3 hours. Those 8,000 tons of limestone not carried could have been used to build 24 homes."

Weakley further noted the loss of water depth in the Great Lakes Navigation System is more accurately measured in feet. "Ships bound for Saginaw, Michigan, could load an additional 60 inches if adequate water were available. One of the more tragic Great Lakes infrastructure stories is Dunkirk, New York, because water-based shipments to that port ended in 2005. That means 500,000 fewer tons of coal left Conneaut, Ohio, and Toledo, Ohio. As you can see, it is not a port or individual place at risk; it is the entire Great Lakes Navigation System. It is the industries and the people who depend on affordable marine transportation whose very livelihoods are endangered.

Weakley made several suggestions on how to address the lack of adequate dredging. The first would be for the Federal Government to appropriate more money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), which was specifically designed to pay for "operations and maintenance" at deep draft ports. "I believe the HMTF contains a surplus of more than $3.5 billion," Weakley said. "It is time to restore the 'trust' to the HMTF by either spending it down or taking it 'off budget'." Weakley also observed that metrics other than tons could be employed to allocate resources.

Weakley closed by stressing a "strong marine transportation system allows American producers, both agricultural and manufacturing, to compete domestically and globally. We must recognize that transportation is the grease that keeps our economy moving and invest appropriately."

Lake Carriers' Association represents 18 American corporations that operate 63 U.S.-Flag vessels on the Great Lakes. These vessels carry the raw materials that drive the nation's economy: Iron ore and fluxstone for the steel industry, limestone, and cement for the construction industry, coal for power generation.... Collectively, these vessels can transport as much as 125 million tons of cargo a year when high water levels offset the lack of adequate dredging of Great Lakes ports and waterways. More information is available at

Great Lakes Maritime Task Force represents 72 companies and organizations involved in all aspects of Great Lakes shipping and was founded in 1992 to promote increased waterborne commerce and related industries.

Source: Lake Carriers' Association

Glen G. Nekvasil
Secretary, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force