Great Lakes Squeeze Will Hurt Region’s Economy

TOLEDO, OH - The proposed Federal budget for the coming year will decrease maintenance money for Great Lakes infrastructure by 35 percent, and the economic impacts of reduced cargo movement will be far-reaching for the region today warned Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF), the largest coalition representing industries using the Lakes.

The proposed reduction in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers budget comes on the heels of record or near-to-record low water levels. The plunging water levels have caused what one major newspaper recently called a "cascade of hardships." Vessel operators are being squeezed by low water levels and a decaying marine transportation system.

”Any reduction in the Corps dredging budget for the Lakes would be a double whammy of the worst kind," said Patrick J. O'Hern, President of GLMTF, and Vice President and General Manager of Bay Shipbuilding Company. "The Lakes are already suffering with extremely low water levels. An adequately-funded maintenance program doesn't solve the problem, but it certainly helps offset the impacts of falling water levels. Now is absolutely the worst imaginable time for any reduction in Great Lakes dredging funds.”

Congress and the Administration approved nearly $140 million for Lakes dredging in 2008. The Administration's proposed budget for 2009 requests just $89.3 million, a decrease of $49 million, or 35.5 percent. The cut flies in the face of reality. The Corps of Engineers acknowledges it needs more than $215 million to clear the backlog of dredging projects throughout the Great Lakes navigation system.

Cargo movement on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway can approach 250 million tons a year, or nearly one ton for each resident of the United States.

”The Great Lakes have been plagued by inadequate funding for maintenance for decades," said Daniel L. Smith, 1st Vice President of GLMTF and National Executive Vice President of American Maritime Officers. "Some vessels were forfeiting 15 percent of their carrying capacity by the end of 2007. For a 1,000-foot-long vessel, that's more than 10,000 tons of cargo. We thought we had turned the corner with the increase in dredging funds for 2008 that our Congressional delegation won after much hard work. It is totally irresponsible for the Administration to propose any cut in Great Lakes maintenance funds at this or any foreseeable time.”

”Instead of cutting dredging funds, the Administration must establish a Great Lakes Navigation Improvement Fund in this and future budgets," said James H.I. Weakley, 2nd Vice President of GLMTF and President of Lake Carriers' Association. "Unless we are funding the Great Lakes Marine Transportation System with $170 million a year, we are contributing to its decay and putting American manufacturers and power producers at a competitive disadvantage. Dredging of deep-draft ports and waterways is funded by a tax on cargo movement, yet the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund has a surplus of more than $3.5 billion and continues to grow. It's time to apply those Trust Fund dollars to their intended purpose. If we don't restore the Lakes navigation system to project dimensions, the industry will not be able to meet the needs of commerce.”

John D. Baker, 3rd Vice President of GLMTF and President of the ILA's Great Lakes District Council warned that lack of dredging can force cargo to switch to other modes of transportation. "Our highways and rail lines are already struggling to handle existing cargo volumes. Not giving the Lakes enough dredging funds is like pulling the plug on the American economy." Baker also noted there would be environmental impacts of pushing cargo to trains and trucks. ”The land-based modes of transportation burn more fuel and produce more emissions that ships and tug/barge units.”

Attached is a listing of Great Lakes ports by State that shows the funding shortfall for FY09.

Great Lakes Maritime Task Force was founded in Toledo, Ohio, in 1992 to promote domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes. With 78 members, it is the largest coalition to ever speak for the Great Lakes shipping community and draws its membership from both labor and management representing U.S.-Flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards and other Great Lakes interests. Its goals include restoring adequate funding for dredging of Great Lakes deep-draft ports and waterways; funding construction of the second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, protecting the nation's maritime cabotage laws; maximizing the Lakes overseas trade; and opposing exports and increased diversions of Great Lakes water.

Glen G. Nekvasil
Secretary, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force