New York Congressman Brian M. Higgins Named Great Lakes Legislator of the Year

TOLEDO, OH - Congressman Brian M. Higgins (D-NY) has been honored for his support of Great Lakes shipping by the largest coalition representing the industry. The Congressman was today named Great Lakes Legislator of the Year by Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF). Rep. Higgins will formally receive the award at GLMTF’s 14th Annual Briefing for the Great Lakes Delegation in Washington on April 2, 2009.

”As a native of Buffalo, Congressman Higgins has long understood that Great Lakes shipping is an asset to be treasured,” said Don Cree, President of GLMTF and President of the Toledo (Ohio) Port Council. ”Waterborne commerce is the most cost-effective and most environmentally-friendly way to deliver the million-plus tons of grain, aggregate, and cement that the Port of Buffalo receives each year. Thanks to the economies of Great Lakes shipping, Buffalo has even been able to start a new business, the blending and then export of coal to Canada.”

Perhaps nothing better illustrates Rep. Higgins’ commitment to Great Lakes shipping than his vote in favor of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. The bill called for accelerated dredging of the Great Lakes so vessels could carry more cargo each trip. ”The Port of Buffalo, like so many on the Great Lakes, is hampered by the dredging crisis,” said James H.I. Weakley, 1st Vice President of GLMTF and President of Lake Carriers’ Association, the trade association representing U.S.-Flag vessel operators on the Great Lakes. ”According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, more than 1.1 million cubic yards of sediment must be removed from Buffalo Harbor to restore the port to project dimensions.”

The Water Resources Development Act of 2007 also authorized construction of a second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, at full Federal expense. The Soo Locks connect Lake Superior to the lower four Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. The Soo Locks allow the port of Buffalo to receive grain from Plains states and coal from Canada. If sufficient funding is included in the economic stimulus package, construction of the new lock could begin this summer.

”Congressman Higgins’ service on the House’s Coast Guard and Marine Transportation Committee was also vital to the continued safety and efficiency of Great Lakes shipping,” said John D. Baker, 2nd Vice President of GLMTF and President Emeritus of the ILA’s Great Lakes District Council. ”The U.S. Coast Guard’s icebreaking mission is key to cargo moving at the beginning and end of the shipping season. The Lakes needed his voice on that Committee.”

Higgins’ vote for the economic stimulus package was also a vote for Great Lakes shipping. ”Great Lakes shipping moves the raw materials that will be the building blocks of a revived economy,” said Patrick J. O’Hern, 3rd Vice President of GLMTF and Vice President and General Manager of Bay Shipbuilding Company. ”Renewed demand for steel will mean more iron ore and fluxstone moving on the Lakes. Rebuilding our roads and highways will increase demand for aggregate and cement.”

”I am honored to receive this award,” said Rep. Higgins. ”Even though Great Lakes shipping is a cornerstone of our economy, it is underutilized. If we move more cargo on the Lakes, that will relieve some of the congestion on our highways and rail lines. I will continue to work in Congress for laws and policies that promote Great Lakes shipping, the greenest form of transportation.”

Great Lakes Maritime Task Force was founded in Toledo, Ohio, in 1992 to promote domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes. 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; construction of a second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; protecting the nation’s cabotage laws; maximizing the Lakes overseas trade; and opposing exports and increased diversions of Great Lakes water.

New York-based members of the Task Force are American Steamship Company (Williamsville); Gateway Trade Center (Buffalo); Port of Oswego Authority (Oswego); and St. Lawrence Seaway Pilots’ Association (St. Vincent).

Glen G. Nekvasil
Secretary, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force