TOLEDO, OH - The Great Lakes came up way short when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided how to divvy up the $4.6 billion Congress gave it for job creation and infrastructure improvements under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Corps allocated only 2 percent of its stimulus dollars to the Great Lakes, leaving navigation and environmental projects in America's heartland high and dry.
The eight Great Lakes states received $94 million for Lakes projects out of the $4.6 billion Congress gave the Corps, this despite the fact cargo movement can top 200 million tons a year and supports hundreds of thousands of family-sustaining jobs. The lower-than-expected funding from the Administration came despite strong support for Great Lakes programs from the Great Lakes Congressional delegation.
"Can it be possible the Corps operates in such a vacuum?,” said Donald Cree, President of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force ("GLMTF”), the largest coalition promoting waterborne commerce on the Lakes. "America’s foundational industries depend on the Great Lakes and Great Lakes shipping. By the Corps own analysis, Lakes shipping saves its customers $3.6 billion a year in transportation costs. Yet the Corps all but zeroed out the Great Lakes and Great Lakes shipping. Imagine the savings that could be quickly achieved if the Corps had given us our fair share. Virtually every port needs dredging. Lack of a second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, threatens to crash the system at any moment. It’s hard not to say the Corps has abdicated its responsibility to the transportation system, the region, and the nation.”
"$94 million or 2 percent of the Corps stimulus spending isn’t even enough to end the dredging crisis that is strangling the system,” continued Cree, who is also National Vice President - Great Lakes, for American Maritime Officers. "The Corps estimates removing the backlog of sediment - 17 million cubic yards - will cost more than $200 million.”
"The Corps decision defies logic,” said James H.I. Weakley, 1st Vice President of GLMTF, and President of Lake Carriers’ Association. "The Great Lakes basin is home to 80 percent of the nation's steelmaking capacity, 70 percent of its auto plants, and 55 percent of all heavy manufacturing, yet we get 2 percent of the Corps stimulus dollars. The area is hurting. Only 8 of the 36 blast furnaces are making steel. Auto plants are closing. Congress approved the stimulus package to create jobs, but someone at the Corps decided to ignore the industrial heartland.”
The Corps allocation shortchanges every Great Lakes state. Indiana, the nation’s largest steel-producing state, received less than $1 million for Operation and Maintenance of its Great Lakes ports. Michigan has 40 deep-draft ports and scores more recreational harbors, yet received only $23 million. Not one dollar of that total is directed toward building the second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie that Congress authorized at full Federal expense in 2007.
Ohio got $12 million for its Lakes ports, even though they ship and receive 55 million tons in a typical year.
Minnesota's Mesabi Range is the iron ore capital of the country, but that state received none of the stimulus funds the Corps allocated for the Lakes. New York received $3.9 million.
Chicago is the third largest city in the country, but its harbor received only $17.6 million. Wisconsin’s share was less than $11 million.
Pennsylvania was zeroed out.
"To call this a poor return on investment is being charitable,” said John D. Baker, 2nd Vice President of GLMTF, and President Emeritus of the ILA’s Great Lakes District Council. "Every worker and every company in the Great Lakes basin helped fund the stimulus package with their tax dollars, yet what do they have to show for it? The Great Lakes and Great Lakes shipping have been ignored. That was not the intent of Congress or the Administration.”
It is unlikely the Corps will revise their plans. "We must again turn to Congress to fund much needed dredging and infrastructure improvements such as the second Poe-sized lock,” said Patrick J. O’Hern, 3rd Vice President of GLMTF, and Vice President and General Manager of Bay Shipbuilding Company. "The dredging crisis would be getting worse, but in the past two years, Congress, lead by our Great Lakes delegation, has added tens of millions to our dredging appropriation and enabled the Corps to start removing the backlog. We are confident Congress will remember how the Lakes were ignored in the stimulus package and right this wrong in the FY10 Appropriations bill.”
Founded in 1992, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force promotes 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 Jones Act and other U.S. maritime cabotage laws and regulations; maximizing the Lakes overseas trade; and opposing exports and increased diversions of Great Lakes water.
Glen G. Nekvasil
Secretary, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force