Minnesota Senators Work To End Lakes Dredging Crisis

Toledo, OH – Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar (D) and Al Franken (D) have cosponsored legislation that will end the dredging crisis on the Great Lakes. Senate bill 3213 would require that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (”HMTF“) spend what it takes in each year rather than hoard tax dollars meant for dredging the nation’s ports and waterways. The chronic underfunding of dredging that has resulted from amassing a nearly $5 billion surplus in the HMTF has left an estimated 15 million cubic yards of sediment clogging the Great Lakes navigation system.

”We deeply appreciate the Senators’ support,“ said James H.I. Weakley, President of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, the largest coalition ever to promote waterborne commerce on America’s Fourth Sea Coast. ”The largest ships loading iron ore in Minnesota’s Great Lakes ports routinely leave thousands of tons of pellets behind each trip because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot maintain the Great Lakes Navigation System to project dimensions. America’s steel industry is on the rebound. We must not allow the dredging crisis to stall this recovery. The tax dollars we need to restore the system are collected each and every year. S. 3213 will make those funds available and within 5 years or so the dredging crisis will be a thing of the past.”

A tax on cargo moving through deep draft ports annually generates $1.6 billion in revenues that are deposited in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. However, the fund only spends about $800 million per year. Therefore the HMTF has a surplus of nearly $5 billion.

”The Corps of Engineers estimates it needs $180 million to restore the shipping lanes,” said Weakley. “Clearly the money is there. What is lacking is our access those dollars.“

Minnesota is the largest shipper of iron ore on the Great Lakes. In a typical year the ports of Duluth/Superior, Two Harbors, and Silver Bay will load about 40 million tons of iron ore, or 65 percent of all taconite pellets shipped on the Lakes.

Superior is the largest coal–loading port. Shipments can top 22 million tons, or roughly half of all the coal moving on the Lakes.

Duluth/Superior is also the largest grain shipping port on the U.S. side of the Lakes. The port typically loads about 2 million tons of grain each year.

”As our economy rebounds from its worst recession since World War II, we need to make Great Lakes shipping as efficient as possible,“ said Adolph Ojard, Executive Director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. ”These industries are the foundation of our economy. Iron ore mining, for example, accounts for one–third of the gross regional product of northeastern Minnesota. By cosponsoring S. 3213, our Senators are saying yes to more family-sustaining jobs in this region.“

Founded in 1992, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force promotes domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes. With 91 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, 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/or increased diversions of Great Lakes water.

Minnesota members of GLMTF are: Duluth Lake Port Storage; Duluth Seaway Port Authority; Great Lakes Fleet / Key Lakes, Inc.; Hallett Dock Company; and Marine Tech. Members from Superior, Wisconsin are: City of Superior Planning Department; Fraser Shipyards; and Midwest Energy Resources Company.

Glen G. Nekvasil
Secretary, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force