Lakes Seek Parity for Dredging and Infrastructure Needs

Toledo, OH – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be required to treat the Great Lakes equally when it comes to prioritizing the nation’s dredging needs under legislation introduced in the House of Representatives on June 6. H.R. 2273, the Great Lakes Navigation System Sustainability Act, sponsored by Congresswoman Candice Miller (R-MI), would direct the Corps to aggregate the cargo tonnage of all 60 Federally maintained ports for purposes of prioritizing annual operations and maintenance funding nationwide. The Corps has taken a “system” approach to the Mississippi, Ohio, and Illinois rivers, but to date treated the Lakes as a collection of individual ports and pitted them against one another rather than acknowledge the economic benefits resulting from their interdependence.

“The Great Lakes have suffered greatly from the inequities inherent with treating some waterways as systems and others as individual ports,” said Donald N. Cree, President of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, the leading coalition promoting shipping on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. “In some years the Ohio River System would get more than $1 of maintenance funding per ton of cargo handled while the Lakes, whose commerce is every bit as important to the nation, would get about $0.50 per ton of cargo moved. H.R. 2273 finally puts the Lakes on an even footing with the rest of the nation’s waterways.”

Cree, who is also Great Lakes Special Assistant to the National President for American Maritime Officers, praised Congresswoman Miller for writing the legislation. “Rep. Miller has assumed a real leadership position among Great Lakes legislators during her six terms in the House. We honored her as our Great Lakes Legislator of the Year in 2011 and with this legislation it is clear her commitment to shipping on the Fourth Sea Coast is getting even stronger.”

Original co-sponsors of the bill are Representatives Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Dan Benishek (R-MI), Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Brian Higgins (D-NY).

It is critical that the Lakes get their fair share of the tax dollars levied on cargo and then deposited in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). Decades of inadequate funding nationwide and then an inequitable distribution of the dollars available for dredging have left 18 million cubic yards of sediment clogging ports and waterways.

“The dredging crisis is sapping Great Lakes shipping’s strength,” warned James H.I. Weakley, 1st Vice President of GLMTF and President of Lake Carriers’ Association. “Ships that should be delivering 70,000 tons of cargo each trip are leaving anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 tons back at the loading dock. Every trade, iron ore, coal, stone, cement and the others, is being affected to one degree or another.”

The impacts of what the industry calls “lightloading” are significant. Ten thousand tons of iron ore would make enough steel to build 8,300 cars. Ten thousand tons of coal will power a large metropolitan area for several hours. Ten thousand tons of limestone will cover the needs of 25 new homes.

“It was not lost on American labor that Rep. Miller’s bill was introduced just a day after the 93rd anniversary of passage of the Jones Act,” said John D. Baker, 2ND Vice President of GLMTF and President Emeritus of the ILA’s Great Lakes District Council. “That law has promoted American mariners and American vessel operators for nearly a century and here on the Lakes, produced the world’s most efficient dry-bulk cargo fleet. Restoring the Great Lakes Navigation System to its proper navigational depth and width will ensure waterborne commerce remains a source of good paying jobs and efficient transportation for centuries to come.”

“There never has been any justification for the dredging crisis,” stressed Tom Curelli, 3rd Vice President of GLMTF and Director of Operations for Fraser Shipyards, Inc. “In recent years the HMTF has annually taken in about $1.6 billion, but spent only about half that on dredging. As a result, it has a surplus of approximately $8 billion. The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) recently passed by the Senate calls for more outlays from the HMTF. We hope the House will mandate the HMTF spend what it takes in each year when it develops its Water Resources Development. That, coupled with H.R. 2273 being incorporated into the final WRDA, will end the dredging crisis once and for all.”

In a strong economy, more than 200 million tons of cargo will move on the Lakes and Seaway in a given year. This commerce creates and sustains more than 128,000 jobs in the United States. Another 440,000 exports-related jobs are linked to Great Lakes shipping. The system is so efficient that it is estimated that moving cargo by water annually saves customers $3.6 billion in freight charges compared to the next least costly mode of transportation.

Founded in 1992, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force promotes domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes. With 87 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. In addition to ending the dredging crisis, its goals include construction of a second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; maintaining adequate U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard icebreaking forces, protecting the Jones Act and other U.S. maritime cabotage laws and regulations; maximizing the Lakes overseas trade via the St. Lawrence Seaway; and opposing exports and/or increased diversions of Great Lakes water.

For additional information contact Glen Nekvasil, Secretary, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (440-333-9996).