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Great Lakes Shipping Community Responds to Dredging Crisis


American ports may close as soon as next year if Congress does not pass legislation requiring the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to spend what it takes in each year on dredging, a leading Great Lakes advocate told the House subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment at a hearing in Washington D.C., July 8.

James Weakley, vice president of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force and president of Lake Carriers’ Association, testified: “Based on the current Army Corps of Engineers dredging budget for FY12, it is very likely some ports in western Michigan may soon be closed for business. Similar problems exist on our other coasts. The Corps’ own statistics show the authorized depth of federally maintained navigation channels is available over only half of their authorized width less than one-third of the time and this performance is declining. Another Corps study estimated 30 percent of the 95,550 vessel calls at U.S. ports were limited by inadequate channels.”

The problem is particularly acute on the Great Lakes. “For each inch silted in, the American laker fleet collectively, per voyage, leaves 8,000 tons of Minnesota iron ore in Duluth ­– enough to manufacture 6,000 cars,” said Weakley, who is also a member of the national Realize America’s Maritime Promise coalition, a group dedicated to securing adequate funding for dredging. “We leave enough Montana coal behind to produce three hours of Detroit’s electricity or we abandon enough Ohio limestone for 24 Pennsylvania homes.”

Weakley stressed the dredging crisis is not the result of budgetary pressures. Cargo moving on deep-draft waterways pays an ad valorem dredging tax. Those tax receipts are deposited into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which has a surplus of nearly $6 billion.

“In 2010, maritime commerce and interest income provided almost $1.4 billion to the Trust Fund; however, only $828 million was expended. Most harbors still lost depth and width to the unrelenting deposits of sediment.”

Congress has crafted a solution to end these chronic shortfalls in the dredging budget: H.R. 104, the Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) Act and its companion bill in the Senate, S. 412. Modeled after the Airport and Airways Trust Fund fix from 2000, it bases annual trust fund expenditures on trust fund revenues.

At current count, 101 members of the House of Representatives have co-sponsored H.R. 104. Twenty-one Senators have signed on S. 412.