Great Lakes legislators played a key role in yesterday’s vote in the House of Representatives to increase the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ national budget by nearly $58 million. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), along with Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), authored the amendment to the House’s FY15 Energy & Water Appropriations bill and Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) and Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) took the floor to support the measure. The additional funds will push the Corps’ national dredging budget to the level specified in the recently enacted Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), which should result in more dredging dollars for the Great Lakes.
Following passage of the amendment, Congressman Huizenga said “Properly dredged harbors along the Great Lakes are critical to Michigan’s economy and vital to job creation throughout West Michigan. Passage of this amendment demonstrates that harbors, including those in the Great Lakes, are a priority.”
During the floor debate Congresswoman Kaptur stressed that “waterborne shipping is the most efficient mode of moving goods in and out of this country.” Rep. Benishek stated, “All Americans depend on the Great Lakes for transportation of goods and services.” Rep. Nolan focused on the dredging crisis, noting the Great Lakes “are operating at 80 percent of capacity. It’s costing us $3 billion in annual business, jobs, growth and income.”
“Passage of the Hahn-Huizenga amendment was a litmus test,” said James H.I. Weakley, President of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, the largest labor/management coalition ever to promote shipping on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. “This sends a clear message that the House is serious about keeping the promise it made when passing WRRDA just seven weeks ago.”
Weakley, who is also President of Lake Carriers’ Association, thanked all 30 Great Lakes House members who voted for the amendment. “Support for ending the dredging crisis has always been bipartisan and this vote is another sterling example of our delegation coming together for a common good.”
John D. Baker, 1st Vice President of GLMTF and President Emeritus of the ILA’s Great Lakes District Council, stressed the need for dredging has never been as great as it is right now. “The brutal winter of 2013/2014 has everyone on the Lakes trying to play catch up. Cargo movement in March and April was a fraction of normal volumes and the St. Lawrence Seaway recorded its latest opening ever. Every ship needs to utilize every inch of draft available to it.”
Tom Curelli, 2nd Vice President of GLMTF and Director of Operations for Fraser Shipyards, Inc., cautioned that the higher water levels have not lessened the need for dredging. “Even the best loads right now still represent a loss of 3-4 percent of the vessel’s carrying capacity. The gap will start to grow again when water levels begin their seasonal decline in autumn. Dredging is still the only way to restore the Great Lakes Navigation System.”
Paul Doell, 3rd Vice President of GLMTF and Legislative Director for American Maritime Officers, urged continued adherence to the funding levels called for in the WRRDA. “It will take several years to fully remove the dredging backlog on the Lakes. More than 18 million cubic yards of sediment clog our ports and waterways. Congress must again and again insist that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund only be used for its intended purpose: Dredging.