Seasonal Decline in Water Levels Means Great Lakes Dredging Crisis Will Only Worsen.
The water levels on the Great Lakes have begun their seasonal decline, so the impacts of the dredging crisis will become even more pronounced in the fourth quarter. Even before the Lakes began their dip, the largest ships were forfeiting more than 6,200 tons of cargo each trip. Each inch that the Lakes decline in the weeks and months ahead will slash another 50 to 270 tons from the already deflated totals.
Funding for dredging the Great Lakes has been inadequate for decades. As a result, more than 17 million cubic yards of sediment clog ports and waterways. That much sediment would fill 47 football fields from end zone to end zone to a height of 171 feet. To put it another way, 17 million cubic yards would fill 5,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools, which, if placed end to end, would stretch 162 miles, roughly the distance between Toledo and Ashtabula, Ohio.
The cargo being left behind at loading docks is a significant drain on the economy. 6,200 tons of iron ore, for example, would make enough steel to build more than 5,100 automobiles, the production of which would keep an auto plant busy for eight and one-half days.
The dredging crisis need not exist. Cargo moving through deep-draft ports is taxed and the receipts are deposited in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). However, since the Federal government only spends one of every two tax dollars collected for dredging on dredging, the HMTF has a surplus of nearly $7 billion.
Ten Great Lakes Senators have written the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking that the Lakes receive a “significant portion” of the $2.4 billion the agency received from the Continuing Appropriations Resolution for FY13. The legislators stress that the Corps itself acknowledges that ports could close if the current budget for FY13 is followed, a situation they declare “unacceptable.” “We urge you to direct a significant portion of these funds to Great Lakes navigation projects to help ensure that goods can be transported efficiently, which is critical to our economic recovery and job creation.” Signing the letter were Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Rob Portman (R-OH), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R- IL).