Great Lakes Operators See Dredging Emergency

Great Lakes Operators See Dredging Emergency

Great Lakes ports and vessel operators are declaring a state of emergency in protest of proposed cutbacks in maintenance dredging by the Obama administration.

The president's budget proposal slashes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' allocation for maintenance dredging 27 percent, but the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force said dredging at lake ports will be cut 32 percent. The result will be channels filling with sediment three times faster than it can be removed. Of 83 U.S. ports on the Great Lakes, only 11 will be dredged.

Lakers have been sounding an alarm for several years that the Corps is not giving enough attention to lake ports. Some 200 million tons of cargo moves across the lakes each year, but according to Eugene Caldwell, task force vice president, vessels have had to reduce loads by 5,000 tons or more to navigate channels. The result is underutilization of ships and higher rates on commodities such as iron ore and stone.

The task force also points out that the Corps could keep all channels at authorized depths if Congress permits expenditure of $5.65 billion that has built up in the treasury from the collection of the Harbor Maintenance Tax. There is legislation in Congress now to order all HMT revenue to be expended each year.

Task force president John D. Baker said the federal government is turning its back on the eight states that border the Great Lakes.

"What was a dredging crisis is now a state of emergency for each of the Great Lakes states," Baker said. "If this proposed dredging budget is implemented, ports will close and cargo will either shift to modes of transportation that burn more fuel and produce more emissions than vessels, or production will be moved to other regions of the country or even overseas."

-- Contact R.G. Edmonson at bedmonson@joc.com.