Years of inadequate funding for dredging have left an estimated 17-plus million cubic yards of sediment clogging the Great Lakes Navigation System. That total is expected to grow to 21 million cubic yards by 2015.

The impacts of the dredging crisis are felt every day. LCA’s members estimate that three of every four cargos they carry each year represent less than full loads. The amount of cargo that’s left behind varies with the size of the vessel. When low water levels have amplified the lack of dredging, the largest vessels have forfeited as much as 12,000 tonnes, or 17 per cent of their per-trip carrying capacity. If the ship is carrying iron ore for the steel industry, 12,000 tonnes is enough product to make the steel in 10,000 cars, the production of which would keep a large auto plant in operation for more than three weeks.

The dredging crisis is man-made. The Corps needs $200 million to restore the system. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), the repository for a Federal tax levied on waterborne commerce specifically to pay for dredging, has a surplus that is projected to reach $7 billion by the end of FY12 because HMTF collects about $1.6 billion per year, but annually spends less than $800 million.

Two bills requiring HMTF to spend as much as it takes in have been introduced in the 112th Congress: H.R. 104 and S. 412. If provided adequate funding, the Corps can restore the Great Lakes Navigation System to project dimensions and allow waterborne commerce to achieve the efficiencies the American economy needs to fully rebound from the recession. Unfortunately, the Federal budget has appeared to favor other waterways in recent years, and the 1-million-tonne-per-year minimum annual volume for a port to be dredged does not recognize the interdependence of the Great Lakes Navigation System. LCA will be working with the Corps and the Administration to address these imbalances.

Reprinted with permission of Lake Carriers’ Association