Steven Fisher, Executive Director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association, made the case for the value of the Great Lakes navigation system and discussed the legislative and regulatory issues posing challenges to the maritime industry at the MIC’s annual meeting on July 20, 2011.
Fisher noted that throughout the United States, road and rail congestion threaten economic growth and quality of life. Transportation planners (including the MIC) are examining how short sea shipping via the Great Lakes can ease some of the burden on the land-based transportation modes.
Safe, Cost-Effective, Environmentally Sustainable
Fisher asserted that waterborne transportation has demonstrated that it is the safest, most fuel efficient, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable mode of moving goods in the global economy. Vessels on the Great Lakes burn significantly less fuel and produce fewer emissions and have far fewer accidents than trains or trucks.
Great Lakes Harbor Dredging
Bottom line: there’s not enough money to properly dredge many Great Lakes commercial harbors.
Most ports require regular dredging to remove sand and silt that naturally accumulate in shipping channels. This work is the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but its FY 2012 budget only provides $22.4 million to dredge Great Lakes navigation channels, less than half the amount necessary. As a result, many ports are becoming difficult for ships to navigate, and in some cases, shipping channels have become blocked and two are slated for closure.
Congress should provide adequate funds in the Fiscal Year 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill to address the backlog of dredging projects at Great Lakes ports,
Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and Political Gridlock
Bottom line: The money being collected from waterborne commerce is not dedicated to commercial ports.
The Harbor Maintenance Tax is a fee collected from domestic commercial cargo loaded or unloaded from vessels using US ports in order to fund the Army Corps of Engineers’ operation and maintenance activities. This includes the dredging that is needed to keep the Great Lakes ports up and running.
Despite the fact that adequate revenue (approximately $1.3 billion annually) is being collected, Congress has traditionally used about half of the fund’s money to offset general spending. Fisher noted that although there is significant support in Congress to enact legislation to ensure that funds collected for harbor maintenance are spent for their intended purpose, the current political gridlock in Washington DC is hindering the progress of this initiative.
Aquatic Invasive Species and the Great Ships Initiative
Bottom line: there is widespread agreement in both the maritime industry and the environmental community that the best way to prevent the transfer of aquatic invasive species is to keep them off ships in the first place. For that reason, there is considerable research being done to develop technology to treat ballast water and remove or kill aquatic nuisance species.
In 2007, the Great Ships Initiative (GSI) opened the world’s first fresh water ballast treatment technology test facility, located in Superior, Wisconsin.
Future of the Shipping Industry on the Great Lakes
Bottom line: both the US and Canada are continuing to invest in the future of the shipping industry on the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway, which is managed and operated jointly by Canada and the United States, is a unique and significant navigation route into the North American heartland for deep-draft vessels coming from the Atlantic Ocean and beyond.
Fifty years after its construction, both countries recognize that it provides important economic benefits by transporting cargoes such as grain, iron ore, and steel into and out of the Great Lakes region. Recent policy changes in Canada have spurred $400 million investment in rebuilding its Great Lakes fleet.
Photo credit, Laker in Duluth Canal: Minnesota Extension Service, Don Breneman
Photo credit, Laurentian Great Lakes: NOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
Video editing: Brian Heaton