Great Lakes Group Predicts Dire Consequences of Budget Shortfall

The President’s budget for fiscal year 2009 would cut Great Lakes dredging funds by 35 percent. Such a slash will have major economic impacts on the region warned officers of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF).

The proposed reduction in the Corps of Engineers budget comes on the heels of record or near-to-record low water levels which have caused what one newspaper recently called a “cascade of hardships”. Vessel operators are being squeezed by low water levels and a decaying marine transportation system.

“Any reduction in the Corps dredging budget for the Lakes would be a double whammy of the worst kind” said Patrick J. O’Hern president of GLMTF and vice president of Bay Shipbuilding Company. “The Lakes are already suffering with extremely low water levels. An adequately-funded maintenance program doesn’t solve the problem but it certainly helps offset the impacts of falling water levels. Now is absolutely the worst imaginable time for any reduction in Great Lakes dredging funds.”

Congress and the Administration approved nearly $140 million for Lakes dredging in 2008. The Administration’s proposed budget for 2009 requests $89.3 million a decrease of $49 million. The Corps of Engineers acknowledges that it needs more than $215 million to clear the backlog of dredging projects throughout the Great Lakes navigation system.

Cargo movement on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway can approach 250 million tons a year or nearly one ton for each resident of the United States.

“The Great Lakes have been plagued by inadequate funding for maintenance for decades” said Daniel L. Smith first vice president of GLMTF and national executive vice president of American Maritime Officers. “Some vessels were forfeiting 15 percent of their carrying capacity by the end of 2007. For a 1000-foot-long vessel that’s more than 10000 tons of cargo. We thought we had turned the corner with the increase in dredging funds for 2008 that our Congressional delegation won after much hard work. It is totally irresponsible for the Administration to propose any cut in Great Lakes maintenance funds at this or any foreseeable time.”

“Instead of cutting dredging funds the Administration must establish a Great Lakes Navigation Improvement Fund in this and future budgets” said James H.I. Weakley second vice president of GLMTF and president of Lake Carriers’ Association. “Unless we are funding the Great Lakes Marine Transportation System with $170 million a year we are contributing to its decay and putting American manufacturers and power producers at a competitive disadvantage. Dredging of deep-draft ports and waterways is funded by a tax on cargo movement yet the Harbor Maintenance Trust fund has a surplus of more than $3.5 billion and continues to grow. It’s time to apply those trust fund dollars to their intended purpose. If we don’t restore the Lakes navigation system to project dimensions the industry will not be able to meet the needs of commerce” he said.

John D. Baker third vice president of GLMTF and president of the ILA’s Great Lakes District Council warned that lack of dredging can force cargo to switch to other modes of transportation.

“Our highways and rail lines are already struggling to handle existing cargo volumes. Not giving the Lakes enough dredging funds is like pulling the plug on the American economy” he said.

Baker also noted that there would be environmental impacts of pushing cargo to trains and trucks.

“The land-based modes of transportation burn more fuel and produce more emissions than ships and tug/barge units” he said.