Candice Miller: State plan will aid dredging

Mar 11, 2013 Issues: Economy and Jobs, Great Lakes, Transportation

Right now, the Great Lakes are experiencing near-record low water levels that are hurting communities throughout the Great Lakes basin whose economies are dependent upon boaters having access to their harbors. There are many ideas on how this has happened and steps that could be taken to reverse this trend, but the truth is nothing can be done to cause water levels to rise immediately.

What we can do is manage the problem by dredging our harbors so they remain available during the boating season.

This is particularly true for communities such as Port Huron, where harbors not only offer great boating facilities, but also are the front doors to our area’s offering of restaurants, camping and other recreational activities.

For more than 100 years, the federal government has helped fund the maintenance of many of our harbors. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund was created to provide funding for our harbors by collecting taxes on cargoes.

Unfortunately, Congress has failed to appropriate all of this money for this purpose. For the past several years I co-sponsored the Realize America’s Maritime Promise Act that requires funding to be appropriated for its intended purpose. Even if the RAMP Act had passed, however, most of the funding would go to large commercial harbors and little would find its way to recreational harbors on the Great Lakes.

The answer to our problem is not coming from the federal level.

Last year, I began talking with Gov. Rick Snyder about looking to find a Michigan solution. I have been very pleased with how proactive the governor, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Michigan Waterways Commission and the Legislature have been in tackling this challenge by bringing forward an emergency dredging strategy to provide grants to pay for dredging during this low-water-level crisis.

In the coming months, public harbors in Port Huron will have grants available for much-needed dredging through this program. This strategy could not have come at a better time for communities confronting these low water levels during challenging economic times.

My office has been in contact with the Army Corps of Engineers and is working with the Corps, appropriate state agencies and those responsible for administering local harbors to ensure this process proceeds expeditiously and any federal barriers are overcome.

Because of this plan, millions of Michigan residents and tourists will continue to have access to our magnificent Great Lakes in the coming boating season and find that our harbors are open for business so everyone can enjoy “Pure Michigan.” I applaud these actions, and I stand ready to assist in overcoming any federal hurdles that may arise as they conduct this important work.

Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, represents the 10th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.