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MI reps push for more funding for Great Lakes dredging
WASHINGTON — Three Michigan members of Congress are pushing a measure that could help generate more funding for harbor dredging in the state and across the Great Lakes.
The legislation proposed by House Administration Chairwoman Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, as well as Reps. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, and Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, comes just as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is preparing to take up a new bill to authorize water resources projects.
Miller, who is a member of the Transportation Committee, said she will work to have this legislation included in that bill.
The measure attempted to address a growing backlog of dredging projects across the Great Lakes by taking the dozens of commercial and recreational harbors and channels in the Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway and combining them into one system for budgeting purposes.
The rationale for doing so is that by combining them the overall system would be eligible for more funding from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The Free Press first reported in March how billions of dollars from the trust fund have been diverted to other purposes, while the dredging backlog has grown.
Miller said the measure is needed to “ensure our harbors and waterways are provided the resources they need,” especially at a time of historic low water levels in the lakes.
“By treating the Great Lakes as a ‘system,’ our nation will utilize the user-funds collected under the Harbor Maintenance Tax for their intended purpose – operations and maintenance of our nation’s ports and harbors,” she said.
Because the Army Corps, which is responsible for prioritizing and funding navigation projects, views the Great Lakes harbors and channels as individual entities, they effectively wind up competing against each other for funding.
Last month, the U.S. Senate approved a water resources bill that included a provision that would require $1 billion in proceeds from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund be spent in the next fiscal year, and the minimum funding level increase by at least $100 million in the years after that.
That provision would be expected to help the backlog of about $200 million in dredging projects spread across 60 federally maintained commercial harbors and channels in the Great Lakes, almost half of which are in Michigan. That legislation also included a provision that at least 20% of any additional funding above last year’s levels go to Great Lakes projects.
Differences between House and Senate versions of water resource development legislation — once the House passes a bill — would be expected to be worked out at a conference committee between the two chambers later this year.