New legislation promises to give Great Lakes their due

Sep 24, 2013

The Port Huron Times Herald

Last week marked the beginning of what could become a landmark effort to preserve the long-term health of Michigan's greatest natural treasure — the Great Lakes and their connecting waterways.

In legislation taken up by the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway are expected to be designated for the first time as a single navigation system for federal budgetary purposes.

Included in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 (H.R. 3080) is the long-awaited designation of all Great Lakes ports as a single, interdependent system. That allows our ports to compete for federal funding on a level playing field with ports along other inland waterways such as the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio River systems, as well as major restoration projects in the Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades.

I am Michigan’s only U.S. representative on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. This recognition of a Great Lakes system is an action I advocated along with my fellow Michigan representatives, Bill Huizenga and Dan Benishek. Together, we introduced legislative language incorporated into the overall H.R. 3080 legislation the committee now will send to the full House for consideration and a vote.

It is long past time for the federal government to recognize that our Great Lakes serve as a critical and interdependent system that contributes $33.5 billion a year to our region’s economy.

There are numerous groups supporting the designation of a unified Great Lakes navigation system. They include the Council of Great Lakes Governors, the Lake Carriers’ Association and the Great Lakes Commission.

After years of low lake levels and wrongheaded federal policy delaying much-needed dredging and infrastructure improvement, the 140 commercial and recreational ports of the Great Lakes were severely neglected.

A change in federal policy — including a congressional proposal to dedicate billions in unspent dollars from a Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to the actual use of maintenance — would make it possible to address these urgent needs.

Included in this important legislation is a specific provision dedicating funding for the maintenance of our smaller harbors (those that have less than 1 million tons of cargo each year) and will ensure that there is funding available for some of those harbors’ needed expenditures. Many of Michigan’s smaller harbors are the lifeblood of our coastal communities by providing recreational, tourism and various other commerce needs.

Neither of these proposed changes calls for any new federal spending. They merely seek federal recognition of what we in Michigan already know: The Great Lakes — with more than 20 percent of the world’s fresh water supply — should not be an afterthought for our national government when it comes to setting water resources policy.

The Great Lakes should be a priority.

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