Rep. Miller: WRRDA is an Important Step Forward in the Protection of the Great Lakes

Oct 23, 2013

Click here to view Rep. Miller’s remarks on YouTube

H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 aimed at directly supporting jobs and our nation’s economy

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representative Candice Miller (MI-10), member of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, today spoke on the Floor of the U.S. House of Representative in support of H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 (WRRDA).  Included in H.R. 3080, is Miller’s provision designating all ports and harbors on the Great Lakes as a single, comprehensive navigation system for budgeting purposes – essentially allowing the Great Lakes ports and harbors to create a unified front when it comes to federal funding.  The overall H.R. 3080, WRRDA bill authorizes key missions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to develop, maintain, and support our nation’s waterways.  Additionally, H.R. 3080 allows Congress to update our nation’s infrastructure policies to meet the demands of our dynamic maritime economy.  Miller said:

“Mr. Speaker, I come from the great state of Michigan, also known as the Great Lakes State, and I have lived my entire life along the shores of this national treasure.  For those of us from Michigan, and the other Great Lakes states, the Great Lakes are not just the source of much of our drinking water, or a place we go to enjoy their natural beauty, or recreational opportunities, or where many of us work and make a living – they are central to our very identity.  That is why I have made the protection of the Great Lakes a principle advocacy during my all of the years that I have been in public service.

“The Great Lakes represent fully 1/5th or 20% of the surface freshwater drinking supply of the entire planet.  They provide the drinking water supply to tens of millions in our nation and millions more in Canada.  They are also vital to our economy.  Over 160 million tons of commercial cargo is shipped on the Great Lakes.  This commerce supports over 227,000 jobs, contributes $33.5 billion to the economy.

“The recreational aspect of the Great Lakes also builds our economy.  Recreational boating on the Great Lakes supports over 100,000 jobs and $16 billion in economic activity.  The secondary effect of this means an additional 244,000 jobs, $19 billion in additional economic activity.  Of course this includes boat manufacturers, marinas, charter operators and other businesses as well.  A healthy Great Lakes system is not only important to our economy in Michigan or other Great Lakes states – it is important to the entire nation.  Today, unfortunately the use of those waters is threatened by our inability to maintain our ports, channels and harbors.  A decade of below normal water levels and limited, or uncoordinated, federal funding for harbor dredging and infrastructure repair which has dramatically curtailed shipping and has made some of our recreational harbors almost inaccessible.  In fact, this year many of our recreational harbors were in crisis as low water levels made the need for dredging vital to the economic survival of so many communities.

“We as a nation must recognize the importance of the Great Lakes and give this natural wonder the properly coordinated support it needs.  That is why I joined with several of my Michigan colleagues, including Bill Huizenga and Dan Benishek, to introduce the Great Lakes Navigation System Sustainability Act.  Our legislation is supported by the Great Lakes Maritime Taskforce, the Great Lakes Metro Chambers of Commerce, the Lake Carriers Association, the American Great Lakes Port Association, the Great Lakes Small Harbors Coalition, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the United States Great Lakes Shipping Association and the Great Lakes Commission.  As well as the Council of Great Lakes Governors who supports the designation of a unified Great Lakes Navigation System.

“I am very pleased that House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Schuster worked with us to include important provisions of that legislation into the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, also known as WRRDA, which will be considered by this House today.  The most important of these provisions will establish the Great Lakes Navigation System, and require the Army Corps of Engineers to look at the Great Lakes system in its entirety, rather than looking at port by port when they are thinking about dredging or maintenance.  This would really end the practice of pitting one port in the Great Lakes against another, and instead focuses on the interdependence of all them. 

“The WRRDA bill also helps recognize our recreational harbors by providing 10% of all the funds authorized by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be directed to recreational harbors.  This type of funding will allow recreational harbors across the Great Lakes to have another opportunity for needed dredging support.  Places like Port Huron, Lexington, Port Sanilac, Harbor Beach, Port Austin, Sebewaing, and many others in my district – and there are so many others throughout the entire Great Lakes Basin. 

“If you travel to the state of Michigan and visit the shores of the Great Lakes you will find the magnificence of what we call, Pure Michigan.  But as possessive as those of us from Michigan are of the Great Lakes, we recognize that they are Pure American.  This incredible natural wonder deserves the recognition and protection from our entire nation.  Today we can take a very important step forward in the protection of the Great Lakes, our magnificent Great Lakes by passing the WRRDA bill.  And I urge all of my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill.”

Background: Unlike the coastal port ranges, waterborne commerce on the Great Lakes consists of an interdependent system of connecting channels linking ports both large and small.  Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers treats the Mississippi, Ohio and Illinois rivers as “systems” for budgeting purposes – but instead it views the Great Lakes as a collection of individual channels and ports, essentially pitting them against one another for funding.  Additionally, the WRRDA legislation will assist our recreational harbors by allowing federal navigation maintenance funding to come from non-federal sources and to enter into public-private partnerships for projects.

While the other waterway channels and ports in our nation have access to funding, our Great Lakes waterways are faced with decades of inadequate funding for dredging and infrastructure maintenance and modernization. 

The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund was established in 1986 to fund the operation and maintenance of ports and harbors (such as dredging, dredged material disposal areas, jetties, and breakwaters) and is funded by the Harbor Maintenance Tax.  The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund was approximately $7 billion at the end of FY12 and continues to grow by hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Groups supporting the designation of a unified Great Lakes Navigation System are:
The Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition, the Lake Carriers’ Association, the American Great Lakes Ports Association, the Great Lakes Small Harbors Coalition, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, Council of Great Lakes Governors, the United States Great Lakes Shipping Association, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Great Lakes Commission.

Click here for more information about WRRDA, including text of the introduced bill and a document describing the importance of WRRDA and how it will improve American infrastructure and competitiveness.