Reps. Miller, Huizenga, Benishek Introduce Legislation to Support our Great Lakes Waterways

Jun 6, 2013

Bipartisan legislation aimed at directly supporting Great Lakes’ jobs and our nation’s economy

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representatives Candice Miller (MI-10), Bill Huizenga (MI-02) and Dan Benishek (MI-01) today introduced the Great Lakes Navigation System Sustainability Act (H.R.2273) to modernize the current Great Lakes Navigation System (GLNS).  This legislation would establish a single, comprehensive Great Lakes Navigation System for budgeting purposes.  It would take all the individually authorized commercial and recreational navigation projects in the Great Lakes and recognize them as a unified entity to ensure adequate funding.  This legislation also creates a program to help reduce the harbor maintenance backlog.  It does not create any new spending – instead uses existing funds from the underutilized Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to establish a cost-share program that makes these funds available by giving priority to harbors that provide a 50% cost-share for a Great Lakes Navigation System project.  Joining Miller, Huizenga and Benishek as original co-sponsors: Representatives Louise Slaughter (NY-25) and Brian Higgins (NY-26).

Rep. Miller:  “Our Great Lakes harbors and supporting waterways create and sustain hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the entire region and the commerce carried on the Great Lakes contributes greatly to the entire nation’s economy.  Throughout my career in public service, I have recognized the important role the Great Lakes play in our economy and have advocated and worked to improve our harbors and waterways’ infrastructure on the Great Lakes.  Simply put, more efficient Great Lakes shipping helps to create a strong U.S. economy.  In order to grow and strengthen our regional and national economy we must ensure our harbors and waterways are provided the resources they need. 

“There is currently a backlog of needed dredging projects that will cost $200 million to remove 18 million yards of sand and silt to enable the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin harbors to become fully functional.  By using existing funds to implement a program where the federal government and state and local communities work together, this legislation will help eliminate this backlog.  This partnership is important now more than ever as the Great Lakes continue to experience historic low water levels.  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.  For years much of this fund, which was created through fees placed on shippers, has sat unspent or used for other purposes while important infrastructure projects have been ignored.  My goal is to incorporate this legislation into the Water Resources Development Act the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is set to begin work on.”

Rep. Huizenga: “Ensuring Michigan's harbors and ports throughout the Great Lakes are properly dredged is critical to Michigan in terms of manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism as well as the economic longevity of the entire Great Lakes Region.  The Great Lakes Navigation System Sustainability Act of 2013 classifies the entire Great Lakes Navigation System as a unified body, recognizing the economic benefits that come from interdependence. The Army Corps will be instructed to count the 160 million tons of cargo shipped throughout the various ports in the Great Lakes Region as a single entity rather than forcing all 140 harbors to compete against one another. 

“By classifying the Great Lakes like other major shipping waterways, harbors spanning from the St. Lawrence River Basin to Lake Michigan will be able to compete for funds needed to alleviate the over $200 million dredging backlog throughout the Great Lakes.  Lastly, this legislation provides the Detroit District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the flexibility they need to work with local communities to prioritize spending for dredging projects instead of leaving those decisions to unnamed bureaucrats in Washington.”

Rep. Benishek: “Our harbors and ports are a critical part of Northern Michigan’s economy.  Unfortunately we’ve seen the funding that’s supposed to be used for our harbors being siphoned off and spent on other things.  Frankly, we need to fix that.  I’m pleased to join with Rep. Miller and Rep. Huizenga in offering this legislation to address these problems.  Properly maintaining our harbors is more important than ever because our region is facing historically low water levels in the Great Lakes.  I’ve been speaking with citizens all over Northern Michigan whose jobs depend on well maintained harbors and they want to see some solutions.  That’s exactly what this legislation does.”

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, this legislation will assist our recreational harbors by authorizing a federal-cost sharing partnership to provide up to a 50/50 funding share for operations and maintenance 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 Great Lakes Navigation System Sustainability Act are: the Great Lakes Small Harbors Coalition, the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, the Lake Carriers’ Association, the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition and the American Great Lakes Ports Association.

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