The Lake Carriers’ Association expresses gratitude for the members of Congress who continue to see the importance of the Great Lakes maritime industry and the vital economic security it provides the nation.
The massive omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress this week includes funding for a new U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Great Lakes icebreaker and significant investment in the Great Lakes Navigation System (GLNS).
FY21 appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security include $4 million for the USCG to build the desperately needed heavy Great Lakes icebreaker. The project has received a total of $18 million over the past five years. “Senator Tammy Baldwin, along with the support of other Great Lakes Congressional delegates put significant effort into making sure commerce can continue to move safely on the Great Lakes during the winter months. It is obvious Congress has a vested interest in protecting our mariners from dangerous ice conditions, coastal communities from devastating floods caused by ice jams, and the economy from major disruptions,” stated Jim Weakley, President of the Lake Carriers’ Association. The loss of over $2 billion in economic activity and over 10,000 jobs during the past eight years due to inadequate icebreaking on the Great Lakes remains a serious concern. The money appropriated this year for the USCG will continue the progress already made to move the new Great Lakes heavy icebreaker forward.
FY21 appropriations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) include a total of $182.42 million in construction funding for the USACE locks in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. These funds can be used to continue construction of the new large lock project, complete the rehabilitation of the Poe Lock, and complete the replacement of the 100-year old dewatering pumps currently serving the Poe Lock (the new pumps will also serve the new lock). These projects are necessary to ensure that the supply of iron ore required for the entire U.S. blast furnace steel manufacturing industry can continue to be delivered and jobs can be saved. The USACE appropriations also fund the President’s budget request for operations and maintenance (O&M) of several individual GLNS projects and provides an additional $585 million in O&M navigation funding above the President’s request, some of which is likely to be used to support additional GLNS maintenance needs through the USACE work plan for this fiscal year.
The Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 includes significant developments for the GLNS. While the Congress has recently appropriated amounts from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) almost equaling annual revenue into the HMTF, there remains an almost $10 billion balance in the HMTF. WRDA 2020 would increase the off-budget treatment of HMTF appropriations to facilitate expending this HMTF balance over a several year period so that all of these beneficiary-paid funds can be used for their intended purposes. Specific to the Great Lakes, WRDA includes language that requires the Corps to allocate 13 percent of HMTF appropriations to the GLNS. Currently, only 10 percent of HMTF appropriations are required to be allocated to the GLNS. This additional funding will support critical navigation projects including maintenance of the MacArthur and Poe Locks, dredging of GLNS navigation channels, and repair of Great Lakes harbor jetties and breakwaters.
The Great Lakes Navigation System is the pilot light of the nation’s economy and with these appropriations it continues to burn bright.