Federal legislators are being urged to reform a trust fund enacted in 1986 to help maintain and operate commercial ports and navigation channels, including those in the Great Lakes /St. Lawrence Seaway system.
The Great Lakes Commission, during its semiannual meeting last week in Washington, D.C., approved a resolution calling on Congress to enact legislation requiring revenues from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund be expended at a rate equal to the tax on imports and domestic cargo arriving at U.S. ports.
The commission contends the maintenance fund receives about $1.4 billion annually from a harbor maintenance tax but only about $700 million is spent on dredging and other maintenance practices.
The commission estimates there is about $4.7 billion surplus in the fund “while ports suffer from inadequate maintenance, including those in the Great Lakes where there is a crucial dredging backlog that will cost an estimated $230 million to eliminate…” the resolution says.
That backlog, the commission argues, has resulted in cargo carriers on the lakes reducing their loads by 50 to 270 tons per every inch of draft loss to inadequate dredging, diminishing the efficiency of the carriers.
The resolution states the maintenance tax and trust fund were enacted for the “express purpose of funding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers” operation and maintenance…” of federally authorized commercial ports and channels.
Sean Logan, Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the additional funding would help spur economic development as well as address sedimentation issues in Ohio and other Great Lake states.
Congress has not fully appropriated the annual revenue since 2003, he said.
“If Congress would spend the full amount from the ….trust fund, it would stimulate economic development and job creation throughout the region,” he said. “Investing in the Great Lakes in this way will improve the Great Lakes navigation infrastructure and benefit the health of our freshwater resources through proper disposal of dredge material.”
James Weakley, President of the Lake Carriers’ Association, which represents U.S. flag vessel operations on the lakes, said shipments to and from Lake Erie ports surpass 50 million tons a year.
“Ohio’s ports could handle more cargo if they were dredged to dimensions, but decades of inadequate funding has left them clogged with sediment,” he said.
Members of the Great Lakes Commission were in the nation’s capital for their semi-annual meeting and Great Lakes Day in Washington. They approved another resolution endorsing priorities for 2010 that would help revitalize the economy, including:
• Full funding of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund
• The clean-up of contaminated sediments by fully funding the Great Lakes Legacy Act
• Restoring fish and wildlife resources by fully funding the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act