Great Lakes Maritime Task Force sees steady progress on many key issues
There has been steady progress toward making shipping on the nation’s Fourth Sea Coast as efficient and reliable as possible, reported the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) in its 2016 Annual Report issued March 15. GLMTF, the largest labor/management coalition ever assembled to promote shipping on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway cites progress on the dredging crisis, construction of a second Poe-sized lock and adding another heavy icebreaker to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Great Lakes forces.
Significant progress has been made on reducing the amount of sediment clogging ports and waterways that, in turn, forces vessels to carry less cargo.
“It was not too long ago that the dredging backlog at Great Lakes ports and waterways topped 18 million cubic yards and was projected to grow to 21 million cubic yards,” states the annual report. “It now stands at 15 million cubic yards and will keep shrinking because expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund will annually increase rather than build a surplus that was then used to make the federal deficit seem smaller. We can see the day when fluctuating water levels, not lack of dredging, determine vessels’ loaded draft.”
The report notes there was no lengthy failure of either the Poe or MacArthur lock that connects Lake Superior to the lower four Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway, but warns the threat is even greater, as both chambers are now a year older (48 and 74, respectively). “We used to average building a new lock at the Soo every 19 years, but it is now nearly half a century since the Poe was opened.”
Congress authorized construction of a second Poe-sized lock at full federal expense in 2007.
“The stumbling block remains the Corps’ 2005 assessment of the project’s benefit-cost (b/c) ratio, which, because the report assumed the railroads had the capacity to move the cargoes stranded by a failure of the lock and could do so at no additional cost, was set at 0.73,” according to the report. “An administration cannot include a project in its budget unless the b/c ratio is at least 1.0. The Corps is reassessing the b/c ratio and its report is due by year’s end. We expect a very favorable report, because for one, Treasury’s recently released report estimates the project’s b/c ratio could be as high as 4.0.”
GLMTF cautions that two mild winters in a row must not lessen the region’s resolve to fund the new heavy Lakes icebreaker authorized in the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015. “Fortunately, our Great Lakes delegation, in particular Wisconsin Senators Tammy Baldwin (D) and Ron Johnson (R), takes the long view and is committed to another Mackinaw Class icebreaker.”
One disappointment in 2016 was failure to enact federal ballast water legislation, but GLMTF endorses the Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (S. 168/H.R. 1154) now moving through Congress. “We must have a uniform, federal ballast water discharge standard, one that meets the highest standard currently achievable and is dictated by the U.S. Coast Guard. The status quo, two federal vessel discharge regulations enforced by two different agencies, plus, at latest count, 25 state regimes, is unworkable.”
The annual report also highlights the conversion of two U.S.-flag steamships to internal combustion engines, GLMTF presenting its Legislator of the Year Awards to Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Representative David Joyce (R-OH), and concludes with a salute to Betty Sutton’s tenure as Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation Administrator.