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Trade group seeks funding to dredge Great Lakes ports

Keywords: Tags  Lake Carriers Association, Glen Nekvasil, ports, dredging, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Great Lakes, Indiana Harbor, corinna petry

CHICAGO — Shippers and vessel operators on the Great Lakes are taking a financial hit because of an inability to carry full loads due to insufficient port depths that don’t allow for vessels’ full drafts, according to the Lake Carriers’ Association.

The Rocky River, Ohio-based association continues to lobby Congress and the Obama administration for funds to dredge Great Lakes ports, some of which have been untouched for decades, a practice that has allowed sediment to build.

"What we are looking for is additional funding," association vice president Glen G. Nekvasil told AMM.

"The administration is spending $31 million on lakes dredging in fiscal 2013," he said. "That will remove 2.4 million cubic yards of sediment" from 15 of the 60 ports around the Great Lakes’ U.S. shores, including the ports of Cleveland, Detroit, Duluth-Superior, Minn., and Toledo, Ohio. The problem, he said, is that the natural siltation rate is 3.3 million cubic yards per year.

"We need $40 million per year to keep pace with natural siltation and we need more than $200 million to clear the backlog," which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates at 17 million cubic yards, Nekvasil said.

"The dredging crisis is a long-term situation but is now exacerbated by the fact that we have another drought on (lakes) Huron and Michigan, which are connected by (the) Straits of Mackinac," used by iron ore carriers to carry shipments from mines in Minnesota to steelmakers in Indiana. "(Water levels) are heading to record lows this winter."

According to shipping terminals’ reports, Western coal trade loading is a little less than 60,000 tons per vessel. "In the 1970s, we had over 70,000-ton cargoes, so we are losing 10,000 tons each trip due to low water and a lack of dredging," Nekvasil said.

"Work has begun on Indiana Harbor for the first time since 1972," Nekvasil said. "It took that long because of permitting about where to put removed sediment" (, June 27).

Some smaller ports, such as Holland and St. Joseph, Mich., were dredged in 2012, allowing load sizes for such steelmaking materials as limestone to improve, he said.

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