seeking to alleviate the federal "dredging crisis" has been
introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate, with
some shippers and ports hopeful the bills could provide a major
efficiency boost at commerce-bearing lakes, rivers and
"Congress must quickly pass
these bills," Donald N. Cree, president of the Great Lakes
Maritime Task Force, said in a statement. "The dredging crisis
is obliterating the efficiencies of Great Lakes shipping."
If passed, H.R.335 and companion
bill S.218 would require the entire funds collected via a
0.125-percent harbor maintenance tax to be spent on dredging,
as mandated in the transportation bill. Although money is being
collected for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, only a
fraction of it is being spent on federal dredging projects,
bill advocates say. Instead, according to the Great Lakes
Maritime Task Force, the funds surplus, now approaching
$7 billion, "is used to mask the size of the federal deficit
rather than maintain ports and waterways."
As a result, 17 million cubic
yards of sediment clog Great Lakes harbors, forcing the largest
vessels to move 10,000 fewer tons of cargofrom iron ore
to finished steelper trip, the Toledo, Ohio-based task
"Plunging water levels (caused
by drought) are beyond anyones control, but the dredging
crisis is man-made," said James H.I. Weakley, vice president of
the task force and president of the Lake Carriers
But its not just shippers
and ports along the Great Lakes that are backing the proposed
legislation. Port officials coast to coast also have taken up
the cause, according to testimony at a Jan. 31 Senate
Environment and Public Works Committee hearing.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
spends $1.7 billion per year to replace, rehabilitate, operate
and maintain commercial navigation infrastructure for 13,000
miles of coastal channels and 12,000 miles of inland waterways,
Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Armys civil
works division, told the committee.
Most ports are able to process
current cargo rates at todays funding levels, she said,
but "some carriers encounter delays, need to proceed more
slowly due to hazards, light-load their vessels or offload some
cargo to smaller vessels" due to the lack of dredging.
The issue becomes even more
pressing as the countrys ports prepare to handle bigger
vessels that will start to come through an enlarged Panama
Canal in about two years, Darcy said. "Many of the worlds
shipping companies are constructing larger, more-efficient
container vessels that require channel depths of 50 to 55 feet
when the vessels are fully loaded." But on the East Coast, only
Norfolk and Baltimore have ports deep enough to receive ships
that large, although the Port of New York/New Jersey is
dredging now to reach 50-foot depths in 2015.
"The (Army) Corps is working
with seven ports on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts to evaluate
proposals to deepen or widen their channels," Darcy said.
Some portslike the Port of
Houston Authorityhave announced their own dredging plans,
but out of their own pockets rather than with federal funding
amm.com, Dec. 28).
Andrew H. Cairns, representing
the American Society of Civil Engineers, testified that a study
conducted last year estimated the countrys maritime
investment needs will total $30 billion through 2020 but
planned expenditures amount to only $14 billion.
The study calculated costs
attributable to shipment delays in the nations inland
waterways in 2010 at $33 billion, costs that "reverberate
throughout the economy," Cairns said. "This cost is expected to
increase to nearly $49 billion by 2020" if the crumbling
waterways infrastructure is not restored.