Biden budget includes Great Lakes navigation priorities

(WASHINGTON) — On Thursday, the White House released an outline of its fiscal year 2024 budget proposal. The budget includes the following amounts proposed for key programs of importance to Great Lakes ports. The list includes several surprises as noted below by the American Great Lakes Ports Association (AGLPA):

Great Lakes icebreaker

The White House has proposed $55 million in the Coast Guard’s budget for first-year acquisition funds for a new heavy Great Lakes icebreaker. This amount exceeds the $40 million being sought by industry advocates and is a tremendous victory, the AGLPA said. Significant credit goes to Lake Carriers’ Association for leading a multifaceted coalition of Great Lakes maritime stakeholders in support of this important project. Many thanks to the Great Lakes congressional delegation who have championed the project and pushed against Coast Guard opposition.

Great Lakes Authority

In a surprise development, the budget includes $5 million for the Great Lakes Authority, a new regional economic development agency created by Congress only three months ago. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, has championed the agency’s creation and led a bipartisan congressional coalition to secure its authorization. If approved by Congress, first-year funds provided in President Biden’s budget will help fast track the establishment of the authority’s board and staff.

Port infrastructure grants

The White House has asked Congress to approve $300 million for the Maritime Administration’s Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP). The program was funded at $212 million last year. It’s important to remember that in addition to this “baseline funding,” the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides $450 million each year for PIDP between FY 2022-26. These IIJA funds have already been approved and are not dependent on annual appropriations.

Marine Highway Program

The Biden administration has proposed $11 million for the Maritime Administration’s America’s Marine Highway Program. This is a $1 million increase from last year’s funding level of $10 million.

The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership/Chuck Zentmeyer photo

Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp.

The president’s budget proposes $40.29 million for the agency in FY 2024, including $16.3 million for the Seaway’s ongoing infrastructure improvement program. Last year, Congress provided $38.5 million for the agency.

Army Corps of Engineers – operations and maintenance

The Biden administration has proposed $1.68 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for the Corps’ deep-draft coastal navigation O&M program. Of this total, $275 million will be spent in the Great Lakes. These funds are used for harbor and channel dredging, repair of breakwaters and jetties, and lock maintenance.

New Soo Lock?

Perhaps the biggest shock was the omission of construction funds in the budget for the new Soo Lock project, which is currently under construction in northern Michigan. The budget does includes a new $235 million funding category called “project cost increase reserve,” which appears to be a bucket of money for the Corps to later assign to specific projects that have gone up in cost.

Hypothetically, a project like the Soo Lock could be assigned a portion of these funds. In fact, the budget document cites the Soo Lock as an example of the kind of project that might qualify. AGLPA will be working closely with its congressional delegation to advocate for additional funds for the lock project and to ensure that the project continues to move forward toward completion.

What’s next?

Congress will now consider the funding levels proposed by the Biden administration for these and other federal programs. Final decisions will be enacted in law in the various FY 2024 appropriation bills.

Hypothetically, those bills should be completed before the beginning of the fiscal year on Oct. 1; however, Congress typically misses this deadline and usually enacts the appropriation bills just prior to Christmas. AGLPA will continue to track the budget and appropriations process and report on developments.

– American Great Lakes Ports Association

By Rich Miller