Great Lakes task force cites 'steady progress' on marine issues

The following is the text of a news release from the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF):

(TOLEDO, Ohio) — The year 2016 was one of steady progress toward making shipping on our nation’s Fourth Sea Coast as efficient and reliable as possible, the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) said in its 2016 annual report issued today. GLMTF, the largest labor/management coalition assembled to promote shipping on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, cited 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 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 locks that connect Lake Superior to the lower four Great Lakes and 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,” the report says.

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. 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 Sens. 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 Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, and concludes with a salute to Betty Sutton’s tenure as St. Lawrence Seaway administrator.

Founded in 1992, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force promotes domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes. With 83 members, it is the largest coalition to ever speak for the Great Lakes shipping community and draws its membership from both labor and management representing U.S.-flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards and other Great Lakes interests. Its goals include ensuring Lakes dredging is adequately funded; construction of a second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.; addition of another heavy icebreaker to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Lakes forces; a federal ballast water discharge standard; protecting the Jones Act and other U.S. maritime cabotage laws and regulations; maximizing the Lakes overseas trade via the St. Lawrence Seaway; opposing exports and/or increased diversions of Great Lakes water; and expanding short sea shipping on the Lakes.

By Professional Mariner Staff