(TOLEDO, Ohio) — Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has been named 2016 Great Lakes Legislator of the Year by the largest labor/management coalition representing shipping on America’s fourth sea coast. The award is presented annually by Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) to a legislator who has helped advance waterborne commerce on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway and will be presented at a ceremony at Bay Shipbuilding Co. in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., on March 19.
“Senator Johnson has demonstrated time and again that Great Lakes shipping has his full support,” said Thomas Curelli, president of GLMTF. “From the start he has fully recognized that Great Lakes shipping is a linchpin in both the Wisconsin and national economies and called for better maintenance of ports and waterways and more effective prioritization of federal spending on dredging and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects."
Curelli, who is also vice president of engineering, environmental services and governmental affairs for Fraser Shipyards Inc., noted that increased funding has enabled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reduce the dredging backlog on the Lakes. “However, more than 17 million cubic yards of sediment still clogs Great Lakes ports and waterways, so we will need Sen. Johnson’s support for a provision in the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 that requires 10 percent of HMTF (Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund) funding go to the Great Lakes Navigation System.”
Johnson’s chairmanship of the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is another benefit to the Lakes. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ navigation locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., are critical to the Great Lakes economy,” said Brian D. Krus, first vice president of GLMTF and senior national assistance vice president of American Maritime Officers. “The Department of Homeland Security recently estimated that a six-month outage of the Poe Lock would result in almost 11 million unemployed Americans and a $1.1 trillion decrease in economic activity. Sen. Johnson’s oversight of the nation’s critical infrastructure helps keep the Corps focused on maintaining the ‘Soo’ Locks’ critical navigation link between the Great Lakes.”
James H.I. Weakley, second vice president of GLMTF and president of the Lake Carriers’ Association, said, “It is appropriate that the award will be presented at a Wisconsin shipyard because domestic and military vessels provide more than 1,000 family sustaining jobs for Wisconsinites. The normal maintenance and modernization work U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleets are performing at the shipyards in Sturgeon Bay and Superior this winter are pumping approximately $50 million into the Wisconsin economy. Two repowering projects are adding another $50 million to that total.”
Protection of the environment is a top priority for Johnson. Repowering vessels lessens the carbon footprint of Great Lakes shipping, but equally important is federal legislation that effectively regulates ballast water. “We appreciate Sen. Johnson’s support for the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (S. 373), as it would establish a uniform, federal standard for ballast water discharges. Sen. Johnson worked to ensure that Great Lakes concerns are specifically addressed in the bill,” Weakley said.
Johnson focus on bolstering the U.S. Coast Guard’s icebreaking resources on the Great Lakes was yet another reason for his selection has Great Lakes Legislator of the Year. “Most people think icebreaking is primarily for the iron ore and coal trades,” said John D. Baker, third vice president of GLMTF and president emeritus of the ILA’s Great Lakes District Council, “but the St. Lawrence Seaway is also heavily dependent on the Coast Guard keeping the shipping lanes open. Oceangoing vessel operators will not take the chance on being trapped on the Lakes over the winter or suffering significant ice damage when the Seaway opens in late March. Sen. Johnson fully supports the Coast Guard building another heavy icebreaker and accelerating the modernization of its other icebreaking assets.”
With his selection as Great Lakes Legislator of the Year, Johnson becomes the third Wisconsin legislator to receive the award since its inception in 1998. Previous recipients are Democratic Rep. David R. Obey and Republican Rep. Mark Green.