U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today announced that the Omnibus spending bill – a must-pass bill that funds the federal government through the end of the fiscal year – includes $1.1 billion in funding for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), an increase of $100 million over last year’s allocation. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund provides funding for operations and maintenance of federal ports and harbors, including for dredging and upkeep projects at ports like Buffalo, Rochester and Oswego. Schumer explained that the funding amount in the omnibus bill will make more federal funds available for Upstate New York projects, particularly because of a new provision, passed earlier this year, called the “Great Lakes Set Aside.” This provision, which Schumer and Gillibrand pushed to include in the Water Resources Reform & Development Act (WRRDA) earlier this year that recognizes the Great Lakes as an interconnected commercial navigation system for the first time and prioritizes not less than 10 percent of the new, additional revenues coming into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund annually for “projects that are a priority for navigation in the Great Lakes Navigation system” and it also Great Lakes harbors to compete for another new 10 percent set-aside for “emerging ports and harbors.” That means, with this $100 million in additional funding for HMTF, the Great Lakes would receive an additional $10 million plus the ability to compete for an additional $10 million. The bill, along with the funding allotment for HMTF, could be voted on by both the House and Senate as early as this week.
“This increased federal funding is a great shot in the arm for critical maintenance projects in Great Lakes harbors like Rochester, Buffalo, and Oswego that have gone unfunded for far too long,” said Senator Schumer. “These additional federal dollars, combined with an increased allocation I helped secure for Great Lakes ports, means more funding can flow to critical projects around the state. All we need now is for this bill to pass both the House and the Senate, and then the request heads straight to the President’s desk. I am urging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress to vote for this bill and help us secure the funding we need to make sure our Great Lakes harbors are dredged, so that commerce and trade can flow in and out of these Ports, and fuel Upstate New York businesses and jobs.”
“This funding announcement is great news for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, and for the many communities across New York State that depend on harbors for their wellbeing,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It is so important for our waterways and the people who use them that we can continue the various maintenance projects we have around the state, and this federal funding will help ensure that they can stay in place well into the future.”
Each year, about 145 million tons of commodities are carried through the Great Lakes Navigation System. The materials transported include fuel that powers homes and businesses, limestone and cement to construct roads and bridges, iron ore to produce steel, chemicals and other raw materials for manufacturers, and agricultural products to feed our nation and the world. This mode of transport has both economic and environmental advantages compared to alternative transportation options, and supports about 130,000 jobs in the U.S. and generates over $18 billion in revenues. The Great Lakes Navigation System is a vital component of our regional economic infrastructure. It generates 230,000 jobs, $14 billion in wages and more than $33 billion in business revenue in North America. Great Lakes shipping provides energy-efficient transportation of raw materials that fuel important sectors of our economy, including steel production, power generation, construction and agriculture.
Despite the benefits the Great Lakes Navigation System provides, inadequate funding and maintenance has resulted in a tremendous backlog of dredging projects that have forced vessels to light load, has grounded vessels, impeded safe navigation, and closed harbors and threatened other harbors with closure. To further exacerbate the problem, the water levels of a number of the Great Lakes have reached record lows in the last few years. The impacts of the lack of dredging and other required maintenance, including lock improvements, breakwater repairs, and construction of dredged material disposal facilities, have economic consequences that hinder economic growth.