Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to dedicate at least $30 million from their budget for infrastructure improvements along the Great Lakes. The Senators sent the letter, along with Senators Kirk, Levin, Baldwin, Klobuchar, Franken, Brown, Portman, Stabenow, Donnelly, Johnson and Durbin, to push for dedicated Great Lakes funding from the $200 million pot of eligible funding in the USACE budget. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand successfully fought to boost the USACE’s funding levels in the recently-passed budget, with projects like Great Lakes dredging in mind. The Senators argued that the Great Lakes are a critical navigation route for shipping raw materials through the interior of the country, but many areas around ports are desperately in need of dredging, repairs, and infrastructure improvements. Without such repairs, ships will continue to “light-load” and face potential grounding, which slows commerce and can cause some harbors to close.
“The Great Lakes, throughout history, have been an arterial navigation route for our manufacturers and businesses, and we must ensure these critical resources are well-maintained. In particular, an efficient Great Lakes system impacts the delivery of products to market and the ability of businesses in New York to grow – especially at major New York ports on the Lakes like Buffalo, Rochester, Oswego, Dunkirk and Ogdensburg. But the infrastructure that services these ports, and indeed the environment itself, is in need of maintenance to ensure they continue to be a hub for shipping and commerce,” said Schumer. “That’s why we’re urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to direct more funds to Great Lakes dredging and repair projects, particularly given their funding boost in the just-passed appropriations bill.”
“The Great Lakes are a lifeline to local economies across upstate New York,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee. “But too many of New York’s lakeside communities today are cut off when shipping vessels cannot operate in or even reach our ports and harbors, and our economy is paying the price. We need to make this targeted investment to help strengthen our local ports and harbors, and make the most of their potential to strengthen our businesses, support jobs, and grow our economy.”
A copy of the Senators’ letter appears below:
Dear Secretary Darcy:
The Great Lakes serve a vital transportation function for hauling raw materials for our manufacturers, building materials for roads and bridges, coal for powering our homes and businesses, equipment for wind turbines, and food for domestic and international consumption. This mode of transportation through the Great Lakes is often the least expensive way to ship these goods across the Midwest. In order for this navigational infrastructure to function well, harbors and channels need to be dredged, breakwaters need to be maintained, and locks need to operate effectively. The system, however, has not been adequately maintained and faces a backlog of critical dredging needs, including construction and expansion of dredged material management facilities; aging locks in need of repair and modernization; and deteriorating navigation structures such as breakwaters, piers, and jetties, most of which were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
On January 16, 2014, Congress approved an appropriations measure for fiscal year 2014 (FY2014) that provided funding to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) for a variety of water resource projects, including Great Lakes navigation projects. In addition to amounts specifically allocated to individual navigation projects, additional funding was provided, which the Corps will distribute to individual projects across the country using guidance provided in the bill. This additional funding was provided by Congress because, as explained in the joint statement, “Federal navigation channels maintained at only a fraction of authorized dimensions . . . results in economic inefficiencies and risks infrastructure failure, which can cause substantial economic losses. Investing in operation, maintenance, and rehabilitation of infrastructure today will save taxpayers money in the future.” Of the additional funds provided by Congress, Great Lakes navigation projects are eligible for about $200 million, which include additional funds for navigation maintenance, deep-draft harbors and channels, small remote or subsistence navigation, and regional sediment management.
We urge you to direct at a minimum $30 million from these additional funds to Great Lakes navigation projects. The backlog in dredging projects, along with low lake levels in recent years, has forced vessels to light-load, grounded vessels, impeded safe navigation, closed harbors, and threatened other harbors with closure. In addition, the lack of maintenance to locks and breakwaters, along with a lack of adequate dredged material disposal facilities, necessitates a significant portion of the additional funds be directed to Great Lakes projects.
The Great Lakes navigational infrastructure is essential to the strength of our economy and the protection of lives and property. Providing funding to adequately maintain this infrastructure needs to be prioritized. As you work to allocate the FY2014 funds, we urge you to recognize the tremendous economic value of the Great Lakes navigational system to the region and the nation.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.