TOLEDO, OH – Increases in cargo movement on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway in 2017 were but two of several positive developments last year. The 2017 Annual Report of Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) released today highlights progress on maintaining the Jones Act as the foundation of America’s domestic maritime policy; building a second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; construction of another heavy icebreaker for the Great Lakes; and increased funding for dredging Great Lakes ports and waterways.
The Jones Act requires that cargo moving between U.S. ports be carried in vessels that are U.S.-crewed, -built and -owned. Although the Jones Act was enacted in 1920, the United States has reserved domestic waterborne commerce to U.S.-flag vessels since 1817. Following the hurricanes that battered Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico, there were claims the law was inhibiting relief efforts, particularly in Puerto Rico, but there was no basis in fact. “The docks were jammed with cargo. The problem was the land-based transportation infrastructure was so tattered after the hurricane that cargo could not move inland. Congress wisely rejected making any changes to the Jones Act.”
On the infrastructure front, GLMTF continued its efforts to build a second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The Soo Locks connect Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway and typically handle 80 million tons of cargo per year, 90-plus percent of which transit the Poe Lock. Although authorized by Congress, the project has been stalled by a flawed benefit/cost analysis by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but President Trump has pledged to get the project moving.
The Task Force is also focused on building another heavy icebreaker to partner with the MACKINAW so the U.S. Coast Guard can keep cargo moving during the ice season, typically mid-December to mid- or late-April. The Annual Report notes that in December 2017 and January 2018, U.S.-flag lakers had more than 1.8 million tons of cargo delayed or cancelled by ice.
“While the MACKINAW performed well, the Coast Guard’s smaller icebreakers were often overmatched, and some had to be taken out of service for varying periods of time … The only way the fleet can reliably meet the needs of commerce is if the United States Coast Guard has two heavy icebreakers stationed on the Great Lakes.”
The Great Lakes are currently in a period of high water, but it is inevitable that they will fall again, so it is imperative that Congress continue to increase expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and give the Lakes their fair share of dredging dollars. “Thanks to GLMTF’s commitment to restoring adequate funding for dredging, the Lakes’ annual appropriation has just about doubled, from $80 million in 2012 to almost $160 million in 2017, but the need remains great. Nearly 15 million cubic yards of sediment still clog the Great Lakes Navigation System.”
GLMTF continued to support passage of the S. 168, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA). This legislation will bring much needed clarity and consistency to governance of ballast water discharges and put oversight where it best belongs: The U.S. Coast Guard. The current patchwork approach of regulations differing from federal agency to federal agency and state to state makes compliance nearly impossible.
GLMTF’s Annual Report also highlights other developments on the Great Lakes and Seaway in 2017.
Founded in 1992, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force promotes domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes. With 79 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 other goals include 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.