April 14, 2020
Via E-Mail to: Great Lakes Region Federal Legislators
Dear Great Lakes Region Representatives and Senators:
The Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, with 76 members, is the largest coalition to speak for the Great Lakes Navigation System. Advocating for domestic and international shipping, it’s members represent labor and management from U.S.-flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards and other Great Lakes interests. The Great Lakes regional maritime industry supports more than 147,000 American jobs in eight Great Lakes states and generates more than $25 billion in economic activity.
We recognize the considerable initiatives already enacted by Congress to protect the health and economic security of the American people as our nation responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a designated essential industry, we want to assure you that we are working closely with state and federal officials to protect the health of our workers while maintaining operations and serving our customers in critical regional industries such as steel making, manufacturing, mining, energy, and agricultural production.
Should Congress consider additional action to further stimulate the economy, we urge you to consider investments in Great Lakes navigation infrastructure. Each of the following recommendations will not only create jobs in the short term, but also represent a prudent investment in the economy of the Great Lakes region.
1. Construct a new Great Lakes icebreaker
Heavy ice threatens the reliability of Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway transportation early and late in the navigation season, when 15 percent of our cargo moves. Severe winter ice not only delays shipping but can be a hazard to the safety of vessels and their crew. Vessels have been forced aground or sliced open by ice flows. In 1979, the U.S. and Canadian governments had a total of 20 icebreaking vessels serving the Great Lakes. Today, only 11 such vessels provide icebreaking service. Combined, inadequate icebreaking capabilities on the Great Lakes during the winters of 2013-2014, 2014-2015 and 2018-2019 cost the American economy $2 billion and more than 10,000 jobs. In 2015, Congress authorized construction of a new heavy icebreaker for the Great Lakes. Congress has also appropriated $14 million for the project. The Coast Guard is establishing a project office. Using the design of the USCGC MACKINAW, the project can begin immediately. In the first three to six months the design can be refreshed, shipyard planning can be completed, and long lead time equipment can be ordered. Steel cutting and fabrication can begin within one year after the money is appropriated. This “shovel ready” project will be built in the Great Lakes, with raw materials from the Great Lakes, and from steel milled in the Great Lakes, and will serve the Great Lakes for generations. Construction of the icebreaker will likely create 1,044 jobs (350 direct shipyard jobs, 310 induced jobs and 384 indirect jobs). The project’s estimated cost is $162 million.
Total estimated need = $162 million – U.S. Coast Guard / Procurement, Construction and Improvement
2. Repair the existing Soo Locks
Owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the lock complex at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (“Soo Locks”) enables ships to navigate the St. Marys River, which connects Lake Superior to the lower four Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. The two currently operating locks were constructed in 1943 and 1968. This infrastructure, especially the larger Poe Lock, is in need of repair to remain operational. In 2007, the Corps began a multi-year program to rehabilitate and modernize these locks. To date, more than $130 million has been appropriated for this work. At this time, the Corps estimates that it needs an additional $190 million to complete the project.
Total need = $190 million – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers / Operation and Maintenance
3. Complete construction of the new Soo Lock
Originally authorized by Congress in 1986 and reauthorized in 2018, the Corps has initiated construction of a new large lock at the Soo. To date, the project has received $241.6 million for construction. At this time, the Corps estimates that an additional $789.07 million will be needed to complete the project.
Total need = $789.07 million – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers / Construction
4. Repair and rehabilitate Great Lakes navigation structures
Great Lakes commercial harbors and municipal waterfronts are protected from excessive wave action by breakwater and jetty structures, which are maintained by the Corps. Due to inadequate funding, many of these structures have fallen into disrepair, threatening commercial navigation, recreational boating, and waterfront property. Recent high-water levels and severe weather events have crippled these structures further and caused extensive damage in some harbors. The Corps estimates that eliminating the backlog of repair and rehabilitation work on Great Lakes breakwaters and jetties will cost $320 million.
Total need = $320 million – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers / Operation and Maintenance
5. Eliminate the regional dredging backlog
The Corps is responsible for maintenance dredging of navigation channels in the nation’s ports and waterways. Over the past three decades, Congress has restricted appropriations for harbor maintenance to less than the fees collected for this purpose due to budgetary constraints. The result is navigation channels and harbors choked with sediment. The Corps estimates that $150 million will be needed to eliminate the dredging backlog in the Great Lakes Navigation System and restore navigation channels to functional dimensions.
Total need = $150 million – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers / Operation and Maintenance
6. Repair and modernize port and dock infrastructure
Throughout the Great Lakes region, port and dock infrastructure is in need of repair, modernization and expansion. The Maritime Administration’s new Port Infrastructure Development Program provides federal assistance to improve the safety, efficiency and reliability of the movement of goods through the nation’s seaports. Congress reauthorized the program in 2019 and the agency awarded its first round of grants in early 2020. We are pleased to note that Great Lakes ports were highly competitive and secured 18 percent of all nationwide funding. It is our understanding that more than 50 project sponsors throughout the U.S. applied for the first round of grants, seeking more than $1.2 billion. This illustrates that the nation’s ports and terminals are ready to deploy up to that amount for qualified projects.
Total recommended nationwide = $1 billion – U.S. Department of Transportation / Maritime Administration / Port Infrastructure Development
To be clear, the amounts cited above for each recommendation represent the estimated total need and may require several fiscal years to be deployed. These investments are generally ongoing projects and programs. They have been authorized by Congress, and Members of the Great Lakes Congressional delegation have championed past funding for each of them. In this regard, we believe they represent prudent and responsible options for infrastructure investment.
Thank you for considering our views and the needs of the Great Lakes commercial maritime economy.
James H.I. Weakley
1st Vice President-Positions & Resolutions
John E. Clemons
2nd Vice President-Membership
John D. Baker
3rd Vice President-Government Relations