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Michigan lawmakers push fed Great Lakes aid

by Candice Miller on June 7, 2013

Congressional trio propose bill to ease dredging backlog

Marisa Schultz

Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A trio of Michigan lawmakers introduced federal legislation Thursday aimed at securing long-awaited funding for Great Lakes dredging and harbor maintenance projects.


U.S. Reps. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township; Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls; and Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, partnered on the Great Lakes Navigation System Sustainability Act designed to treat the Great Lakes as one unit for budgeting purposes to ensure their harbors receive adequate funding.


The legislation is also intended to speed up the backlog of dredging projects by giving priority to harbors that share in half of the costs for the work. The lawmakers estimate $200 million in dredging backlog throughout the Great Lakes. The problem has been exacerbated with historically low water levels.


“Simply put, more efficient Great Lakes shipping helps to create a strong U.S. economy,” Miller said in a statement. “In order to grow and strengthen our regional and national economy we must ensure our harbors and waterways are provided the resources they need.”


By classifying the entire Great Lakes system as a unified body, the U.S. “Army Corps will be instructed to count the 160 million tons of cargo shipped throughout the various ports in the Great Lakes region as a single entity rather than forcing all 140 harbors to compete against one another,” Huizenga said.


Michigan lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate have longed lamented the user-fees collected from shippers for the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund have been redirected or not used on its intended purpose of dredging ports and harbors. The fund was established in 1986 and has grown to about $7 billion.


The bill does not authorize new spending, but directs Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund dollars be put to use on the cost-sharing program with harbors.


The Senate last month passed the Water Resources Development Act that included provisions to boost Great Lakes dredging projects. U.S. Sens. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, fought for increased spending for harbor maintenance projects, priority funding for Great Lakes ports and language to better ensure the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is spent on its intended purpose.


The legislation awaits House action.

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