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Senators' Bill would force use of Harbor Maintenance Tax funds for much needed dredging work

News // April 21, 2010

The bill to require the use of the HMT was introduced by Senator Carl Levin.

S. 3213 was co-introduced by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Great Lakes Seaway News reports that last week Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced legislation (S. 3213) to require the full use of the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) for its intended purpose.

The bill just introduced is the Senate companion to legislation introduced in the House by Representatives Charles Boustany (R-LA) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) and represents a step toward the objective of full utilization of HMT funds.

"It is hoped by supporters of the measure that the bill would be available for inclusion in a 2010 effort to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) which authorizes the US Army Corps of Engineers' dredging efforts nationally," said the report. "The bill would require that the administrators of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to spend what it takes in each year rather than amass a surplus that is used in an elaborate government accounting exercise aimed at adding monies to the revenue side of the federal budget ledger."

Adolph Ojard, Executive Director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, in remarks released yesterday, welcomed the legislation with open arms saying: “Putting a fence around the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is the only way the Great Lakes navigation system will be dredged to project dimensions. Years of inadequate funding have left the system clogged with an estimated 15 million cubic yards of sediment. Every time a ship leaves Duluth/Superior harbor with a less than full load, it jeopardizes jobs in the port, on the ships, and at the steel mills and power plants that receive cargo from us.”

While the Port of Duluth/Superior generally is dredged to its designed width and depth, lack of adequate dredging at ports that receive cargo from Duluth/Superior ultimately negates the efficiencies of waterborne commerce.

Just last month a US-flag laker with a rated capacity of 68,757 tons left the port bound for Detroit with only 62,710 tons on board. The 6,047 tons left behind represent enough iron ore to make the steel for roughly 5,000 automobiles. Six thousand tons of iron ore represent nearly a day’s production at a large mine on the Mesabi Range.

Since 1987, the United States has levied a tax on cargo moving through deep-draft ports to pay for dredging nationwide. Prior to that, so-called operation and maintenance dredging was paid for from the general fund. The tax generates significant funds, as much as US$1.6 billion per year. However, annual expenditures are less than US$800 million. As a result, the fund has a surplus of nearly US$5 billion.

“The HMTF is hoarding money that should be spent on dredging. The US Army Corps of Engineers estimates it needs US$180 million to clear the backlog at Great Lakes ports. The money is there; let’s do it and create jobs rather than risk them”, Ojard added.

Minnesota’s Great Lakes ports are the backbone of the iron ore trade. In a typical year, Duluth/Superior, Two Harbors, and Silver Bay will ship about 40 million tons of iron ore, or 65 percent of the trade. Superior Midwest Energy Terminal is the largest coal-shipping operation on the Lakes, with loadings now topping 22 million tons. Duluth/Superior is also the largest grain-loading port on the US side of the Lakes, shipping some 2 million tons each year.

 

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