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American Shipper

Michigan ports? dredging dollars clipped

Michigan portsÆ dredging dollars clipped

   The Obama administration's proposed dredging budget for fiscal year 2012 will not spend a single dollar on 13 Michigan ports that collectively average more than 31 millions of cargo per year, said the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force.

   The task force said two of the ports, Alpena and Charlevoix, make Michigan the 'Cement Capital' of the Great Lakes, but they and other major harbors will go undredged under the budget proposed by the administration, despite the fact the cargo transported from these ports was taxed and the revenue deposited in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which bankrolls the government's dredging program.

      'It is impossible to fathom the rationale behind this abandonment of vital ports,' said John D. Baker, the task force's president, in a statement. 'We are talking about ports that in some instances can annually handle more than 10 million tons of cargo in a strong economy.

   'We are putting jobs at risk for no reason whatsoever,' he added.    'The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund has a surplus of $5.65 billion and some of that surplus is taxes paid by major Michigan employers such as Detroit-Edison, Cliffs Natural Resources, Lafarge, Carmeuse, the steel mills in Detroit, and small companies too.'

   Baker, who is also president emeritus of the International Longshoremen's Association's Great Lakes District Council, said there will be negative impacts to not dredging smaller ports as well.    'Holland, Mich., for example, averages less than 500,000 tons per year, but the coal keeps the power plant humming and the limestone is the foundation of the construction industry,' he said.

   Michigan has 38 active deep-draft ports, nearly as many as the other seven Great Lakes states combined. The ports of Calcite, Presque Isle, Port Inland, Cedarville and Drummond Island account for most of the 35 million to 40 million tons of limestone that move on the lakes in a boom economy. Escanaba and Marquette account for 25 percent of the iron ore shipped on the lakes.

   Ports that won't be dredged next year are Presque Isle, Marquette, Menominee, St. Joseph, Holland, Muskegon, Ludington, Charlevoix, Alpena, Saginaw, Marysville, St. Clair and Monroe.

   The administration's proposed budget reduces the Great Lakes dredging program system-wide, but 63 percent of the cuts fall on Michigan's harbors, the task force said.

   The task force further warned that employers who depend on shipments through ports on Michigan's West Coast potentially face cessation of waterborne deliveries if ports such as St. Joseph aren't dredged in 2012.

   'We are located on the St. Joseph River, about one mile upstream of Lake Michigan,' said Pete Berghoff, president of Dock 63 Inc. 'The river carries a significant amount of sediment which over time builds shoals throughout the inner and outer harbor. In 2008, a combination of flood-level runoff due to rapid snowmelt and unusually heavy rainfall pushed so much sediment into the inner harbor we lost more than 16 feet of draft between Jan. 1 and mid-March. We need regular maintenance dredging to keep the ships coming, especially in this period of low water levels.'

   Berghoff noted in a strong economy more than 900,000 tons of cargo, such as limestone, cement, slag, and highway deicing salt, can move through the port of St. Joseph. 'Most cargos are used by customers within a 90-mile radius of the port, but cement and some specialty products such as foundry sand feed industries in Indianapolis, Indiana, and as far away as northern Kentucky. Without regular dredging, the port cannot meet the needs of commerce.'

   'On Jan. 1 of this year, one of the ships we crew could only load 60,400 tons of coal for delivery to the Belle River power plant in St. Clair,' said Tom Orzechowski, vice president of lakes and inland waters for the Seafarers International Union, who is based in Algonac, Michigan. 'Coal deliveries resumed to Marquette last week and a ship that should deliver about 60,000 tons carried only 54,000 tons. We need more dredging, not less.'

   The task force also pointed out that many dredging companies are based in Michigan. Durocher Marine, Luedtke Engineering, MCM Marine, and Ryba Marine Construction are among the biggest dredgers on the Great Lakes.

   Michigan legislators hope to solve the dredging problem long-term.    Sen. Carl Levin has authored a bill, S. 412, that would require the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to spend what it takes in each year, about $1.6 billion, rather than use the surplus to paper balance the federal budget. The Army Corps of Engineers estimates $200 million will restore the entire Great Lakes Navigation System to project depth. Sen. Debbie Stabenow cosponsored the legislation.

   A companion House bill, H.R. 104, has been introduced. The legislation has 51 co-sponsors. Michigan House members who have signed the bill are Dan Benishek, Hansen Clarke, Bill Huizenga, Candice Miller, and Fred Upton, the task force said. ' Chris Gillis

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