Editorial

Long-term solutions overdue for harbor dredging

March 8, 2013
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Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal for a combination of general fund monies and Waterways Trust Fund money to immediately dredge Lake Michigan and Lake Huron has been given almost unanimous backing by the state Senate, which last week voted to provide $20.9 million for emergency dredging at 49 state bays and harbors.

As the bill moves to the state House, the Business Journal supports quick action. The word “emergency” is not an exaggeration, but neither are the concerns of Democrats in regard to “raiding” the trust fund. Long-term solutions are overdue for a recurring issue.

The Business Journal reported in February that lake levels have dropped to historic levels, unprecedented since 1918 when records first were taken. The impact on state commerce is most often related to tourism and recreational boating, but dredging is essential to shipping and cargo handling.

Michigan statistical information in regard to maritime trade is almost as difficult to find as the funding. The Senate last week reviewed a 2009 report indicating the Great Lakes generate $2 billion in recreational boating, and commercial and fishery impacts were valued at $4 billion annually.

A state report released in 2003 shows $3.4 billion in revenue to firms providing transport and cargo-handling services and was tied to 150,000 jobs. Without this resource, those companies would not exist in Michigan. It is a primary shipping method for Michigan grains, iron ore, coal, salt, cement and steel, as well as general cargo from overseas. It is significant to note, too, that rail use costs to move such goods were 44 percent greater in 2003 and rail emissions were 47 percent higher than marine costs and emissions.

Given the funding battle to resurface and rebuild Michigan roads, Great Lakes shipping could be considered salvation from further deterioration.

Once again Michigan is in an “emergency” situation to protect its most obvious resource. That must change. It isn’t a new issue, either. Constant bickering between the state and federal governments for dredging funds is decades old. The Business Journal notes that some federal funds have been approved for limited harbor dredging in Muskegon — Michigan’s deepest water port. Dredging, however, is a constant necessity and must be seen to be as important as road repair. State legislators cannot continue to ignore such maintenance.

John Allis, chief of the Great Lakes Hydraulics and Hydrology office, noted in the February Business Journal story: “Lake Michigan-Huron’s water levels have also been below average for the past 14 years, which is the longest period of sustained below-average levels since 1918 for that lake.”

It is necessary that Michigan has a long-term strategy to pay for keeping harbors open and deep enough for recreational and commercial vessels to move between docks and the open lakes.

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