US dredging crisis update

by Array

FROM THE MM&D JULY/AUGUST 2011 PRINT EDITION: The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) has recently called on Congress to use money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund “for their intended purpose of maintaining our ports.”

The Great Lakes industry in the US has labeled harbour dredging a “crisis situation.” The AAPA is one of many groups calling for the US government to pay it more heed.

The trust fund was created through the Harbor Maintenance Tax, which is a federal tax imposed on shippers based on the value of the goods being shipped through ports. The tax is placed in the trust fund to be used for maintenance dredging of federal navigational channels. But with the budget crisis in the US all those funds have not been making their way back to the ports.

“So we’re essentially paying the tax and money is flowing in but it’s not fully being spent on dredging, probably about two-thirds of it is being spent on dredging,” says Steve Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association.

That means of the 34 harbours in need of dredging, only 11 will receive funding to do so. Fisher says it would have cost US$47 million to dredge all 34 harbours; the 11 harbours will receive US$27 million.

Glen Nekvasil, vice-president of corporate communications for the Lake Carriers Association, says it’s going to become extremely difficult to move cargo in and out of many of the ports, especially the smaller ones. Even now vessels are not at full capacity, he says. The biggest ships would be carrying 70,000 tons. Instead “right now a good load is 65,000 to 66,000 tons. And at the beginning of this year our biggest ships were loading only 60,000 tons,” says Nekvasil.

According to Fisher, funding for dredging is doled out based on tonnage that goes through each port, so smaller ports aren’t likely to get dredged at all. Individually, the smaller ports may not have huge volumes, but when you add the tonnage of the smaller ports together “there is a lot of commerce there and it’s important to the economy,” he says. “So this methodology they use doesn’t really work well for the reality on the Great Lakes.”