Saturday, January 26, 2013

Freight Flow Depends on Effective Dredging Says Shipping Association

(and the money to fund it has already been collected)
Shipping News Feature

US – CANADA -Dredging is a subject that often provokes heated debate and indeed sometimes fury anywhere from the Thames Estuary to the Indian subcontinent as the need for deeper navigable waters can have deleterious effects on both the environment and the pocket. Whilst usually we hear of projects to allow vessels with greater draft the latest case involves simply ensuring the current fleets can continue to navigate. Controversy has arisen over the neglect of the waters of the Great Lakes, the greatest grouping of freshwater lakes on earth and a vital shipping route for over a million tonnes of cargo with a level of freight movement which according to the Lake Carriers Association (LCA) supports over 100,000 jobs.

The LCA has other concerns with the lack of uniform Federal regulations for dealing with the twin biological hazards presented by ballast water discharges, now being looked at in the marine environment by the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Ballast Water Management Convention, and the danger of invasion from Asian silver and bighead carp. The fish, introduced deliberately to consume algae in Southern fish farms, are already within a few miles of the lake system and, despite electronic barriers, the ‘Stop Invasive Species Act’, and further legislation tabled last week by two Senators, are considered likely to cause ecological genocide of some native fish stocks in the next twenty years.

For now however the LCA has one topic right at the top of its agenda, according to the carriers its annual report released just last week showed that inadequate dredging took a real toll on Great Lakes shipping in 2012 saying:

“The drought has pushed water levels on Lake Michigan and Huron to record lows. The water level in the St. Marys River also declined as 2012 wore on; by year’s end ships were loading to less than 26 feet. In 1997, the last period of high water, ships routinely locked through the *Soo drafting 28 feet or more, that loss of draft cost some ships more than 10,000 tons of cargo on their final voyages of 2012.”

The LCA’s main criticism is aimed at the management of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) which it says the government should insist is used for financing the dredging of the lakes as and when necessary. It claims that HMTF accounts show a surplus of $7 billion ‘Because it typically spends only one of every two tax dollars it collects for dredging on dredging.’

The LAC puts the cost of removing the estimated 17 million cubic yards of sediment that clog the Great Lakes Navigation System at approximately $200 million, just a tiny percentage of the HMTF surplus. The Association further notes that most of the 196 legislators who co-sponsored the in the House of Representatives and the 37 who backed the Senate companion bill requiring the HMTF to spend what it takes in for dredging on dredging and which received broad support in the 112th Congress have been returned to Washington in 2013 putting their arguments in sharp focus and the LCA in a strong position.

The LCA is of course that most protectionist of organisations representing seventeen US companies all of whom operate their fleets under US flags, the Jones Act preventing any competition whatsoever on the inland waterways. It estimates its members affairs have an impact on the North American economy in excess of $20 billion and will hope that its collective arguments will ensure free passage for some of the enormous one thousand foot bulk carriers that ply the lakes devoid of saline support.

*The Soo (or Sault) Locks were constructed in 1837 by the Army Corps of Engineers joining Lake Superior to Lake Huron. Photo: The Soo lock system from above.