Nolan meets with Army Corps Of Engineers, Port Authority officials
The future of Lake Superior and its adjoining ports is a little less murky today than it was a few months ago.
That was the message delivered Monday by Rep. Rick Nolan, following a meeting with members of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They discussed the future of the Great Lakes shipping industry under the newly passed Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which seeks to boost funding for harbor projects and prioritize those projects to make shipping more efficient.
“The (Duluth) harbor is dramatically better because of the work that we’ve done,” said Nolan, who added an amendment to the measure that sets aside money to fix a nearly 10-year backlog on dredging, among other maintenance activities. “We’re proud of that and excited about it.”
Inked into law by President Barack Obama last month, the act guarantees that an increasing amount of money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund will actually pay for harbor projects. Of the nearly $2 billion that collects in the fund each year, Nolan said only about $800 million reaches the harbors, because Obama and past presidents have dipped into the money to finance unrelated projects.
“Obama and Bush and Clinton and all these guys saw that fund and started raiding it for other purposes,” Nolan said.
The new law requires 80 percent of harbor maintenance money to be spent on harbor projects by 2020, with the goal of eventually putting 100 percent of the money into those programs.
Another aspect of the law classifies the Great Lakes as a singular entity, meaning harbor projects will be prioritized with an eye for what is best for the Great Lakes as a whole.
“Each and every one of the ports was competing for funding with no obligation to look at the overall impact that it’s having,” Nolan said. “It’s a series of lakes and channels and connectors, and any one bottleneck in the entire chain … is a bottleneck for everybody. And we’re at the end of that chain.”
Nolan said he will be watching the implementation of the act “very, very closely.”
Vanta Coda, executive director of the Port Authority, said every ship that can’t enter Duluth Harbor because of maintenance issues caused by a lack of funding is a lost economic opportunity for the area.
“I won’t be happy until we get 100 percent of the harbor maintenance taxes and fees used for harbor maintenance,” Nolan said. “That’s what it’s there for.”