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Shippers, port officials criticize scaled-back dredging

Great Lakes dredging plans for fiscal year 2009 are considerably less ambitious than in 2008, prompting criticism from the shipping community. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to award 12 dredging projects in 2009, compared with 39 in 2008....

Great Lakes dredging plans for fiscal year 2009 are considerably less ambitious than in 2008, prompting criticism from the shipping community.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to award 12 dredging projects in 2009, compared with 39 in 2008. The agency is working with a proposed presidential budget of $16 million versus the $27 million it received for dredging in the Upper Great Lakes during fiscal year 2008.

"The fiscal year 2009 dredging program represents a significant reduction from our efforts in fiscal year 2008. However, we still feel that we can maintain minimum functional channel requirements across the Great Lakes system," said Wayne Schloop, chief of operations for the corps' Detroit District, in a news release issued Wednesday.

But Jim Sharrow, facilities manager for the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said: "We are concerned that this budget would fall short of what we need to catch up with the dredging backlog that has developed in the system over the years."

"What's being proposed is clearly inadequate. It wouldn't begin to meet the needs of commerce," said Glen Nekvasil, vice president of corporate communications for the Lake Carriers Association, an organization that represents the operators of U.S.-flagged vessels on the Great Lakes.

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As channels become shallower, lakers often are forced to lighten the loads they carry, decreasing the efficiency of the system.

Sharrow contends the corps really needs to dedicate as much money for dredging in 2009 as it did in 2008 to make headway against shoaling that has occurred in the Great Lakes and the waterways that connect them.

The Lake Carriers Association reports that 17 million cubic yards of material would need to be removed to get the St. Lawrence Seaway System back to the "project dimensions" at which it was to be maintained.

The corps currently plans to dredge 1.175 million cubic yards of material from the system in 2009.

The projects on tap in 2009 include dredging 120,000 cubic yards of material from the Twin Ports' waters.

"That amount of dredging would be acceptable for holding our own in this harbor," Sharrow said, adding that his concerns are larger: "We have a large system, and vessels need to be able to traverse it. If some part is being shorted, it affects the overall health of shipping."

Sharrow said he remains hopeful that Congress will see fit to appropriate more money for dredging throughout the Great Lakes than President Bush's administration has budgeted. That's what happened in 2008.

PETER PASSI covers business and development. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5526 or by e-mail at ppassi@duluthnews.com .

Related Topics: GREAT LAKESSHIPPING
Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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