A second Poe-sized lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, is moving steadily toward reality and uniform federal regulations governing ballast water and other vessel discharges are in development. Congress has authorized a second heavy icebreaker to bolster the Coast Guard’s Great Lakes icebreaking assets and increased funding for dredging has significantly reduced the amount of sediment clogging ports and waterways
The momentum is really building for the second Poe-sized lock. In 2018 the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), after a lengthy review, agreed its benefit cost ratio (BCR) for the lock was flawed and revised it to 2.42 and allocated $32 million in FY2019 to finalize design work and begin dredging of the upper approach channel. The State of Michigan contributed another $52 million to advance the project and the President’s proposed budget for FY2020 includes $75 million to further design and build the approach wall. The pieces are coming together.
The importance of a second Poe-sized lock cannot be overstated. Roughly 90% of all cargo moving between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway transits the Poe Lock opened in 1968. A second Poe-sized lock will provide system resiliency and efficiency for the foreseeable future. The lock will take seven to ten years to build. LCA’s goal is to keep funding at efficient levels so it does not take any longer.
Passage of the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) in 2018 promises to end the hodgepodge of ballast water regulations that currently govern the Great Lakes and other US waters. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been tasked with developing standards within the next two years. Once those are finalized, the US Coast Guard (USCG) will have two years to write the implementing regulations.
We may over time have some ballast and other discharge regulations that are unique to the Great Lakes, but again, they will be consistent throughout the US waters of the Great Lakes.
The ice formations on Lake Superior and the Straits of Mackinac made for a challenging resumption of navigation this March. A tough situation was made even worse when two US and one Canadian icebreakers suffered significant causalities that kept them out of service for much or all the breakout. The US and Canadian Coast Guards did their best, but they do not have enough icebreakers as it is.
LCA is working hard to change that. We have gotten authorization for the USCG to build another heavy icebreaker to augment the MACKINAW. Funds have been provided for initial design to make some refinements in the MACKINAW’s workings, but progress is slow, in part because the USCG is focused on renewing our polar icebreaking fleet.
LCA’s clout in Ottawa is of course not great, but we have communicated to the Canadian Coast Guard that it needs to bolster its Lakes’ resources. Canada used to have seven icebreakers stationed on the Lakes. Now just two are homeported here. Canada has acquired three mid-sized icebreakers that are being retrofitted, but it is unclear if any will be assigned to the Great Lakes. That’s hard to fathom. Canadian carriers are just as active during the ice season as LCA members, maybe more so.
The decades-long neglect of Great Lakes dredging needs are being addressed with impressive results. This year the Corps will get approximately $190 million to maintain the Great Lakes Navigation System. It was not that long ago that $80 million was a typical appropriation. The backlog of sediment clogging ports and waterways is now down to about 13 million cubic yards. At one point the Corps was predicting the backlog would grow to 21 million cubic yards.
Dredging is critically important. The largest US-flag lakers forfeit 270 tonnes of cargo for each inch loaded draught is reduced by lack of dredging or low water levels. Back at the beginning of 2013, when Lake Michigan was at a record low, some vessels were leaving 10,000 tonnes of cargo at the loading dock.
Educating legislators about the importance of Great Lakes shipping is another priority for LCA. There was quite a turnover in Congress following the 2018 elections. Our new solons need to know that Great Lakes shipping is the most efficient and greenest mode of transportation and that the Jones Act must always remain the foundation of America’s domestic maritime policy. I am confident that will be the case.