Buffalo River Dredging Plan Gets Support (USA)
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced his push for the Harbor Maintenance Act of 2013, which would free up critical dredging funding that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) needs in order to dredge the Buffalo River and surrounding waterways and keep the waterfront fully open for business.
Each day, sediment settles at the bottom of Lake Erie, reducing water depth and creating a safety hazard for shipping barges, cruise ships, and recreational boats – all of which help pump millions of dollars into the economy every year. Schumer is backing legislation that would release funding that is stuck in the Harbor Maintenance Trust for dredging in Buffalo and across the region. The just-introduced Harbor Maintenance Act of 2013 would ensure that incoming money from the Harbor Maintenance fee is spent on harbor maintenance projects, like dredging the mouth of the Buffalo River and other areas within the federal channel, rather than stuck in the account.
“Navigable waterways are critical to Buffalo businesses, recreation and tourism in the region, and every day that goes by without dredging puts all of that in jeopardy,” said Schumer. “It’s a no-brainer that funds deposited in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by Buffalo-area shippers should go toward maintenance, operations, construction and safety of federal channels like those in Buffalo, rather than sitting idle in Washington D.C. The Harbor Maintenance Act, if passed, would ensure we have the funds to dredge New York’s federal ports, which will help keep shipping costs for local businesses down, keep the recreational fishing industry vibrant, and will ensure that boats from cruise ships to barges can keep passing through the beautiful ports of New York.”
“The Great Lakes offer tremendous advantage for short sea shipping between the world’s largest trading partners, but opportunities to move freight to this environmentally-friendly mode continue to be missed due to a lack of federal investment in harbor maintenance,” said Andrew J. Rudnick, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. “What’s most disconcerting is that a funding stream exists through the Harbor Maintenance Tax, but a large percentage of those revenues are diverted. The Partnership supports the full dedication of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to investment in harbor maintenance, and will work with Senator Schumer toward passage of this proposed legislation.”
Schumer has long fought for alteration in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, so that the USACE can have access to the billions in funds collected in the fund each year. The Trust Fund was established in 1986 in order to fund operations and maintenance of federal ports and harbors, and is funded by the Harbor Maintenance fee that is charged on imports and domestic cargo. Despite the fact that shippers, like General Mills, pay fees intended for use towards port dredging and maintenance, this money is not being sent out of the fund to serve its intended purpose. As a result, the Trust Fund has a current balance now approaching $7 billion– in the meantime, the ports are filling with sediment and in desperate need of infrastructure upgrades.
Similar problems plagued the Highway Trust Fund, as well as the Airports and Airways Trust Fund, but were corrected with Congressional action that more closely tied revenues to expenditures. Schumer highlighted that the same should be done for Harbors, as continuing to charge this fee without using those revenues to improve harbor accessibility and safety is unacceptable. The bill that Schumer supports would link incoming revenues with expenditures on dredging and port maintenance projects, so that the money plus interest coming in each year would actually be allocated each year to improve the ports, rather than sitting in the Treasury.
The federal channels in the Buffalo region, including the Buffalo River and ship canal, are critical to area businesses. They allow for companies like General Mills to bring in products from across the Great Lakes region and help keep them thriving in Buffalo. They also serve as an additional magnet for new businesses to locate to the Buffalo region. In addition, these federal channels help increase access for recreational boaters taking advantage of things like the Erie Basin Marina, and newly developed waterfront land along the Buffalo River and ship canal.
Continuing to spend funds on dredging and harbor maintenance projects is a sound investment. A 2003 study showed that the Great Lakes states are a recreational boating powerhouse, with nearly one third of all registered boats in the United States. Spending on boats and boating activities in the Great Lakes states totaled nearly $16 billion in 2003 (the year of the study), directly supporting 107,000 jobs. With secondary effects figured in, that number grew to 244,000 jobs, with economic impacts of $19 billion in sales, $6.4 billion in personal income and, $9.2 billion in value added. Compared to the economic benefits they provide, the cost of maintenance dredging for the harbors would be relatively minor. Not including commercial harbors, in the 2003 study the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the dredging needs of all recreational harbors and channels in the Great Lakes could be adequately addressed for an investment of $5 million per year.
Press Release, February 12, 2013