GUEST EDITORIAL: Bill acknowledges importance of Great Lakes region

A $12 billion water infrastructure bill that received final congressional approval last week will step up funding for improving ports and deepening shipping channels in the Great Lakes region.

It is worth noting that the measure designates the lakes as a single navigational system for funding purposes. This makes the area one unit when it comes to competing for money, rather than a number of smaller communities competing for cash for projects.

Hopefully, this means money will go to projects in the region based on actual need rather than lobbying prowess or other political factors. That seems to be the spirit of the bill and we think that is how project funding should operate.

“This is an important step toward ensuring that the commercial importance and conservation of the Great Lakes remains a national priority,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat.

The Great Lakes is a crucial component to the economic well-being of any state touched by the waters.

There is a lot under the hood of this bill. It improves allocations for harbor maintenance from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, a fund that has somehow grown to an $8 billion surplus despite a huge list of dredging and harbor improvement projects that need support. Shippers pay about $1.7 billion a year into this fund.

As of now, about 51 percent of the money collected by the fund is used for harbor maintenance. The bill will boost that portion to 67 percent in the next fiscal year. The rate will continue rising 3 percent annually until 2025, when it hits 100 percent. The Great Lakes would get 10 percent of this money under this bill and the region’s new designation means smaller harbors have a better shot at seeing funding, lawmakers said.

Shippers on the Great Lakes are carrying lighter loads due to low water levels. Removing sediment build-up would allow for more productive shipments.

Also of note, a provision in this legislation would authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take emergency measures as needed to deal with the threat of invasions by species such as Asian carp. This particular invasive species has been a nuisance and it will not be the last invasive species to terrorize the waters.

Overall, this seems like a solid package. Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the measure, meaning that these leaders see the importance of the Great Lakes to the economy of this part of the country — and to the rest of the United States.

This editorial originally was published in the May 29 edition of the Midland Daily News. 


Posted by Tribune News Services

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