|Dredging Shallow Harbors - Great Lakes Boating Federation Draws Attention to Recreational Harbors|
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Throughout the United States and the Great Lakes region, recreational boaters depend on shallow-draft recreational harbors for various functions, including as ports of refuge during inclement weather.
The functioning of the more than 85 federally authorized small harbors in the Great Lakes basin harbors is due largely to funding allocated in the federal budget, and especially to monies from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Federally authorized harbors are those for which the federal government accepts responsibility for dredging and for maintaining navigation infrastructure so that boaters can continue to access them.
The federal government established the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund on April 1, 1987, as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986. It was intended to support only harbor maintenance, but the government sometimes diverts the dollars in this account to other endeavors. The Harbor Maintenance Tax was created in 1986, and charges 0.125 percent of the values of imported and domestic cargo that are handled at ports, and deposits the revenues into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The tax has raised more than $1 billion annually in recent years, and expenditures from the fund have remained almost unchanged, as the number of imports has increased. This combination of imports and spending has led to a surplus in the fund. Despite this, the busiest U.S. harbors are not being maintained adequately, with dredging being neglected. In 2008, the tax collected more than $1.6 billion for the trust fund, and the fund, in turn, spent only $766 million. The surplus will reach $8 billion by 2011, according to the Government Accounting Ofﬁce, an independent, nonpartisan federal agency.
Dave Knight, Great Lakes Commission special projects manager, says that he thinks that, if all of the monies in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund were allocated as intended, for the purposes of maintaining harbors and funding dredging, then there would be enough money to accomplish these goals.
A relatively new organization called the Great Lakes Small Harbor Coalition (GLSHC) agrees, and advocates using the money collected in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for harbors alone. The GLSHC was formed during an informal meeting in November 2007 and has since grown to more than 45 members, representing 1.5 million citizens.
This group is helping to bring commercial and recreational boating interests together. It has led commercial shipping stakeholders to support shallow-draft recreational harbors, by representing harbors of any size that support its goals and objectives, including several deep-draft cargo ports, such as Detroit.
The Great Lakes Commission also supports both commercial and shallow-draft recreational harbors, and lobbies for increased funding for them. Leaders arrange an annual Great Lakes Day when participants visit members of Congress on Capitol Hill. The Commission also backs both types of harbors indirectly, by helping the GLSHC to set itself up administratively and to become more formally organized.
Chuck May, Chair Pro Tem for the new Great Lakes Small Harbor Coalition, notes that commercial and recreational harbors suffer from the same difﬁculties, including a dearth of sufﬁcient funding for harbor dredging, and using 100-year-old infrastructure that, due to lack of maintenance, is deteriorating. Dredging is necessary to maintain access to harbors, both shallow-draft recreational harbors and commercial harbors. This is particularly true for Great Lakes harbors, most of which are river mouths with natural siltation or sedimentation. These processes occur when silt or sediment erodes from storm banks, travels down rivers and then washes into waterways. This material can build up in harbors, preventing individuals from reaching them. This deprives boaters from using these harbors and local businesses from receiving the revenues from the mariners that can no longer reach them. Sedimentation might also disrupt the spawning areas of ﬁsh because sediment accumulates along the bottoms of harbors.