Upton, House Support Bipartisan Bill to Promote Great Lakes Harbors
Upton calls for further action to keep Michigan harbors operational
By an overwhelming vote of 417 to 3, the House of Representatives this evening passed comprehensive legislation to modernize the nation’s water transportation infrastructure. A longtime advocate for Lake Michigan harbors, Congressman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, supported the legislation – the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 (WRRDA), H.R. 3080 – which authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out its mission to develop, maintain, and support our nation’s ports and waterways infrastructure needs as well as support effective environmental restoration and flood protection.
“As folks in Michigan know, our harbors not only bring goods and raw materials to our communities, but jobs and economic opportunity,” said Upton. “Whether for commercial shipments or recreational traffic, it is critical that our waterways are well-maintained and operational.”
The bipartisan bill also includes an important provision from legislation cosponsored by Upton – the Great Lakes System Sustainability Act (H.R. 2273) – which designates the entire Great Lakes Navigation System (GLNS) as a single, unified system for budgetary purposes. Rather than forcing Great Lakes harbors to compete for funding like coastal ports, this important provision recognizes the economic benefits of their interdependence and will help ensure future funding.
The GLNS is a continuous waterway that extends more than 2,400 miles from the far reaches of Lake Superior to the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the Atlantic Ocean. The U.S. portion of the GLNS consists of 140 harbors (60 commercial; 80 recreational), two operational locks, 104 miles of breakwaters and jetties, and more than 600 miles of maintained navigational channels.
While praising the overall legislation, Upton also took the opportunity to renew his call for support of the Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) Act (H.R. 335), which would ensure that all federal revenues collected for harbor maintenance through the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) are fully used and not left unspent in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF).
“Given the funding constraints facing the Corps, it is all the more important for us to ensure that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is solely used for its intended purpose: maintaining our nation’s harbors. The continued misallocation of these collected user fees has left our nation’s ports and waterways seriously underfunded.”
Revenue in the HMTF has increased over the past decade, generating a substantial surplus. Because the HMTF is not a separate account within the federal budget, many of the HMT revenues paid by users have been left unspent as a budgetary gimmick to offset other federal spending.
Congress has historically passed water resources legislation every two years to provide oversight and policy reforms, but has not done so since 2007. The House-passed bill must now be reconciled with its companion in the Senate.