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Federal legislation opens pathways to end Great Lakes dredging problems

Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio

Congress overwhelming passed what one member calls one of the most important pieces of legislation passed this year, and it should end the Great Lakes dredging crisis.  

It isn’t often that silt makes the news, but Daniel Sydow, of Daniel’s Shipping Service out of Duluth-Superior, said silt can stop a cargo-carrying ship.  Although the Twin Ports are in good shape, other ports aren’t. 

“Oh, no doubt," Sydow said. "Whenever we have the wind blowing the wrong way, we’ve got a problem.”

Officials with the Lake Carriers Association said that vessels haven’t been able to carry full loads since 1997 because of silt in the waterways.

The new Waterways Development Act means the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers will have enough money to deepen port channels in the Great Lakes over the next 10 years.   More than 18 million yards of sediment clog the navigation system now. 

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said this act is a long time coming.

“This is going to be a significant benefit to the Great Lakes region because prior to that, we were losing out to dredging projects on either coast of the U.S. that they had ignored what they called our ‘Fresh Coast,’” she said.

Nature is relentless when it comes to adding silt and sediment so it dredging has to be ongoing.

Duluth-Superior port director Vanta Coda said dredging will be done where it is most needed.

“It sets the Great Lakes as a network so that dredging decisions can be made across the region, as one unit, with economic impact in mind," Coda said. "(It) gets a point in which no matter what side of the aisle you sit, you can come to the agreement that that is the U.S. government function, to make us globally competitive.” 

The bill also allows Milwaukee to move forward with restoring the Burnham Canal and pays for harbor maintenance in the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Senate passed the bill 91-7 and the House by a 412-4 margin last week.