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Bush cuts dredging funds

Great Lakes ports will suffer if the president's federal budget is approved, facing a substantial funding reduction. Although $140 million was approved for 2008 dredging, the Bush administration has proposed a 35.5 percent reduction for 2009. Any...

Great Lakes ports will suffer if the president's federal budget is approved, facing a substantial funding reduction.

Although $140 million was approved for 2008 dredging, the Bush administration has proposed a 35.5 percent reduction for 2009.

Any reduction in Army Corps of Engineers dredging budget "would be a double whammy of the worst kind," said Patrick O'Hern, president of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force, a coalition that represents industries using the lakes.

"The lakes are already suffering with extremely low water levels," he said in a news release. "An adequately funded maintenance program doesn't solve the problem, but it certainly helps offset the impacts of falling water levels. Now is absolutely the worst imaginable time for any reduction in Great Lakes dredging funds."

The Port of Duluth-Superior requires maintenance that would cost $6.4 million, according to the task force. With the cutback, it will receive $4.5 million. Ashland Harbor, which needs $865,000, lost its entire request, as did Manitowoc Harbor, Sturgeon Bay Harbor and the Lake Michigan Ship Canal in Wisconsin and Marquette Harbor in Michigan. In Minnesota, funding for Two Harbors was reduced from $320,000 to $300,000.

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"The Great Lakes have been plagued by inadequate funding for maintenance for decades," said Daniel L. Smith, national executive vice president of American Maritime Officers.

The lack of dredging forces some 1,000-foot maritime vessels to sail 10,000 tons light because they can't be loaded to full capacity.

"We thought we had turned the corner with the increase in dredging funds for 2008 that our congressional delegation won after much hard work. It is totally irresponsible for the administration to propose any cut in Great Lakes maintenance funds at this or any foreseeable time," he said in a prepared statement.

At least $170 million a year is needed to prevent system decay, according to James Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers' Association. He said a tax on cargo has accumulated to $3.5 billion, but money in the trust fund is not being released.

"If we don't restore the Lakes navigation system to project dimensions, the industry will not be able to meet the needs of commerce," Weakley said.

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