Dredging push

MARQUETTE – U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, is among lawmakers urging President Barack Obama to include proper federal funding for ports and harbors in his annual budget proposal.

State lawmakers and government officials have been working on short- and long-term funding solutions for dredging Michigan harbors, given unreliability of federal funding and a continuing decline in Great Lakes water levels.

“Frankly, our harbors and ports play a critical part in northern Michigan’s economy. Unfortunately we’ve seen problems with the funding that’s supposed to be used for our harbors being siphoned off and being spent on other things,” Benishek said. “We need to fix that. I am hopeful we can continue to work in a bipartisan manner with the president to help address this problem.”

Benishek – along with 20 colleagues, including Rep. Sander Levin, D-Michigan – sent a letter to Obama urging him to address the backlog in dredging and harbor maintenance by using the Harbor Maintenance Fund.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, is among those working on dredging legislation in the Senate.

Benishek said lawmakers throughout the country agree that this issue must be addressed and want to see funds collected for the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund be used to maintain and dredge America’s harbors and ports.

The Associated Press said a federal tax on freight shipped at U.S. ports raises about $1.5 billion a year for dredging and harbor maintenance. But about half of the money is diverted for other uses.

“Properly maintaining our harbors is more important than ever because our region is facing historically low water levels in the Great Lakes,” Benishek said. “I’ve been speaking with citizens all over northern Michigan whose jobs depend on well maintained harbors and they want to see some solutions. That’s exactly what we are trying to do.”

Benishek said that since being first elected in 2010, he has been one of the leading voices in Congress fighting for proper funding of harbors in ports in northern Michigan and throughout the country. He said he has been a strong supporter of legislation that will ensure that funds collected for harbor maintenance are used properly.

Michigan’s 1st Congressional District, which Benishek represents, has more than 1,600 miles of shoreline -the most in the continental United States, and is the only district with shoreline on three of the five Great Lakes.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal.net.