By Representative Candice Miller
Everyone in Michigan understands the importance of our Great Lakes. They serve as an economic engine for not only our state's economy, but that of the entire nation. They provide millions with fresh drinking water, abundant fisheries and great recreational enjoyment. The Great Lakes are a natural treasure and blessing that require all of us to take action for their protection.
Right now, the Great Lakes are experiencing near record low water levels that are having a terrible effect on communities throughout the Great Lakes Basin whose economies depend on boaters having safe access to their harbors, whether they are recreational or commercial. There are many ideas on how this has happened and steps that could be taken to attempt to reverse this trend. But, really, there is nothing that can be done to cause water levels to rise immediately.
What we can do to offset the negative impact of low water levels is to dredge our harbors so they can remain open and available during the upcoming boating season.
For more than 100 years, the federal government has helped to fund the maintenance of many of our harbors. In the 1980s, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund was created to provide needed funding for our harbors by collecting taxes on cargos. Unfortunately, Congress has failed to appropriate all of this money for this purpose.
For several years I have been a cosponsor of the Realize America's Maritime Promise (RAMP) Act, which would require this funding to be appropriated for its intended purpose. Unfortunately, even if the RAMP Act were passed, most of the funding would go to large commercial harbors, and none of the funding would find its way to our recreational harbors on the Great Lakes.
For the first several terms I served in Congress, I sought and supported earmarks to secure funding to dredge our harbors, like Lexington, Port Sanilac, Harbor Beach, Caseville and others. Because the earmarking process had been so abused, Congress put in place a ban on earmarks, which I fully supported, making it impossible to direct federal funding for this purpose. In short, the answer to our problem is not going to come from the federal level.
Last year, I began having conversations with Gov. Rick Snyder, looking to find a Michigan solution to this problem. I applaud his decision to use emergency funding to dredge our harbors during this low water level crisis, and to suspend the local-match requirement for cash-strapped communities looking to dredge their harbors that are vital to the local economy.
The governor has also proposed a future funding plan to make certain that there is a consistent funding source for dredging needs so that we are not required to take emergency action down the road and will allow communities to plan more effectively.
As a result of this plan, millions of Michiganians will continue to have access to our magnificent Great Lakes in the coming boating season, and millions of tourists will also find that our Great Lakes' harbors continue to be open for business so they can come and enjoy "Pure Michigan" once again. I applaud these actions, and I stand ready to assist in overcoming any federal hurdles that may arise as they conduct this important work.