Language authored by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., to improve funding for maintenance of the nation's harbors was included this week in a water resources bill approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The text of the Harbor Maintenance Act, which Levin introduced earlier this year, was included in the Water Resources Development Act of 2013, which the committee approved unanimously on Wednesday.
Levin's legislation is designed to ensure that all fees collected for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund from the nation's shippers to be appropriated for their intended purpose: harbor maintenance.
"For too long, harbors in the Great Lakes and across the country have suffered from a maintenance backlog, while at the same time we've been spending only a portion of the available money in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund," Levin said. "This week's committee action is a victory in the fight for Great Lakes harbors."
The Harbor Maintenance Act is intended to help address the estimated $200 million backlog in necessary harbor dredging projects on the Great Lakes. Levin introduced the bipartisan bill with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; the bill has 32 cosponsors, including Michigan's Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
In testimony before the Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 31, Levin pressed the committee to include his legislation, pointing out that the Great Lakes dredging backlog has become especially problematic for Great Lakes shippers due to the historically low water levels on the lakes. Low water levels and silted waterways have resulted in harbor closings, danger to shipping and boating and reduced cargo capacity for Great Lakes freighters.
Levin said he hopes to make improvements in the bill as it moves through the legislative process.
"When the full Senate considers the bill, I will work for improvements to make sure Great Lakes harbors receive the funding they need," Levin said.
The committee-approved bill includes other provisions important to the Great Lakes. Levin and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., worked to include an amendment authorizing the Army Corps of Engineers to implement emergency measures to prevent nuisance species such as Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. Levin succeeded in securing similar language in a fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill; including the language in the water resources authorization bill would make the emergency authorization permanent.
Levin also welcomed language to establish a pilot program that provides low-interest loans with flexible repayment terms and loan guarantees to communities with considerable challenges in water quality and flood risk. "This provision begins to address the large gap we have in funding our water and wastewater infrastructure and is a step in the right direction," Levin said.