By Nathan Phelps
For a little more than an hour Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., sat on the back of a moving boat talking about dredging and other issues and opportunities facing the Port of Green Bay.
The tour was part of a stop in Green Bay and gave port officials an opportunity to explain port operations and needs to Baldwin. Topics ranged from what's needed to keep the shipping channel open, an overview of the restoration of the Cat Island chain of islands to port security.
"Dredging is less robust than it use to be," Baldwin said after the tour. "There used to be a channel wide enough for two vessels to pass at once and now it's a one-lane road if you will and that causes congestion when there is vessel traffic in the area.
"We should be doing better," she said.
Craig Dickman, vice president and commissioner for the Brown County Harbor Commission, told Baldwin this type of meeting was important to keep an open dialogue with Washington D.C. to deal with surprises or opportunities that may pop up in the future.
Dredging has been a hot topic for operators on the Great Lakes with ports and trade groups calling on Congress to free up more funding for harbor maintenance. Green Bay recently finished dredging operations for this year and expects more dredging in 2014.
"Anytime you have an interested senator educating herself, only good things can come out of that," Dean Haen, director of Brown County Port & Resource Recovery said after the tour. "You have to know things to make informed decisions, and I applaud her for digging in and learning about the ports of Wisconsin ... We're all very similar and have the same challenges and opportunities."
Haen and others also discussed some of the roadblocks, including a taxation issue, that has been hindering the development of short-sea shipping on the Great Lakes.
Short-sea shipping is the movement of products directly from port to port on a ferry-like schedule, a practice utilized in Europe. Its development has been hindered in the U.S. due to a tax provision taxing goods multiple times.
"I believe we need to better utilize the port capacity that exists nationwide in moving things by water," Haen said. "Some of that is driven by new policy direction and regulation changes that will foster things moving by water."
Baldwin is a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and the tour was designed to help her understand what the committee can do to help the port operate.