March 5th is Great Lakes Day, and the Great Lakes Commission is heading to Capitol Hill for the Great Lakes Day Congressional Breakfast. The annual event, which is open to the public, brings together Commission leaders with members of Congress for critical discussions that can help shape federal policy. Each year, the Commission establishes a clear set of priorities in its quest to “create economic opportunities, protect public health and revitalize communities across the Great Lakes Basin.”
Improving Navigation in the Great Lakes
This year, the Commission is focusing on seven priorities, one of which is to strengthen the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River navigation system. In particular, it is asking Congress and the Administration to:
- Provide funding to ensure continued, efficient construction of a new Soo Lock, as well as critically needed maintenance and rehabilitation of the existing Poe and MacArthur locks.
- Fully appropriate funds from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund—including dedicated funding for the Great Lakes Navigation System—to support dredging and maintenance of Great Lakes harbors, channels, and navigation infrastructure. In addition, disperse previously collected but unspent trust funds to address the more than half-billion-dollar backlog in dredging and maintenance of navigation infrastructure in the Great Lakes maritime transportation system, including maintaining harbors and channels at their fully authorized dimensions, as appropriate to maintain commerce.
- Reform the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to require that all revenues collected are appropriated annually for their intended purpose—maintaining our nation’s commercial navigation system.
- Provide funding for construction of a new heavy icebreaker for the Great Lakes and maintenance of existing icebreaking vessels to ensure the U.S. Coast Guard can remove ice jams, minimize flood hazards, and maintain federal navigation channels in the Great Lakes Navigation System.
- Provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with the resources needed to facilitate crossborder movement of cargo and passengers, including a growing cruise tourism economy in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence navigation system. Congress should direct CBP to establish flexible specifications for cargo and cruise facilities to fit the Great Lakes market, and to provide reasonable time to demonstrate market potential for specific activities.
A Wide Range of Priorities
The remaining six priorities under discussion at this year’s Congressional Breakfast are to: fully fund and reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative; safeguard drinking water and modernize clean water infrastructure; protect against invasive species; promote agricultural conservation; build a resilient Great Lakes Basin environment and economy; and invest in a collaborative, data-driven approach to Basinwide decision making.
“Addressing current and future challenges including safe drinking water, invasive species, and harmful algae blooms requires close coordination across the Great Lakes Basin,” said Commission Chair Sharon Jackson. “Moving forward, the Commission looks forward to helping the Basin take real, concrete action on urgent issues of regional concern.”
In addition to the Congressional Breakfast, the Great Lakes Commission also invites the public to join its semiannual meeting May 19-21 in Wisconsin and its annual meeting September 15-17 in Pennsylvania.