SAINT JOSEPH, Mich. – U.S. Congressman Fred Upton has called a special meeting next week to discuss the future of the Saint Joseph harbor after measurements of the outer channel revealed that the water isn’t deep enough accommodate commercial ships.
Emergency money does exist for the Army Corps of Engineers but consensus from those in the industry is that it’s too late in the season this year. Nine ships that were scheduled to drop loads in the Saint Joseph Harbor most likely will not be able to this year.
Dredging was cut from the Army Corps of Engineers budget for spring 2012 but commercial docks say business depends on it.
“This is about 23-thousand-tons. We have another ship that’s trying to get in that would be another 13 to 14 tons,” said Jack Kinney owner of Central Dock standing next to a three-story pile of road salt. Central Dock and Dock 63 supply most of the road salt in the region.
Kinny said once it starts snowing all the salt will be gone. He should have twice as much at the dock right now. “Well we missed a boat. They can’t come in. The harbor is closed,” he said.
Ships cannot reach any of the three docks in the harbor. Nobody is getting salt or any other raw materials in by boat.
Kinny can’t help feeling slighted. “The government has taken our money,” he said.
Every commercial shipper in the country pays a fee when a ship docks. That money goes to the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. What the fund is not doing is pay for harbor maintenance. The fund sits at more than $6 billion as a trust fund and needs congressional approval to be used.
It would only take a fraction of the fund to dredge. “All we want is to spend the money that’s designated for port maintenance and they’re not doing it,” said Kinney.
Kinney says without dredging… “We’d be out of business and the other docks too eventually,” he said. I mean how long can we wait for them to dredge it.”
Upton’s Washington DC office said Friday the meeting next week will be to both talk about working with the Army Corps of Engineers and efforts being made change the funding formula for dredging.