U.S. ports are important strategic and economic assets, generating as they do millions of jobs and serving as loading platforms for the nation’s military forces. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, ILA members and other unionized stevedores worked around the clock to ensure that the men and women of the U.S. armed forces had the ammunition and equipment that was needed to perform the mission.
According to recent estimates, approximately 95 percent of our nation’s trade enters or leaves through 36 of the nation’s largest seaports. With international trade set to double over the next 15 years, America’s ports will play an even greater role in the economic life of the nation.
Unfortunately, while the international maritime industry is changing, U.S. ports are finding it hard to keep up. While cargo vessels are getting larger and larger, inadequate federal funding levels and other obstacles are making it harder and harder for U.S. ports to accommodate them. Besides the economic issues involved, there’s the public safety. There have been a number of recent high-profile accidents that have been caused by inadequate channel conditions in several U.S. ports.
There are a number of things holding up dredging projects. Some environmental groups are opposed to any economic development on the waterfront. The MTD believes that environmental safety and economic development are not mutually exclusive. Our port maritime councils have worked hard on a grass roots level to promote local modernization projects.
There’s also a matter of funding. Ten years ago, the Supreme Court found the Harbor Maintenance Tax to be unconstitutional. Even though Congress and the administration have not come up with a badly needed new source of dedicated funding, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund still has a $3 billion surplus on hand. Unfortunately, many in the dredging industry suspect that this money will be used for other purposes. As one representative from the American Association of Port Authorities noted skeptically, “It was real when it was paid.”
The MTD, its affiliates and port maritime councils have made it a priority in making Congress and the federal government to allot more monies for port modernization and to take their traditional federal harbor and channel maintenance responsibilities more seriously.