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What do Estonia and Iceland have in common?

They both rank higher than the United States in port infrastructure.

That distressing fact recently was made public by a bipartisan coalition of elected officials known as the Building America’s Future Educational Fund.

In a recent interview, the organization’s co-chair, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, observed, “Other countries understand that port innovation and capacity is key to competitiveness in an export-driven economy. The World Economic Forum now ranks U.S. port infrastructure 22nd in the world.”

Since its inception, the MTD has sought to educate the American public about the importance of port modernization, which includes the need for dredging.  Not only do ports generate millions of jobs, they enhance U.S. competitiveness and U.S. security interests.

As Rendell noted, “Policymakers in Washington need to make smart infrastructure investments a priority. Because if we don’t, we will only fall further behind the rest of the world.”

And, as the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force has noted, the problem is reaching epidemic proportions in that part of the country where port modernization has been chronically underfunded. Lakers continue to sail at less than capacity because shipping channels are clogged with dirt and silt.

For years, the MTD, its affiliates and its Port Maritime Councils have waged a battle to publicize the issue and educate new members of Congress.  It has been an uphill battle.  Congress recently went seven years without funding the Water Resources Development Act, an important source for port modernization and dredging dollars.

Part of the problem is that monies generated by the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT), which was created specifically to promote port modernization, are not being used for that purpose. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund currently has a surplus of $6 billion.

The adverse consequences of this failure are being compounded by advances in technology and the widening of the Panama Canal, expected to be done by 2014.  Oceangoing ships are getting larger and larger, while the numbers of U.S. ports capable of handling them are getting fewer and fewer because of the lack of infrastructure investment.

Solving this problem has not been easy, especially since many environmental groups are opposed to any kind of waterfront development.  Moreover, the regulatory process still is far too bureaucratic.

The MTD, its affiliates and its Port Maritime Councils pledge that we will continue to highlight the importance of port modernization, the need for adequate funding for dredging and the push for a streamlined regulatory process.