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Port balances dredging and development

Officials sought $5 million in 2011 to cap off Renard Island in Green Bay Harbor and prepare the island for redevelopment. But the project was left off the Army Corps proposed budget. (Photo courtesy of the Port of Green Bay)

Officials sought $5 million in 2011 to cap off Renard Island in Green Bay Harbor and prepare the island for redevelopment. But the project was left off the Army Corps proposed budget. (Photo courtesy of the Port of Green Bay)

By Sean Ryan

Green Bay this year has a harbor that needs to be dredged, an island that could be developed and a federal government coming up short with money for both projects.

The Green Bay Harbor must be dredged annually to accommodate heavy ships because the Fox River every year pushes fresh sediment into the port.

Proposed budgets for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for the dredging, never include enough money for the work, which forces the city every year to ask congressional representatives for more, said Port Manager Dean Haen.

The Army Corps so far has managed to leave open a deep lane of dredged area through which one ship can pass at a time, he said.

“It’s doable,” Haen said. “It’s workable. It’s not the ideal situation, but it works.”

The proposed 2011 Army Corps budget includes $2.3 million for dredging in Green Bay when it would cost as much as $5.3 million to dredge the whole harbor. The Army Corps has $3.1 million for Green Bay dredging in 2010.

Army Corps engineers across the country identify needs for the ports they oversee, but there is a limit to how many projects the budget can afford, so some must be deferred, said Wayne Schloop, chief of operations within the Army Corps Detroit district.

But there now is more pressure on the Army Corps budget because Green Bay needs $5 million in Army Corps money to clear the way for the development of Renard Island in the port, Haen said. The Army Corps, over the years, has dumped contaminated sediment on the 54-acre island, but it has reached capacity and must be capped before the city can redevelop the land, he said.

“We’re weighing what’s more important, critically,” Haen said. “Can we get by one more year without sufficient dredging?”

The proposed 2011 Army Corps budget does not include money for the island. So, this year, the Brown County Harbor Commission likely will ask members of Congress to lobby for island money rather than more dredging money.

Tom Van Drasek, vice president of the commission, said capping the island is important, but shipping safety in the harbor is tantamount.

“The island situation has been around for a long time, too, and I agree it’s a balancing act, and you can try to solve one before the other,” Van Drasek said “But we certainly can’t let that dredging situation go.”

The Green Bay Harbor will join a throng of ports asking for more Army Corps budget money this year, said Steve Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association.

“Everybody gets less than what they need,” Fisher said, “and the problem, and this is a big source of frustration among the shipping industry, is there is a tax on shipping.”

In much the same way as the federal gas tax pays for highways, he said, maintenance fees on shipping were created to funnel money into the Army Corps budget. Even though the fees bring in more than $1 billion a year, Fisher said, the Army Corps budget in 2011 only would take $764.4 million from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The remaining money goes into the U.S. general budget.

Fisher said port lobbyists this year will try to segregate the maintenance fund in the same way federal highway and airport programs were set aside in the past.

Haen said the Green Bay port faces a 2013 state deadline to cap off Renard Island, so the Army Corps eventually has to do the project. As for the chances of getting the money this year, he said Wisconsin’s congressional delegation has been supportive of Green Bay’s requests in the past.

“Those things are in our favor,” he said, “but I won’t make any predictions.”

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