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Brig. Gen. Kaiser on Future of Corps Dredging on the Great Lakes

Brig. Gen. Richard G. Kaiser, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio Rivers Division Commander.

Brig. Gen. Richard G. Kaiser, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio Rivers Division Commander.

Brig. Gen. Richard G. Kaiser, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio Rivers Division Commander, is responsible for long-term planning and oversight of the dredging operations on the Great Lakes, and in late April, he shared with the Buffalo District his thoughts on the challenges, successes and the road forward for dredging the Great Lakes harbors.

As Kaiser explained, the Great Lakes Navigation System (GLNS) is a crucial component of transportation in the U.S. and is made up of an interconnected system of 140 commercial and recreational harbors. “Each of the commercial harbors on the Great Lakes are interconnected - if one is not maintained it will impact another harbor in the system, causing the light loading of ships and the reduction of cargo moved,” Kaiser said.

He said recent economic impact studies indicate that the GLNS annually generates $33.6 billion in business revenue and an additional $115.5 billion from related user industries. “That is precisely why dredging is so important to our U.S. economy,” Kaiser said.

FUNDING

Dredging on the Great Lakes has taken place for more than a hundred years, and typically, the Corps has not always received sufficient funding to dredge every harbor to the desired depth. Kaiser also said in recent years, the dredging budgets have improved and the Corps is making progress to decrease the dredging backlog. With the current budget, he said the Corps can reduce dredging backlog for FY2014 for the first time in five years, and the same is expected for the next year. The funds have also allowed for dredging at many low-use harbors, which have been neglected in the face of budget constraints.

Although the Corps has not typically received funding for recreational harbors, the growing need for dredging there has pushed local and state governments to work with the Corps on those dredging projects. As example, Kaiser said, the state of Michigan released more than $20 million in FY2013 to dredge critical recreational harbors. For seven of those harbors, the state contributed funds directly to the Corps to dredge the federal channels in these recreational harbors.

CONFINED DISPOSAL FACILITIES

Kaiser said that another challenge in the Great Lakes is contaminated sediment. The confined disposal facilities (CDFs) built for this material were intended to have a 10-year design life. “The belief at the time was that after 10 years, sediments would then be suitable for a return to open lake placement. However, the need to confine contaminated sediment has continued and most CDFs have been re-worked and in use for over 40 years – four times the design life,” Kaiser said. He said one-third of the 20 active Great Lakes CDFs will reach full capacity in the next five years.

Dredging funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Legacy Act and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative programs has helped to remove over one million cubic yards of legacy sediments.

Kaiser also said that the Corps Buffalo, Chicago and Detroit districts are working with local sponsors at key harbors on the Great Lakes to develop solutions to the dredged material management challenge. Successes he noted included the Cat Island Dredged Material Disposal Facility in Green Bay, Wisconsin, built through a partnership between EPA and local and state governments, which will provide a 20-year solution for dredged material placement in Green Bay Harbor.

At Duluth-Superior Harbor in Minnesota, the Corps is beneficially using sediment in a shallow embayment, known as the 21st Avenue West Pilot Project. The varying depths of sediment below the water surface in the embayment stimulate ecosystem restoration.

“We are committed to working very hard with Great Lakes states, our partners, and stakeholders to find sustainable solutions at their respective ports. There are two real obstacles we will face: (1) finding and demonstrating nontraditional solutions and perhaps more importantly, (2) changing the culture to accept these solutions as viable alternatives,” Kaiser said.

PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS

Kaiser said the future of dredging on the Great Lakes lie in Public Private Partnership (PPP) opportunities, and the division is embarking on initiatives to investigate ways to better work with local and state governments and industry on alternative resourcing and financing.

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