Congressman Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) has been named 2012 Great Lakes Legislator of the Year by the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force in Washington on June 6.

Founded in 1992, Great Lakes Maritime Task Force promotes domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes, drawing its membership from both labor and management and representing U.S.-flag vessel operators, shipboard and longshore unions, port authorities, cargo shippers, terminal operators, shipyards and other Great Lakes interests.

“Rep. Gibbs’ first term in Congress has been remarkably focused on the issue that will most decide the future of Great Lakes shipping — the dredging crisis,” says Eugene Caldwell, task force president, in an organization press release. “He was the 100th co-sponsor of the Restore America’s Maritime Promise Act. This legislation requires the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to spend all the tax dollars it collects for dredging on dredging, as it was originally intended. Currently the HMTF also serves as a surplus that is then used to paper balance the budget. More than 16 million cubic yards of sediment clog the Great Lakes Navigation System and the backlog will grow to 28 million by 2016 unless dredging is adequately funded.” 

Caldwell, who is also vice president and general manager of Bay Shipbuilding Company in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, stressed that many provisions of the RAMP Act have been incorporated in the Transportation Reauthorization bills passed by both the House and the Senate.

“As Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment,” Caldwell says, “Rep. Gibbs’ support was key in many legislators’ decision to endorse the goals of the RAMP Act and will be when the two chambers conference on their transportation reauthorization bills.”

Few states are more negatively impacted by the dredging crisis than Ohio, the task force says. In a strong economy, its nine deep-draft ports (Toledo, Sandusky, Huron, Marblehead, Lorain, Cleveland, Fairport Harbor, Ashtabula and Conneaut) can handle more than 50 million tons of cargo, or five tons for each resident in the state.

“Rep. Gibbs understands that resolving the dredging crisis is not just good for Ohio, it’s good for America,” says Don Cree, first vice president of the task force.

“Ohio is the second-largest steel-producing state in the country and it takes 1.5 tons of Lakes-delivered iron ore to make a ton of steel,” explains Cree, who is also Great Lakes special assistant to the National President of American Maritime Officers, a union representing officers on U.S.-flag vessels. “When Great Lakes freighters can again deliver full loads of iron ore and other cargos to Ohio and other Great Lakes states as well, our national economy will be stronger.”

Gibbs also monitors other issues that affect shipping on the Fourth Sea Coast.

“We appreciate that Congressman Gibbs recognizes how important it is that the Lakes have adequate Coast Guard icebreaking resources,” said James H.I. Weakley, second vice president of the task force. “Five of the U.S. Coast Guard’s eight icebreaking resources were built in the 1970s and are in need of modernization or replacement.”

Weakley, who is also President of Lake Carriers’ Association, the trade association representing U.S.-flag operators on the Lakes, warns that without sufficient icebreaking resources, Great Lakes shipping cannot meet the needs of commerce.

“The ice season begins in early December and stretches into April, and during those months the fleet can move 20 percent of its annual total,” Barnes says. “We must recapitalize the Coast Guard’s Lakes icebreaking fleet.”

The Congressman also keeps a close eye on the fortunes of the St. Lawrence Seaway. “Overseas imports and exports generate more than 1,500 jobs in Ohio,” says John D. Baker, third vice president of the task force and president emeritus of the ILA’s Great Lakes District Council. “With America’s highways and rail lines congested, shipping via the St. Lawrence Seaway is the best way to increase Ohio’s imports and exports.”

Upon his selection as Great Lakes Legislator of the Year, Gibbs said, “I am honored to receive the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force’s Great Lakes Legislator of the Year Award as the economic importance of maritime trade cannot be underestimated. As Chairman of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, the dredging crisis concerns me because harbors that have not been dredged to their proper depth will not only reduce ship traffic and freight at that port, but also will increase shipping costs.

“That is why proper investment in dredging is critical. Our Great Lakes ports and waterways must be at their authorized depths and widths so raw materials and general cargo are able to move domestically and overseas in an efficient and economical manner. When channels are not properly dredged, ships cannot take on full loads, resulting in a loss of efficiency and an increase in cost. Every inch of depth means more cargo can be shipped, and with our nation attempting to increase exports, we need to ensure that all our ports are operating at their full potential and ships aren’t running half-full.

“I would like to thank the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force for their hard work and dedication to addressing the infrastructure needs of Great Lakes ports to keep American farms and businesses competitive and grow American jobs.”

With his selection as Great Lakes Legislator of the Year, Gibbs joins a select group of Ohio legislators, both past and present. Previous recipients include Sens. John D. Glenn, George J. Voinovich and Mike DeWine, and Reps. Louis Stokes, Steven C. LaTourette, Marcy Kaptur, the late Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Betty Sutton.