The Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers has announced a $4 billion strategy to double maritime trade in the region. The heads of US states Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec crafted the ten-year strategic plan addressing a variety of deficiencies in the decades old infrastructure of the Great Lakes maritime transportation system (MTS) and identifying new markets for this growth.
The Conference, established in 2015, is an expansion of the Council of Great Lakes Governors which was formed in 1983. It is currently chaired by Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan. The strategic plan announced on June 16 is expected to allow the MTS to operate as a reliable and low-cost transportation mode with functional locks, appropriate channel and harbor depths, and accessible ports.
The group estimates that the region contributes over $300 billion (US) to the US and Canadian annual economies and accounts for 220,000 jobs. In 2015 the area saw a 2% growth rate. The eight states and two provinces rank as the world's third largest economy (if it were a separate country) with $5.8 trillion in economic output. The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence MTS is the world's largest system of surface fresh water and is the longest deep-draft inland navigation system in the world, extending 2,300 miles and serving more than 100 ports.
The focus of the joint effort will be on aging navigation facilities, dredging, and icebreaking capabilities and will include the following projects:
- Construction of an additional Poe Class Lock in Sault Ste. Marie (MI) adjacent to the existing Poe and MacArthur locks.
- Fully funding the asset renewal program of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp.
- Eliminating federal harbor dredging project backlogs in US Great Lakes ports (estimated at $100 million) to address the challenges of increasing vessel and cargo sizes.
- Dredging the St. Mary's River to 27 feet (its authorized depth)
- Obtaining federal appropriations of $250 million for repair of breakwalls and other nearshore infrastructure.
- Establishing year-round navigability by building robust icebreaker fleets that operate in the Great Lakes from January through March.
- Establishing a cooperative management agreement between the US and Canada to oversee the regional maritime system.
- Addressing backups in customs clearance processes for cruise passengers and maritime cargo which inhibit growth opportunities in cruising and container shipping.
Additional goals of the agreement include strengthening the region's maritime workforce by removing barriers to entry for veterans and increasing short sea shipping.
Maritime Executive quotes Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton as follows: “ This new strategy will strengthen our region's economic competitiveness in the global marketplace. These investments will make it easier, faster, and cheaper to move iron ore and other goods from here to other US and overseas markets.”