Planning for a bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812 is currently being snarled by the Great Lakes dredging and harbor maintenance funding crisis. In recent weeks the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, municipal government agencies, and a number of U.S. Great Lakes public port authorities have been struggling to find docks with sufficient deep water so ships such as the USS De Wert, which requires a draft of at least 26 ft. 6 in., can safely enter.
The deep-draft ships of the flotilla are having trouble finding appropriate docks or transiting some navigation channels at a number of points on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes-Seaway System especially in Detroit and Toledo according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation. For example the city dock in Detroit has reportedly been ruled out by the Navy personnel planning the voyage of the USS De Wert in favor of another location with better draft conditions.
The scarcity of dredging funds has reached a crisis stage on the Great Lakes. Weeks ago a passenger and car ferry crew member reported that his ship experienced engine failure and got stuck on a sandbar on its first voyage of the navigation season as it approached Manitowoc, WI. Ships that normally would be trading in ports with notorious silting problems, such as Toledo, are reportedly starting to steer clear of shallow water berths in favor of ports and docks with better draft conditions.
Several weeks ago St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation Administrator Terry Johnson was fired by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation shortly after openly questioning the adequacy of the administration’s Great Lakes dredging budget request.
The USS De Wert, a U.S. Navy Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, is one of a flotilla of U.S. and Canadian ships that will be touring the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System this summer from July 20 through September 21 in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. In addition to the USS De Wert the ships scheduled to participate in the tour include the coastal patrol boat USS Hurricane, the Coast Guard’s ice cutter USCGC Mobile Bay, the Canadian Navy’s Halifax-class frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec and the historic wooden-hulled, two-masted US Brig Niagara.
As of this writing, port calls are scheduled in Halifax (July 20-23), Quebec (July 26-30), Montreal (July 30-August 3), Milwaukee (August 8-13), Chicago (August 15-20), Toledo (August 23-27), Cleveland (August 27-September 4), Detroit/Windsor (September 5-10), Buffalo (September 12-17), and Hamilton (September 18-21).
In the U.S. the War of 1812 is remembered as the war in which British soldiers burned the American capital of Washington, DC. Let’s hope that nothing that dramatic has to happen before dredging funds already collected through the Harbor Maintenance Tax are finally released to dredge the ports and channels of the Great Lakes.