FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 20, 2007
Schumer Tours Port Of Oswego For A First-Hand Look At The Perilously Shallow Channels That Obstruct Ships From Entering Rapidly Growing Port
Schumer Reveals that Recently Passed Omnibus Budget Bill Gives Army Corps Authority to Reprogram Funding so it can Dredge Fast-Growing Port of Oswego for the First Time Since 2004M
With Silt Build-Up Putting Portions of the Port Complex Several Feet Under the Recommended Water Level, Navigating Waterways is Becoming Increasingly Difficult for Ships; Several Major CNY Businesses Could Lose Key Import-Export Facility
Schumer Tours Port of Oswego with Port Director - Pushes Army Corps to Quickly Dredge the Port so it Can Continue to Fuel Economic Growth Across Central NY
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer toured the Port of Oswego to get a first-hand look at the port’s increasingly shallow and dangerous waterways, impeding navigation for cargo ships. Schumer, who has taken the lead in pressuring the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to immediately dredge the entire port, revealed that the recently passed Congressional Omnibus bill gives the Army Corp the ability to reprogram funding to do this crucial work.
While the port has recently undergone a remarkable revitalization fueling economic growth across Central New York, it is now threatened by undredged, shallow waterways that constrict access for ships navigating the port.
“Over the past several years, the Port of Oswego has undergone a remarkable rebirth, but today its future growth could be sunk by undredged and perilous waterways that restrict ships from navigating through the port,” said Senator Schumer. “Today, I witnessed firsthand the dangerous and shallow channels that are increasingly plaguing the Port of Oswego, and it only reinforces my belief that it’s vital for the Army Corps to immediately sweep in and dredge these waterways,” said Senator Schumer. “The good news is that the Army Corps will soon have the ability to find the funding for the project so they can get in there and get the job done, and protect an economic juggernaut that is fueling business across Central New York.”
Schumer toured today the Port of Oswego with Port Director Jonathan Daniels to get a closer look at how the absence of routine maintenance dredging at the port in the last three years has left it suffering from shallow waterways that are increasingly treacherous for ships to navigate. In some portions of Oswego Harbor, the water level is 3 to 4 feet below the recommended depth.
After consistently losing money for years and seeing minimal activity, the Port of Oswego has undergone a startling rebound in recent years, adding capacity and providing an economic boost across the region. So far in 2007, over 150 ships have utilized the Port, many enticed by its standing as the only deep water port on the U.S. shores of Lake Ontario. The bulk commodities that pass through Oswego Harbor generate approximately $5.9 million annually in direct revenue and support over 78 jobs.
Over the past three years, the port’s popularity with the shipping industry has exploded due to its status as the only deep water port on the U.S. shores of Lake Ontario. The Port has transformed into a critical asset for retaining existing businesses reliant on shipments and for attracting new growth opportunities to Central New York. Commodities shipped out of the port include soybeans, windmill components, cement, chemicals, ores and minerals (particularly road salt). Some of the major businesses taking advantage of the port throughout Central NY include NRG Energy, Sprague Energy, Cargill, LaFarge Cement and Essroc cement.
In October, Schumer revealed that the Port has gone without dredging since 2004, despite silt and sediment accumulation at nearly 5 times the recommended level. The Army Corp's maintenance dredging plans call for approximately 33,000 cubic yards (cy) of material be dredged from the Port area every 2-4 years. The dredging is essential to ensuring that navigable channel depths are maintained so ships can smoothly sail through points of entrance and into the port. Today, there is currently an estimated backlog of 159,000 cy of sediment which has decreased the depths of shipping berths and channels between 6 inches and several feet.
The absence of dredging has left the Port with increasingly shallow areas, especially around key access point for ships. Data collected by the ACOE in May of this year shows that the main access point to the port -- the already narrow "Lake Approach Channel" -- has shrunk to half its size because of silt accumulation. In addition, the water directly in front of the Port's East and West Docks has grown dramatically shallow. In an area where the recommended water level is 21 feet, the Army Corp's own survey from May, 2007 found that several areas have depths between 16 and 17 feet.
This decrease in water level has meant that ships hull must carry lighter loads to remain more buoyant. The Port of Oswego has noted several instances where companies had to add another ship because cargo had to spread out among several vessels.
Today, Schumer announced that a provision in the omnibus bill that passed the Senate and House this week lifts a previous restriction and now allows the Army Corp to transfer unused funds from other projects and use them to perform the emergency dredging at the port. Specifically, language in the omnibus bill will give the Army Corps authority to reprogram funding. The omnibus bill will soon move to the President for his signature.
Schumer has emphasized that the longer the Port of Oswego goes without dredging, the more expensive the project becomes. Every year that dredging is not performed more sediment accumulates and the cost of the project rises. The cost was estimated at $635,000 in FY ’07, but will rise to $715,000 in FY’09. “As the water level plummets at the Port of Oswego, the cost for dredging simultaneously skyrockets,” added Schumer. Each cubic yard costs between $ 4 - 12 to remove.