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U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today released the following statement, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced it would be heeding his request and conducting a feasibility study for the deepening of the Port of Oswego harbor:

“I’m so glad to hear that the Army Corps of Engineers has heeded my request and taken the crucial first step of authorizing a feasibility study on the deepening of Port of Oswego channel. Deepening the harbor will unlock new business opportunities from salties, increase grain exports sourced from local farmers and boost the local economy,” said Senator Schumer. “A deeper channel could add millions of dollars a year in business to the port and create dozens of new good-paying jobs, so I’ll keep fighting tooth and nail until this project’s viability is proven and funding is secured to get it underway.”    

Over a year ago, Schumer launched his push to secure this critical feasibility study for the Port of Oswego in a priority list to USACE for Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020.

Schumer explained that the Port of Oswego, the first port on the Great Lakes system and only deep-water port on Lake Ontario, is already a major economic driver for Oswego County and Central New York. Specifically, the Port of Oswego supports 209 good-paying jobs, $26.7 million in economic activity, $13.8 million in personal income and local consumption expenditures and $5.8 million in federal and state tax revenue. In recent years it has opened up a crucial market for New York farmers who want to export their products, particularly soy beans. This past year, the port exported a record more than 51,000 metric tons of soybeans to foreign markets, a 325% increase from 2017. However, Schumer detailed, the current depth has prevented the Port of Oswego from exporting grains at its full capacity, which is well over 100,000 metric tons per year, because the larger and more lucrative vessels cannot dock at the port.

Larger ocean vessels – known as “salties” because they come visiting the Great Lakes from the salt filled oceans – require at least 27 feet of depth to load because of their deeper draft and lower buoyancy. Since the Oswego Harbor is only between 21’ and 24’, port customers like Perdue Agribusiness and the local farmers they source from, are unable to bring in larger salt water vessels for the export of grain. Instead, farmers and companies like Perdue are forced to transport some grain shipments down south to other ports, adding significant costs.  In fact, in the past year, the port had to turn away 60,000 metric tons of grain that could have been exported. Schumer said deepening the harbor from 21’-24’ to 27’ could add millions of dollars a year in business to the port, create dozens of new jobs and open new markets for local farmers and companies to export their products.

USACE is the entity responsible changing the authorized depths of the nation’s harbors. The last time USACE updated the authorized depth of the Oswego Harbor was 1962, but today’s ocean vessels are larger and need deeper water to enter a port, leading to the present issue. Schumer further explained that under Section 107 of the 1960 River and Harbor Act, USACE has ability to authorize and provide funds for the deepening of ports for commercial navigation. This authority, also known as the Continuing Authorities Program (CAP), provides USACE with the authority to solve water-resource, flood-risk mitigation, and environmental restoration problems in partnership with local sponsors. CAP projects have two main phases, a feasibility phase followed by a design and implementation phase. With the feasibility study now secured, the first part of the process is complete.

Schumer has long been a staunch supporter of the Port of Oswego. Earlier this year, Schumer helped the Port of Oswego secure a waiver to allow local soybean farmers and the Port to export tens-of-thousands of tons worth of exports to extremely promising international markets. Last year, Schumer helped the Port of Oswego secure a grain export license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). As a result, the Port of Oswego was able to significantly increase the amount of grain shipped through the Port, as well as establish a new USDA lab at the facility and purchase a modern weighing system for grain exports. With the European Union agreeing to import more soybeans from the United States last year, grain exports from the port are critical to its future growth. However, Schumer said that in order to ensure that the European demand is met with New York products, the Port of Oswego must be deepened as soon as possible.