CARL LEVIN: Great Lakes storm recovery is a priority
More than four months after Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of the Eastern United States, recovery and reconstruction efforts are far from complete. And while most of the attention has rightly focused on the need for aid to areas in the Northeast that were devastated by the storm’s landfall, Sandy’s power was so great that its effects were felt as far west as our own Great Lakes.
When Sandy reached land in October, it cut a deadly path across the country. More than 120 deaths are blamed on the storm, and Americans will never forget the scenes of devastation in the storm’s wake.
Sandy was not just powerful, it was huge. Hurricane force winds were recorded in an area more than 900 miles across, making it the largest Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever recorded. Sandy’s effects were felt in 24 states, including Michigan. Gale force winds on the Great Lakes drove waves as high as 23 feet on Lake Huron and 22 feet on Lake Michigan. Great Lakes shipping came to a standstill. This pounding of water and winds caused an estimated $17 million in damage to Great Lakes navigation infrastructure, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
I supported passage in January of an emergency recovery bill to provide federal assistance for those rebuilding in Sandy’s aftermath – a bill that was long overdue. The need to help residents of New Jersey, New York and the New England states was acute. In addition, I and other lawmakers from Michigan and other Great Lakes states have worked to ensure that we also deal with Sandy’s effects in our region.
The relief legislation we passed includes $821 million in federal funding to clear navigation channels and repair damage to federal navigation facilities such as harbors, breakwaters and piers. These channels and facilities, maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, are a vital part of our nation’s infrastructure. Millions of jobs depend on our ability to move goods over our nation’s waters and through its ports – including along the Great Lakes, which transport more than 160 million tons of goods each year.
Before the relief bill passed, I joined with Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, to ensure that the Congressional Record reflected Congress’ intent that Great Lakes projects be eligible for funding from the bill. While the damage in places such as New York and New Jersey is more extensive, we wanted to make it clear that Congress intended to help the Great Lakes as well.
Then, in mid-February, I joined with a bipartisan group of senators from Great Lakes states in writing to the head of the Army Corps of Engineers, making the case for Great Lakes recovery efforts. We pointed out my conversation in the Record with Sen. Mikulski confirming that Great Lakes projects were eligible for Sandy recovery funding, and urged the Corps of Engineers to direct a portion of its funding to repairing channels, harbors, piers and breakwaters in the Great Lakes.
Sandy’s effects reached far and wide, crossing city and state boundaries; the economic impact of damage to Great Lakes shipping will be felt not just in the Great Lakes states, but across the country. That’s why assisting the recovery efforts is a prime federal responsibility, one I and other Great Lakes lawmakers will work to make sure is carried out.
Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.