The mild winter and lack of ice on much of the Great Lakes resulted in the Soo Locks opening earlier than normal to allow shipping to resume again between ports.
The Locks opened at noon last Saturday and immediately the John G. Munson, hauling 57,152 tons of coal, was the first boat through. The locks had been closed since Jan. 19.
While shippers are pleased with the early start, the lack of ice and mild winter might prove detrimental to shipping as the season heads into summer. According to a press release from the Lake Carriers Association, 98 million tons of cargo was moved across the Lakes last year - an increase of 5.7 percent from 2010.
The release warns, however, that a lack of federal funds has jeopardized dredging efforts in many Great Lakes ports, creating problematic conditions for shipping.
"Years of insufficient federal funding for dredging have left more than 17 million cubic yards of sediment clogging ports and waterways," the release states. As evidence, the release points to shipments last fall in St. Joseph that had to be suspended until emergency funds were used to clear the harbor and coal for a power plant in Holland could not be delivered in December.
We're glad shipping has begun, and many area residents are back to work on the boats again. Even still, it's important to keep Great Lakes issues front and center before the minds of federal and state legislators. Unless basics like money for dredging can be found, this important source of transportation and work for many area residents could be brought to a quick halt.