At least one state official and a few local media outlets tried to blame a key maritime law for a potential shortage of road salt in New Jersey, but the state’s two U.S. senators made sure the false claims didn’t gain traction.
The American Maritime Partnership (AMP), a key coalition to which the SIU is affiliated, also helped set the record straight in late February after the Jones Act briefly came under attack.
The senators and AMP both said the real culprit was poor planning by the state.
The saga unfolded as local media outlets lazily reported claims by a state official that the Jones Act was preventing a readily available supply of rock salt from being delivered from farther north. (The law requires that domestic cargoes move aboard American-flag, U.S.-crewed ships that are also built and owned U.S.) Some of those outlets also said the domestic maritime industry was standing in the way of a waiver request, to the detriment of public safety.
While false attacks on the Jones Act are nothing new, this particular round of erroneous claims caught the attention of not only those within the industry, but also U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). On Feb. 25, the senators issued a joint statement that reads in part, “When we first heard about the emergent nature of the state’s salt shortage in media reports, we immediately contacted the appropriate federal agencies on behalf of the health, safety and well-being of New Jersey residents seeking help in expediting procurement and delivery of much-needed rock salt.
“What has become clear is that the State Department of Transportation has fallen short in planning for and addressing its dwindling salt supply,” the senators continued. “There were numerous opportunities to enlist our help, including at least one direct conversation with (Transportation) Commissioner (Jim) Simpson, in which the apparent salt crisis wasn’t even mentioned. In the face of an emergency, citizens of New Jersey expect its officials to do everything possible to protect the public from potential harm and in this case, the state has fallen short.”
The senators also pointed out that the state’s request for a waiver “was denied because it was determined that American vessels were readily available to transport the salt from Maine to New Jersey, a development we were glad to help facilitate and expedite. We stand ready to act and to advocate for our fellow New Jerseyans at the federal level, but can only do so when we are informed of a potential issue. It doesn’t matter if it’s John Q. Public, a local mayor or in this case, the state. Had offers for help not been ignored, we could have worked in partnership, provided appropriate guidance on the best way to achieve their intended goal, and most likely avoided this unnecessary situation.”
They concluded by defending the Jones Act, a law that helps pump billions of dollars each year into the American economy while maintain around 500,000 U.S. jobs.
“We would caution those who would recklessly call for the abolition of the Jones Act, which has served for nearly a century to protect our national and economic security,” the senators stated. “The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – which prohibits use of a foreign-flagged vessel for transporting goods between U.S. ports – was designed to support America’s strong shipping industry, while ensuring our country’s readiness to defend itself against a national security threat.
“The lesson learned here should not be to repeal or blame the Jones Act, but to work in partnership to achieve a common goal. The state’s poor planning should not become New Jersey residents’ emergency.”
AMP Chairman Tom Allegretti, in an op-ed submitted on behalf of the coalition’s 450-plus member organizations, noted, “The sheer volume of inaccurate statements (concerning the salt issue) calls for the record to be set straight…. Several weeks ago, the state Department of Transportation found itself unprepared for the winter weather that the state and the nation have experienced this year. Recognizing that a foreign shipment from the usual source of road salt – South America – would not reach New Jersey quickly enough, officials scrambled for options. “Sensing a potential public relations disaster as the state would soon run out of salt, New Jersey transportation officials identified a stockpile in Maine,” he continued. “They were told then by the U.S. Department of Transportation that U.S. law required that it be shipped by a U.S.-owned, -crewed, and -flagged vessel. Despite this guidance, state officials opted to publicly promote a story that a foreign-flagged vessel was available in Maine and willing to haul the salt to New Jersey, and, if not for the Jones Act, that ship could sail immediately. However, there is no confirmation that the foreign vessel was willing to move the salt. The ship left port the next day – which would signal it had no intention to move that salt.”
Allegretti pointed out that not only did the domestic maritime industry not stand in the way, it activated a vessel “to retrieve the salt and deliver it to New Jersey on Monday evening. Even more curiously, on Monday, the same day the salt arrived, the New Jersey transportation commissioner misinformed the media that the shipment was ‘still in Maine,’ and that ‘it could be three weeks’ before it gets here.’ This reckless statement is not true.
“The DOT simply waited too long to order more salt, then found itself in a public relations bind and needing a scapegoat. With just a little planning, this situation could have been prevented. It is important that New Jerseyans know that the domestic maritime industry acted quickly to help resupply the state and that this industry plays a foundational role assuring our country’s national, economic and homeland security every day of the year.”