Administration proposes lockage fee, phase-out of fuel tax

President Bush’s proposed $3.1 trillion budget for fiscal year 2009 would resurrect a lockage fee on barges that ply the inland and Intracoastal Waterways. The spending plan would also phase out the 20 cents a gallon tax on diesel fuel imposed on the barge and towing industry.

    The fee is spelled out in proposed legislation submitted by the Department of the Army to the Senate and House in early April. It calls for $50 per barge at locks 600 feet or longer and $30 per barge at locks less than 600 feet, beginning Oct. 1, 2008. From Oct. 1, 2009, through 2012, the fee would increase $10 per year at large locks and $6 per year at small locks, reaching $80 per barge and $48 per barge, respectively, through fiscal 2012.

    Effective Oct. 1, 2013, the fee schedule would begin automatic annual increases or decreases of $10 per barge (large locks) or $6 per barge (small locks), depending on the balance remaining in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund at the end of the year.
    The phase-out of the diesel fuel tax would begin Oct. 1, when the levy would drop from 20 cents per gallon to 10 cents. The tax would drop to 5 cents per gallon Oct. 1, 2009, and disappear completely after September 2010.

    The proposed fee is supposed to yield about $167 million to replenish a declining Inland Waterways Trust Fund. It is part of the fiscal 2009 budget sought for the civil works program of the Army Corps of Engineers. The president’s proposal seeks $4.7 billion (down from $4.9 billion this fiscal year) for the civil works program and an additional emergency request for $5.8 billion to complete levee and other Katrina-related work remaining in the New Orleans area.

    The amount of the fee, which is given little chance of passage this election year, would be tied to the level of spending for inland waterways construction, replacement, expansion and rehabilitation work.

    John Paul Woodley Jr., assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, said the Trust Fund was “getting down to between $100 and $200 million, I think. I think we’re asking to pull out $169 million in fiscal year 2009 and that’s going to … more than exhaust it unless we get some enhanced revenues.”

    William N. Whitlock, executive vice president for governmental affairs of American Commercial Lines, speaking at the recent Budget Summit of the National Waterways Conference in Washington, said the administration’s proposal to replace the fuel tax with a lockage fee puts “the policy cart before the horse.” The administration’s proposal, Whitlock said, “does nothing to fix the broken project delivery system.”
    Instead of imposing “a huge tax increase” on the towing industry, Whitlock said, Congress should reject the fee proposal and “ensure predictable, consistent and adequate funding for key inland waterway infrastructure projects.”

    Among others critical of the proposed lockage fee were Tom Allegretti, president and chief executive of the American Waterways Operators, and R. Barry Palmer, president and chief executive of Waterways Council Inc. Allegretti said that under the proposal, some users who transit many locks would pay a disproportionate share of the costs, while other users could end up paying nothing at all because their vessels do not pass through a lock. Palmer said that before anybody talks about increasing taxes on the industry, “folks need to focus on identifying what’s broken in the system and fix it and returning to the performance delivery capability that we used to have.”

New electronic system navigates towboats, barges through locks
The Port of Pittsburgh Commission has been granted a patent for an electronic system that would help a towboat and barge configuration navigate through a lock, or navigate around other structures, such as bridges, piers or docks.

    James R. McCarville, executive director of the port, said that the system, called SmartLock, consists of computers on the towboat, which provide pilots with an easy display of navigational charts showing the position of the tows as they approach and enter the locks. The computers are linked to sensors such as GPS, which can send information on speed, direction and position of tows to the computers for display.

Resolution boosts commercial navigation on Missouri River
Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) has introduced on behalf of himself and seven House colleagues from Missouri a resolution “honoring the historical significance of and reaffirming continued congressional support for commercial navigation on the Missouri River.”

    Sponsors of HR 1012 noted, among other things, that the Missouri River flows 2,300 miles from Three Forks, Mont., to St. Louis; that the river carried up to 6.6 billion pounds of commercial cargo in a single year; that in 2000, navigation on the Missouri River moved 7.1 million bushels of corn and 5.1 bushels of soybeans, and that since the nation’s rail and highway systems are increasingly congested, barges on the river will become an even more attractive shipping option.

Study finds barge transport safer than rail or highway
The National Waterways Foundation has released a new study that examines environmental, societal and safety impacts of utilizing inland river barge transportation, and compares those impacts to highway and rail transportation.
    For example, the study by the Texas Transportation Institute’s Center for Ports and Waterways at Texas A&M University shows that for every inland marine fatality there are 22.7 rail fatalities and 155 highway fatalities. The study also shows that for every inland marine injury there are 125.2 rail injuries and 2,171.5 highway injuries.
    To receive either a copy of the study entitled A Modal Comparison of Freight Transportation Effects on the General Public, or the executive summary of the study, visit the Web site of the foundation,

Palmer plans to retire from WCI by end of 2008
Waterways Council Inc. has begun an executive search for a successor to R. Barry Palmer, who plans to retire as president and chief executive at the end of the year. A search committee will begin accepting applications for the position in June, and plans to have a successor to Palmer on board in August.

    Palmer began his career in the waterways industry in May 1981 as executive director of DINAMO (Association for the Development of Inland Navigation in America’s Ohio Valley). In June 2003, Palmer moved to Washington to help create WCI, which grew out of Waterways Work!, a campaign focused on advocating for modernized waterways infrastructure, and DINAMO. WCI credits Palmer with building the organization into a stable national public policy organization with an annual budget of $2.2 million and more than 240 members.

Waterway users encouraged to report suspicious activities
The House has passed a resolution (HR 549) encouraging waterway users to report suspicious and unusual activities to appropriate authorities as recommended by the U.S. Coast Guard’s homeland security public awareness program called America’s Waterway Watch. Such reports may be made by calling 877-24-WATCH.

About the Author
Carlo Salzano has been in journalism since graduating from La Salle University in 1948 as a chemistry major. That’s right, chemistry. He began his career as a copy boy at the Philadelphia Inquirer, before moving on to United Press  International in Philadelphia, Charleston, West Virgina, Baltimore and Washington. After 14 years, Carlo joined Traffic World magazine and stayed on for 23 years, before retiring as editor in 1990. A majority of Carlo’s time at Traffic World  was spent covering the maritime community and he continues on in the maritime field while freelancing throughout his “retirement.” He and his wife, Dora, have three children and eight grandchildren.

By Professional Mariner Staff