Despite strong opposition expressed by the waterways industry and congressional leaders, the administration went ahead last month with proposed legislation spelling out its long-awaited lockage fee. The legislation submitted to the House of Representatives is designed to improve the way the country raises the revenue needed to cover the non-federal share of the capital costs of inland and intracoastal waterways projects.
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Terrence C. Salt, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army, said the proposed lockage usage fee would ultimately replace the current tax of 20 cents per gallon of diesel fuel being paid by commercial waterway users and deposited in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF).
The money finances half of most of the costs that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers incurs to construct, replace, expand and rehabilitate the locks and dams on the waterways.
Salt said that waterway users now pay a total of about $85 million per year. The annual receipts now cover less than 10 percent of the total cost of supporting commercial navigation on the waterways, Salt added. Salt also noted that while some waterways are now exempt from the fuel tax, the lock usage fee would apply to all locks on all waterways by having the legislation expand the list of waterways designated as inland and intracoastal waterways.
The proposed legislation would not alter current 50 percent cost-sharing for the waterways. Salt said that some users would pay â€œsignificantly moreâ€ for use of the waterways under the proposed legislation, but together they would be paying, on average, about 25 percent of the total cost of navigation projects.
The lockage fee proposed in the legislation would begin Jan. 1, 2010. For locks over 600 feet, the fee would be $45 per barge lockage from Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2011, and $90 from Jan. 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2013. At locks under 600 feet, the fee would be $27 from Jan. 1, 2010, through Dec. 31, 2011, and $54 from Jan. 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2013.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the proposed legislation would authorize automatic adjustments to the usage fee, depending on the balance of receipts in the IWTF at the end of the fiscal year. The secretary of the Army also would have the authority to increase the amount of the fee for any lock in order to reduce congestion during periods of expected high usage.
Under the proposed legislation, the current diesel fuel tax would be reduced from 20 cents a gallon to 10 cents in 2012 and 2013, and to zero beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
Corps civil works spending bill sent to conference
The House voted 320-97 July 17 in favor of the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010 (H.R. 3183), which includes $5.5 billion for the fiscal year 2010 civil works program of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Senate amended and passed the House bill 85-9 on July 29 and asked for a conference with the House to reconcile differences between the two chambers.
The total for the Corps includes $2.12 billion for construction, $2.5 billion for operations and maintenance, $142 million for investigations, and $190 million for the Corpsâ€™ regulatory program. The Senate bill (S. 1436) would have allowed $1.9 billion for construction, $2.45 billion for operations and maintenance, and $170 million for investigations.
The House bill, ignoring the administrationâ€™s lockage-fee request, rejected the White House proposal, stating that no money appropriated under the bill will be used to award any continuing contract that commits additional money from the trust fund unless or until such time as a long-term mechanism to enhance revenue in the fund sufficient to meet the cost-sharing authorized in the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 has been enacted.
Furthermore, lawmakers chastised the administration for the late transmission of its budget justifications, and the resulting lack of transparency. The bill also cautioned that for the fiscal year 2011 budget submission, there will be a penalty of $100,000 a day for each day after the initial budget submission that the justifications are not submitted to Congress.
Meanwhile, James R. McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, praised an announcement by Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) that additional funding was included for the locks and dams in the Port of Pittsburgh District. The bill now includes $25 million for rehabilitation of the Emsworth Dam, $21.4 million for maintenance on the Ohio River, $16.8 million for maintenance on the Monongahela River, and $9 million for maintenance on the Allegheny River. The bill also added $1.75 million for a study of the navigation needs of the upper Ohio River.
Senate panel reauthorizes U.S. Coast Guard, Maritime Administration
The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has approved a bill to reauthorize the U.S. Coast Guard for fiscal years 2010 and 2011, and a bill to reauthorize the Maritime Administration for fiscal year 2010.
The Coast Guard bill (S. 1194) calls for, among other things, $6.7 billion for operation and maintenance, $1.4 billion for acquisition and construction.
The Maritime Administration bill (S. 1308), which calls for an appropriation of $400 million, includes establishment of a short sea transportation grant program to fund marine transport projects that â€œfacilitate commerce, mitigate landside congestion, reduce trasportation energy consumption, reduce harmful emissions, improve safety, assist in environmental mitigation efforts and improve transportation system resiliency.â€
Missouri River ready for full 2009 commercial navigation
The Army Corps of Engineers reported July 7 that for the first time in nearly a decade, water levels in the Missouri River basin were near normal. Sufficient runoff from rain and snow has refilled all but one of the river reservoirs and provided for a full length, full service 2009 commercial navigation season, the Corps said.
Operation Big Tow clears 99 percent of mariner licenses
The American Waterways Operators (AWO) reports that the U.S. Coast Guardâ€™s Operation Big Tow, conducted from November 2008 to January 2009 throughout the inland river system, found that 99 percent of mariners whose licenses were checked by the agency held proper licenses for their positions.
The AWO said it was significant that the Coast Guard operation found a strong positive correlation between compliance with a safety management system (SMS), such as the AWOâ€™s Responsible Carrier Program, and compliance with agency licensing requirements: the one-third surveyed vessels that did not have an SMS accounted for more than two-thirds of the licensing deficiencies.
Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the Towing Safety Advisory Committee have recommended that an SMS be required for all towing vessels, and such a requirement is expected to be included in proposed Coast Guard regulations for towing vessel inspection slated for publication this year.
Out of more than 4,200 licenses reviewed, the Coast Guard found only 39 deficiencies, most of them minor problems, the AWO reported. Furthermore, the AWO noted that a 2009 study conducted by the Texas Transportation Institute and sponsored by the Maritime Administration affirmed that the barge and towing industry is the safest mode of surface transportation, resulting in the lowest rate of fatalities, injuries and hazardous material spills among the surface transportation modes.
Senate approves Lidinsky nomination to FMC
The Senate voted July 24 to confirm Richard A. Lidinsky Jr., for the position of Federal Maritime Commissioner (FMC).
Lidinsky, former director of tariffs and national port affairs for the Maryland Port Administration, has been working as an attorney and international trade consultant in private practice.
As a member of the FMC, Lidinsky will join Commissioners Joseph E. Brennan and Rebecca F. Dye. With Commissioner Harold J. Creel Jr. having retired at the end of June, two seats now remain to be filled.
Chemical transport panel to fill 8 vacancies
The Coast Guard has invited interested parties to apply for membership on the Chemical Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC).
Applications, due Sept. 30, may be obtained by writing to Commandant (CG-5223), Attn: Chief Hazardous Materials Standards Division, U.S. Coast Guard, 2100 2nd St., S.W., STOP 7126, Washington, D.C. 20593-7126.
The Coast Guard will consider applications for eight positions that expire Dec. 31. Each member serves for a term of three years.
For more information, contact Cmdr. Michael Roldan at (202) 372-1420.
Bill would exempt Great Lakes cargo from harbor tax
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has introduced S. 1509, a bill to exempt from the Harbor Maintenance Tax certain commercial cargo loaded or unloaded at United States ports in the Great Lakes Saint Lawrence Seaway System, or cargo loaded at a port in Canada and unloaded in the U.S.
OSHA maritime panels to meet in September
The Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH) and its workgroups have scheduled meetings for Sept. 1-2 at the Newport News (Va.) Marriott Hotel.
The shipyard and longshore workgroups will meet Sept. 1 and the full committee will meet Sept. 2.
The agenda will include discussion of surface preparation (painting and coatings), safety and health industry prevention sheets, rigging guidance, arc flash guidance, commercial fishing industry quick cards, injury and fatality data initiative, activities related to shipyard employment, scaffolding and falls, welding guidance, breakbulk cargo safety guidance, safety zone guidance, speed limits in marine terminals, and defective containers.
Mail comments to Danielle Watson, Office of Maritime, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-3609, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210.
For more information, contact Amy Wangdahl at (202) 693-2066.
14 small shipyards win grants
The Maritime Administration (MarAd) has announced $17.1 million in grants to 14 small shipyards in 10 states. The grants are part of the Assistance to Small Shipyards program that MarAd is using to administer grants that will be made under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Those grants, which will total $98 million, are expected to be announced soon.
At the top of the list of small shipyards was VT Halter Marine, which won nearly $3 million in grants for three operations in Mississippi. For a complete list, call MarAd at (202) 366-5807.