BrownWater News December 2010

Inland waterways must implement improved program

Matt Woodruff, director of government affairs for Kirby Corp., a major inland tank-barge operator in the United States, testified Nov. 17 on the need to modernize the nation’s inland waterways infrastructure.

Appearing at a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Woodruff said the nation has “an aging system that needs recapitalization. We have a project funding and delivery system that is too inefficient, resulting in much wasted time and money.â€

Affirming his support of the recommendations of the Inland Marine Transportation System (IMTS) Capital Investment Strategy Team (CIST or CIS Team), Woodruff, who also is a member of the Inland Waterways Users Board, general counsel of Waterways Council Inc., and a director of the American Waterways Operators, said the team’s plan would pave the way for “significant modernization of the inland waterway system.†Without the plan, he said, “necessary achievable progress completing lock and dam and channel improvement projects will languish, dangerously threatening our nation’s well-being.â€

The team proposed a $7.6 billion 20-year inland waterway capital investment program, which represents an annual investment level of $380 million, including $320 million for construction projects and $60 million for major rehabilitation projects.

The team’s proposal would preserve the existing 50 percent industry/50 percent federal cost-sharing formula for new lock construction and for major rehabilitation projects costing $100 million or more.

Other witnesses at the hearing called by its chairman, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), included Jim Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers’ Association, who urged Congress to pass the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and incorporate S. 3213, the Harbor Maintenance Act of 2010, into it.

“We are on the verge of a national navigation heart attack,†Weakley said. “We need to revive our dying infrastructure with the angioplasty of dredging and maintain it with a healthy maintenance diet.†The maintenance act, which has been in Boxer’s committee since last April, requires all of the deposits in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund available in any fiscal year to be used that year solely for harbor maintenance programs.

Court denies motion to close Chicago area locks

The American Waterways Operators (AWO) applauded a court decision that allowed Chicago area locks to remain open.

The decision announced Dec. 2 by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied a motion for preliminary injunction filed by five Great Lakes states to close Chicago area locks as a way of preventing the migration of Asian carp into Lake Michigan.

The AWO and other groups intervened on the side of the defendants, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to keep the O’Brien and Chicago locks open.

In his opinion, Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. wrote that the plaintiffs — Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania — had failed to demonstrate that the migration of Asian carp into the Great Lakes “is either likely or imminent,†and failed to demonstrate imminent harm, especially since the small amount of carp DNA found in the water indicates that the species has not reached the lakes and that the electric barriers are working.

The decision followed Michigan’s unsuccessful attempt to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to close the locks in April.

The AWO said it was gratified that the court’s action will keep waterborne commerce flowing and avoid “the devastating impact that closing the locks would have on midwest consumers and the hard-working Americans employed in the towing industry and other industries that rely on commodities shipped by barge.â€

NWC scores plan against low-priority navigation projects 

Amy W. Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference, counseled the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that “a comprehensive and rigorous consideration of economic justification would materially alter the recommendations to terminate low-priority Army Corps of Engineers construction projects and to require the inland waterways system to be entirely self-funded.â€

Responding to a draft of commission proposals and recommendations, Larson said there is “an unfortunate perpetuation of the colorful but inaccurate account of the Army Corps’ water resources program as the locus of nothing but projects meeting port-barrel criteria that are funded at the whim of powerful members of Congress and special interests.â€

Asserting that “nothing could be further from the truth,†Larson said that Congress and various administrations have “progressively implemented changes and reforms that make this program one of the most scrutinized of any capital investment program in the government.â€

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1986 imposed significant increases in non-federal cost sharing and WRDA 1996 increased the cost-sharing burden, Larson said. Projects must meet “a very rigorous test†before they are authorized by Congress, and recommendations for project authorizations “are based on extensive economic and environmental analysis and, since WRDA 2007, external peer review.â€

Larson also cautioned that the commission’s proposal to impose on the towing industry 100 percent of the cost of construction and maintenance of the waterways “is manifestly unreasonable.â€

Two executives of NWC see little hope for a new WRDA this year

Two executives of the National Waterways Conference (NWC) see little hope for the enactment of a new Water Resources Development Act this year.

Fred Caver, the new chairman of the NWC, believes that passage of a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is “problematic.†Analyzing the future of water-related legislation in view of the changes that took place in the House and Senate on election day, Caver said that new authorizations “carry new budget authority, and in a time when the nation needs to get its fiscal house in order, that will be a hard sell.â€

Carole Wright, director of internal operations of the NWC, writing in her conference “News Alert†Nov. 16, said that an earmark moratorium in both the House and Senate “significantly dims the prospects for adoption of a WRDA in the next Congress.â€

“Unfortunately, this across-the-board ban negates the exercise of evaluating the benefits of all such projects and instead exemplifies the idiom ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,’†she said. “Water projects, unlike the vast majority of earmarks, undergo a merit-based evaluation through the planning process to demonstrate their benefit to the nation. It is critically important that this message be conveyed to the 112th Congress.â€

Mica moves from ranking member to chairman of transport panel

The House Republican Conference has confirmed the elevation of Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) to chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the 112th Congress. As chairman, Mica, Florida’s first congressman to head the committee, will succeed Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.).

“Our government, elected leaders and Americans everywhere have no choice but to do more with less,†Mica said. “This will also be the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s mandate. With limited resources, cutting red tape to complete stalled projects and better utilization of the federal government’s assets are top priorities.â€

In the 18 years that he has been in Congress, Mica has served as chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee and as ranking member of the transportation committee.

FMC nominees testify at confirmation hearing

Mario Cordero, nominated by President Obama to the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Nov. 30 that “in order for the U.S. to compete in the global market, it is essential to further efficient maritime operations and the corresponding goods movement transportation chain.â€

Testifying at his Senate confirmation hearing, Cordero said that in today’s global economy, “it is paramount to have a strong and open dialogue with international carriers, shippers, and parties of interest in relation to foreign commerce.â€

Cordero was one of two FMC nominees heard by the committee. The other was Rebecca F. Dye, reappointed after having served on the FMC for eight years and having been confirmed two other times, in 2002 and 2005.

Dye, who has been investigating the issue of vessel capacity and equipment availability in the U.S. export and import liner trades, reported that the condition in U.S. ocean shipping has stabilized. “Supply and demand in the U.S.-Asia trades are more evenly matched and complaints from American shippers have diminished.â€

The commissioner said that her final report on her investigation was submitted to the FMC Nov. 30.

Russia’s grain ban aids U.S. exports through Seaway

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced a sharp rise in grain exports through the St. Lawrence Seaway in 2010. With a year-to-year increase of nearly 23 percent through October, LaHood said, nearly 1.9 million metric tons of U.S. grain have moved through the waterway this year. Overall, seaway traffic is up 17 percent from 2009.

The increase is partly attributed to Russia’s ban on grain exports that began in August in response to drought conditions. Russia plans to keep the ban in place through the end of this year. As a result, markets in Europe and North Africa have looked to North American farmers to satisfy their demand for grain. Furthermore, the U.S. has produced bumper grain crops this season that have been harvested earlier than in past years.

By Professional Mariner Staff