Brownwater News, February 2016

Obama proposes budget cut for Corps of Engineers in FY 2017

President Obama sent the final budget of his presidency to Congress on Feb. 9, asking lawmakers to appropriate $4.14 trillion for fiscal year 2017. The budget includes $4.62 billion for the Civil Works program of the Army Corps of Engineers, down from $4.73 billion requested this time last year.

Obama characterized his proposed FY 2017 budget as “a road map to a future that embodies America’s values and aspirations: A future of opportunity and security for all of our families; a rising standard of living; and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids. This future is within our reach.”

Echoing the president’s view of his proposal, Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said at a news briefing that the Corps’ budget “reflects the administration’s priorities to support and improve the nation’s economy, protect the American people and restore our environment.”

But Amy Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference, was quick to point out that the proposed budget would cut the Corps’ Civil Works funding by 22 percent.

“Just weeks after the Congress wrapped up an omnibus funding bill for FY 2016 that provided $5.9 billion (for Civil Works), the White House put forward a budget … that would surely result in the shutdown of critical investments in the nation’s infrastructure if it weren’t largely viewed as dead on arrival,” Larson said.

Continuing, Larson noted that the president’s proposal would cut operation and maintenance (O&M) 14 percent from this fiscal year to $2.7 billion in FY 2017; construction would be reduced from $1.86 billion to $1.1 billion, and investigations would be cut from $121 million to $85 million. The Mississippi River and Tributaries project would be slashed from $345 million to $222 million.

The Waterways Council Inc. pointed out that the president’s budget also proposes a $1.29 billion inland waterways user fee, a proposal similar to others “soundly rejected by Congress” in the past.

Lastly, Larson said that funding for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund would come in at $951 million under Obama’s budget, compared with $1.2 billion in FY 2016. Furthermore, she said, only the Olmsted project would receive construction funding ($33 million) from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

Also delivered to Congress on Feb. 9 was the work plan for the Corps' $5.99 billion FY 2016 Civil Works program. The law appropriated $4.15 billion in four specified accounts (investigations, construction, operation and maintenance, and Mississippi River and Tributaries). A total of $1.31 billion was designated as additional funding and is left for the Corps to allocate to navigation, flood risk and other authorized project purposes.

AWO’s Carpenter predicts policy gains for towing industry

Jennifer Carpenter, designated in January as the first chief operating officer in the 70-year history of American Waterways Operators (AWO), said Jan. 11 that while the barge and towing industry may be “facing some challenging market conditions,” the inland river carriers are “poised for a very good year on the public policy front.”

Responding to questions during a telephone interview, Carpenter, who joined AWO in 1990 as government affairs assistant, said the carriers are facing “extreme pressure from the war on coal, lower grain volumes compared with the last two years and the collapse in oil prices that brought real softening of the petroleum market.”

Addressing AWO’s public policy front, specifically the area around legislation and regulation, Carpenter predicted that “this is the year that we get relief” from the many states’ “overlapping and contradictory” vessel discharge regulations.

“We were not able to get it done in the first session of the 114th Congress but we are going to be pulling out all stops to get it done in this second session of Congress, because this current situation with the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency and all the states regulating the same discharges is terrible,” she said.

White House Water Summit planned for March 22

The National Waterways Conference (NWC) has reminded its members that the Obama administration, in conjunction with United Nations World Water Day, will host a White House Water Summit on March 22 to raise awareness of water issues and potential solutions in the United States, “and to catalyze ideas and actions to help build a sustainable and secure water future through innovative science and technology.”

The NWC said a representative from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy will discuss the White House Water Summit at the NWC Legislative Summit, which is scheduled for Feb. 29-March 2 in Washington, D.C.

For information on how to participate in the March 22 summit, visit

Lakers haul less cargo in 2015 Seaway season

U.S.-flag Great Lakes freighters moved 87.2 million tons of cargo in 2015, a decrease of 3.3 percent from 2014, according to the Lake Carriers’ Association.

Iron ore cargoes fell 10.4 percent to 40.9 million tons; coal cargoes totaled 17.6 million tons, a decrease of less than 1 percent; limestone cargoes increased nearly 8 percent to 23.1 million tons, and U.S.-flag cement cargoes rose 6.3 percent to 3.45 million tons. Grain cargoes toped 350,000 tons, an increase of 37 percent.

Lawmakers oppose revisions to Missouri River manual

A multi-state congressional delegation has expressed its opposition to proposed revisions to the Missouri River Master Manual.

In a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, the delegation said that if the proposals are finalized, the Missouri River Recovery Program Management Plan could have “significant negative impacts on landowners and stakeholders throughout the entire Missouri River basin.”

American Waterways Operators and the Coalition to Protect the Missouri River applauded the letter, which said the proposed alternatives call for “significant changes in the operation of the mainstem reservoir system … Revising the master manual to adhere exclusively to a single purpose would be to the detriment of the authorized purposes.”

Four of the latest six proposed alternatives in the management plan would require master manual revisions to implement recovery actions for the threatened interior least tern and piping plover, and the endangered pallid sturgeon.

Towing Industry Forum set for March 16

The 16th annual Towing Industry Forum is scheduled for March 16 in the Maritime Academic Center at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Throggs Neck.

The forum will feature panel discussions on quality management systems and safety management systems, and a tug and barge demonstration in the Bouchard Simulation Center.

By Professional Mariner Staff