Trump proposes ‘zero infrastructure investment’ for inland waterways
The Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) took a hard look at President Trump’s proposed $4.8 trillion fiscal year 2021 budget on Feb.10 and came away disappointed.
Mike Toohey, WCI president and CEO since 2011, noted in disbelief that the proposal would cut the Army Corps of Engineers Public Works budget by $1.7 billion, to $5.9 billion, a 22 percent reduction from this year’s enacted budget.
Toohey, who announced Feb. 12 that he will retire upon the selection of a successor at WCI, said that Trump’s “astonishingly inadequate” budget provides no construction funding for ongoing priority navigation projects cost-shared through the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF).
For the 2020 fiscal year, Congress appropriated $335 million for four IWTF-funded lock and dam projects under construction, Toohey said. If the budget proposal is accepted, those projects would “shut down for one fiscal year, workers would be laid off, and costs would increase when the projects are restarted,” he said.
In addition to not spending the revenue that commercial operators already pay into the IWTF for project construction, Toohey said the president’s proposal would establish a new user fee to supplement the diesel fuel tax of 29 cents a gallon to help finance anticipated capital investment projects, as well as 10 percent of the cost of operations and maintenance. The administration believes the user fee would raise $1.8 billion over 10 years.
Trump’s FY21 budget would provide $2 billion for operations and maintenance; $210 million for the Mississippi River and tributaries; $103 million for investigations; and $46 million for the Mississippi River Ship Channel from the Gulf of Mexico to Baton Rouge, La.
Toohey said that while the president’s budget represents his priorities, WCI is “extremely disappointed and absolutely astonished at no investment in rebuilding the nation’s critical inland waterways transportation system. No president has ever proposed zero infrastructure investment. … Where is the 29-cents-per-gallon fuel tax money that users pay going, while the administration seeks $180 million in additional annual fees with no plans to spend it? Where is the shame?”
At the same time, Toohey praised Congress, the Department of Agriculture and the Corps of Engineers for the Corps’ FY20 work plan that lays out “allocations for funds provided in the FY20 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill toward the Corps’ Civil Works mission.”
The work plan released Feb. 10 includes $4.5 million to continue preconstruction engineering and design for the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) covering the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway System. The plan also allocates $85 million to begin deepening the Mississippi River Ship Channel to 50 feet from the Gulf to Baton Rouge.
Commenting on the White House budget proposal, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) said that all port-related programs would receive less than in FY20 appropriations.
Chris Connor, AAPA president and CEO, said that proposals for the budget “chopping block” included the Department of Transportation’s Port Intermodal Infrastructure Program, which began as the Port Infrastructure Development Program in FY19. By the end of this fiscal year, the program will have awarded more than $500 million in grants to improve safety, efficiency and reliability of multimodal movement through the nation’s seaports. The Port Security Grants Program, which was last funded by Congress at $100 million, also would be eliminated.
AAPA monitors global spread of coronavirus
The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) advises ocean carriers and inland waterway operators with concerns about the spread of coronavirus to contact the Coast Guard’s Office of Emergency Management at email@example.com.
“Moreover, it is important to work with your local captains of the port, who will have all the latest news and resources,” said Aaron Ellis, AAPA public affairs director. “AAPA can also help facilitate questions or concerns with our Coast Guard and Maritime Administration contacts.”
The AAPA said the White House economic council and advisers are assessing the short-term and long-term effects of coronavirus on Chinese imports from the affected region that includes the city of Wuhan.
The association said that if a vessel crewmember who has been to mainland China within the previous 14 days is brought aboard a vessel in transit to the United States, the master must immediately notify the Coast Guard.
Chao announces $900 million available for INFRA grants
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has announced the latest round of grants in the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, which is making more than $900 million available.
Chao said that under the guidelines, a grant for a large project must be at least $25 million. For a small project, a grant must be at least $5 million. For each fiscal year of INFRA, 10 percent of the available funding is reserved for small projects.
INFRA grants may be used to fund a variety of components of a project. However, Chao said her department is focused on projects in which the local sponsor is significantly invested and in position to proceed rapidly to construction.
The notice of funding (NOFO) application period will remain open through Feb. 25. For more information, visit www.transportation.gov/buildamerica/infragrants.
South Carolina’s inland ports continue growth
The South Carolina Ports Authority reports that its inland port network continues to see growth as more companies opt to move cargo to and from the Port of Charleston via overnight rail.
In January, Inland Port Greer reported 1,552 rail moves, while Inland Port Dillon reported 3,237 rail moves, the port authority said. Combined, South Carolina’s inland ports reported 105,996 rail moves in fiscal year 2020, up 18 percent over FY 2019.
The ports authority is “an industry leader in delivering speed-to-market, seamless processes and flexibility to ensure reliable operations, big-ship handling, efficient market reach and environmental responsibility,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO, who will be inducted into the International Maritime Hall of Fame in May.
New WOTUS rule takes effect in April
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers have released the latest Navigable Waters Protection Rule, also known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, within the Clean Water Act. The new rule, scheduled to take effect in April, will replace the December 2019 WOTUS definition.
Four categories of waters are federally regulated: territorial seas, traditional navigable waters, tributaries to those waters, and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters.
The 340-page rule also includes 12 categories of exclusions, including groundwater, certain ditches, prior converted cropland, and waste treatment systems.
The National Waterways Conference, which reported the release of the new rule, said it would undertake an extensive analysis of its impact on members. For information on how to access the pre-publication of the new rule, contact Carole Wright at the NWC at (703) 224-8007.