Congress passes WRRDA, Obama signs it into law
The Senate observed Maritime Day on May 22 by voting 91-7 in favor of the conference report accompanying the new Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) and sending it to President Obama for his signature.
Two days earlier, the House passed the report on H.R. 3080 by a vote of 412-4.
The seven senators voting “no,” all Republicans, were Richard M. Burr, North Carolina; Tom Coburn, Oklahoma; Jeff Flake, Arizona; Ron Johnson, Wisconsin; Mike Lee, Utah; John McCain, Arizona, and Pat Roberts, Kansas.
President Obama endorsed the House and Senate actions by signing the legislation June 10.
Amy Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference, praised the legislation, stating that “these much-needed congressional authorizations will allow local communities, working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to address critical water resources needs, providing for safety and economic security.”
Among the congressional leaders cheering Obama’s signing of the WRRDA was Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Today is a great day for our nation’s critical water resources and for our economy,” Boxer said. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., ranking member of Boxer’s committee, said the bipartisan bill will provide “flood protection and improvements to our nation’s waterways.”
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and one of the leading sponsors of the measure, said that WRRDA “cuts red tape, reforms the bureaucracy and accelerates the delivery of water resources infrastructure projects, but it does much more than that. This new law will help ensure the country has a modern, efficient transportation network, something that is fundamental to a stronger economy, keeping America competitive and encouraging job growth. This is an immense accomplishment for the Congress and America.”
Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., ranking member of Shuster’s committee, commented that the new law “is not only a win for our national economy, but also for West Virginia’s coal operations and other critical industries in our state.”
Encouraging Congress to approve the report five days before the final Senate vote was James H.I. Weakley, president of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF), said to be the largest labor/management coalition ever to represent shipping on the Lakes.
“It is critical that Congress move this bill now,” Weakley said. “More than 18 million cubic yards of sediment clog the Great Lakes Navigation System. Vessels have not been able to carry full loads since 1997, and that was only because water levels were at near record highs that year.”
Noting that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) has a surplus of more than $8 billion, Weakley said that the new water resources legislation would require the government to steadily increase national harbor maintenance funding, reaching 100 percent of HMTF revenues by 2025.
“The bill also directs the Army Corps of Engineers to recognize the interdependence of Great Lakes ports, large and small, and to manage them as a single, comprehensive system, with the focus more on regional economic impacts and less on annual tonnage measurements,” he said.
John D. Baker, first vice president of the GLMTF, said that most years, the Corps doesn’t get enough money to keep pace with the normal influx of sediment, let alone the backlog.
“That’s why it is so important that this WRRDA pass and America finally has a dredging program that properly maintains the Lakes and connecting waterways,” Baker said.
Waterways Council Inc., among other organizations celebrating passage of the new WRRDA, said the legislation contained “four key elements of the Capital Development Plan (CDP)” included in two bills strongly supported by WCI:
• Olmsted federalization: Permanent cost-sharing for the remaining cost of the Olmsted Locks and Dam project will be 85 percent General Fund and 15 percent Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF). It will free up about $105 million per year for other trust fund projects, with Olmsted funded at $150 million per year.
* Definition of major rehabilitation projects eligible for the IWTF: Increased from current level of $14 million to $20 million and adjusted annually for inflation.
• Prioritization of projects: Based upon risk of failure and economic benefit to the nation.
• Project delivery process reforms: Based upon CDP-recommended reforms to achieve on-time and on-budget performance.
“This bill will create American jobs, increase U.S. exports, keep our nation competitive in world markets, and enhance the reliability of the nation’s waterways transportation mode and critical supply-chain link,” said Matt Woodruff, WCI chairman. “Congress got it done and voted to keep America moving.”
Following House and Senate passage of the new WRRDA bill, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) trumpeted “full congressional approval of the long-awaited and critically needed” water resources development legislation.
Recalling that Boxer and Shuster postponed accepting their AAPA Person of the Year awards until after Congress passed the final bill, Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the AAPA, said, “now these two highly respected congressional committee leaders can accept the awards that are very much their due.” The two lawmakers were singled out for the awards at the AAPA’s annual spring conference in March.
West Coast Marine Highway said to be in the red
Reed Fujii, staff writer for The Record in Stockton, Calif., wrote May 20 that the Marine Highway project barging containers between Stockton and Oakland, Calif., had posted $6 million in losses since it began operation nearly a year ago.
“To help stem the red ink, Port of Stockton Director Richard Aschieris announced May 19 that the port will enter into exclusive negotiations with one of the world’s largest container shipping companies to assume management and financial responsibility for the barge operations,” Fujii wrote. “Mediterranean Shipping Co. of Geneva has until Aug. 31 to examine the Marine Highway’s functions and costs, and to forge an agreement with the port to take on its operation.”
Fujii said if there is no agreement by the end of August, the Marine Highway would be made available to other interested parties. The port expected the two barges in the operation to move 880 containers per week, but while the operation continued to draw more traffic over time, it moved fewer than 500 containers in the first three weeks of May, Aschieris said.
The Marine Highway was created largely with the help of a $13 million federal transportation grant. In the first nine months of the fiscal year that ended March 31, the Port of Stockton’s operating income totaled $5.6 million, not counting the Marine Highway, Aschieris said. However, because of the barge project’s operational losses and additional depreciation, the port is running $900,000 in the red for the first three quarters.
AWO elects new leaders
Members of the American Waterways Operators have elected Frank Morton, director of Turn Services of New Orleans, to succeed AWO Chairman Buckley McAllister, president of McAllister Towing. David Sehrt, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Ingram Barge Co., was elected vice chairman. The elections were held at AWO’s recent spring convention in Washington, D.C.
Jaenichen: U.S. maritime industry ‘strong’
Acting Maritime Administrator Paul Jaenichen opened the Department of Transportation’s second National Maritime Strategy Symposium last month with the declaration that the current state of the domestic maritime industry is “strong.”
“There has been a strong recovery in the number of vessels on the order books, reaching a three-decade high for large commercial vessels,” Jaenichen told attendees. “Port traffic continues to recover from the recent recession, and trade traffic on our navigable waterways is growing with new demand from our energy sector.”
While Jaenichen may have found the U.S. domestic industry “becoming more efficient, rebuilding and repowering,” he declined to “break open the champagne” while the U.S.-flag fleet remained “under pressure.”
However, he said “if we capitalize on the opportunities available to us, we can create long-term momentum for our domestic maritime industry.”