WCI supports bill to modernize inland waterways
The executive committee of Waterways Council Inc. has voted to support the Reinvesting in Vital Economic Rivers and Waterways Act of 2013.
The proposed legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), would establish “a sustainable, cost-effective way to ensure that the inland and intracoastal waterways of the United States remain economically viable,” the WCI said. “This bill would modernize America’s inland waterways system, create jobs, relieve traffic congestion, and optimize America competitiveness through the most low-cost, energy-efficient transportation mode.”
WCI said the River Act (S. 407) would, among other things, prioritize the completion of navigation projects across the entire waterways system; increase by 45 percent (9 cents per gallon) the existing fuel tax of 20 cents per gallon that is paid by the barge and towing industry; and preserve the existing 50 percent industry/50 percent federal cost-sharing formula for new lock construction and major lock rehabilitation projects.
The bill also would include a cost-share cap on lock construction projects “to incentivize keeping projects on budget and prevent shippers from bearing the burden of paying for unreasonable cost overruns,” WCI said.
The measure is based on the Inland Waterways Capital Development Plan jointly developed by public and private sector experts from the barge industry, shippers and the Army Corps of Engineers.
NWC, Corps promote value of water resources
The National Waterways Conference (NWC) and the Army Corps of Engineers have signed a five-year memorandum of understanding to establish principles to guide them toward common policies and programs that would recognize “the public value of our nation’s water resources.”
Among other things, the memorandum calls on the NWC and the Corps to “support investments in critical water resources infrastructure to ensure that water resources will continue to contribute to the quality of life enjoyed by every American and sustain our global economic prominence.”
The memorandum was signed March 12 by Amy Larson, president of NWC, and Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, the Corps’ commanding general and chief of engineers, as part of the NWC’s 2013 Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C.
In remarks during the Summit, Bostick said that at a recent White House meeting on the 2012 record drought, he reminded then-White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, after he asked how he could help the Corps, that the administration “needs to not only talk about the value of our rivers and ports, but reinforce that message in the budgeting process. Money travels on our waterways.”
Corps of Engineers to ‘transform’ civil works program
Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army (civil works), testified Feb. 7 that the Army Corps of Engineers is working on a transformation of its civil works program “to address the nation’s water resource infrastructure needs, and continue to provide greater value to the nation.”
Appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for a hearing on the Corps’ water resources policies, Darcy said the transformation would be designed to “improve performance and responsiveness, enhance the quality of products, increase customer satisfaction, build public trust and confidence and, most importantly, improve the reliability of the nation’s infrastructure.”
Darcy said that transformation goals call for funded projects to be completed more quickly, “thereby facilitating the realization of benefits for those projects that offer the best return on investment.”
The civil works transformation would include a look at “potential alternative financing mechanisms.”
“The administration is exploring alternatives for infrastructure financing, including public-private partnerships and an infrastructure bank,” she said. "The intent of this strategy is to facilitate the best use of federal and non-federal dollars to reduce risk and improve the reliability of the nation’s water resources infrastructure.”
Transforming the way the civil works program is delivered, Darcy said, requires state-of-the-art processes and a highly skilled workforce. The goal is to deliver “high quality and timely” products and services. To that end, the Corps has established Centers of Expertise for major dam safety modifications, inland navigation design, and deep-draft navigation economics,” Darcy said.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), ranking member of the committee, said that while the Corps has been talking about transformation for about a year, he sees the Corps remaining “a red tape-driven bureaucracy in which the process of getting a reconstruction study to final construction can take decades.”
House panel eyes ‘aging inland navigation systems’
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told members and guests of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Feb. 13 that his legislative panel will be addressing “America’s water transportation deficiencies, aging inland navigation systems, making sure that the Army Corps of Engineers is not studying things endlessly and wasting money but getting to the work that’s important.”
Keynoting the Chamber’s First Annual Transportation Infrastructure Summit in Washington, D.C., Shuster said that producing a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) “is going to be a challenge” because of the absence of earmarks. However, both he and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, agree that “we need to pass a water bill and we’ll work closely to try to move that forward,” Shuster said.
On the question of funding for all modes of transportation, Shuster said “everything has to be on the table. There are the old ways of getting revenues and some new ways. There are some innovative ideas out there that we need to work on.”
Speaking of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, Shuster acknowledged that the money “is there, but we have to unlock it. That’s something that we want to try to do.” The HTMF and other transport funds, he said, are called “trust funds because you pay a user fee and you trust the government is going to spend it on what the intended purposes were.”
As it stands now, he said, only half of the money in the HTMF is spent on harbor maintenance, while “the other half is used in the Washington shell game.”
Shuster went from the summit to Capitol Hill where he held a hearing on the federal role in America’s infrastructure. Among the witnesses was Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, who said the committee “must pass a WRDA bill, with strong reforms, that protects America’s competitive advantage in marine navigation.”
Congress urged to reconsider earmarks
In a recent “white paper,” the National Waterways Conference, always in favor of earmarking for water projects, urged Congress to “reconsider the moratorium on specific project funding requests.”
“We applaud Congress’s efforts to eliminate wasteful spending, especially given today’s fiscal challenges,” the conference said. “But deferring to the executive branch the sole prerogative over which projects to initiate, which should receive funding, and the level and priority of funding for each, abdicates Congress’s constitutional role.
“Such action has resulted in the stoppage, interruption and delay of critical projects. Moreover, the administration’s priorities, as reflected in the budget, have seldom been set through an open deliberative process as have those that have withstood the heavy scrutiny of the congressional committee system.”
Two lawmakers seek hearing on HMTF
Two members of Congress have asked the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to hold a hearing on the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) “as a first step toward improving our utilization of those funds.”
In a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the committee, the co-founders and co-chairs of the Congressional Ports Caucus called on the committee to hold a hearing on the Trust Fund “as soon as possible.”
“At stake are not only the strength and reliability of our nation’s ports and harbors, but the strength and reliability of the economic activity that flows through those gateways and creates jobs in every corner of the nation.”
The letter was addressed by Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) to Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the committee, and Rep. Nick J. Rahall of West Virginia, ranking member of committee.
A spokesman for the committee said Feb. 12 that various aspects of the Trust Fund have been discussed at recent hearings but that no formal hearing on the Trust Fund itself has been held. The spokesman said it was likely that such a hearing would be scheduled, alongside hearings on a new Water Resources Development Act.
Coast Guard focuses on ‘proficiency’
Adm. Bob Papp, Commandant of the Coast Guard, said Feb. 27 that “proficiency in craft, proficiency in leadership and disciplined initiative” must remain “the enduring anchor” of the Coast Guard.
Delivering his annual State of the Coast Guard address, Papp said that training, education and certification are among the elements of proficiency that are the Coast Guard’s obligation to individual Coast Guardsmen.
The admiral said the Coast Guard “will continue to provide these to our people” but that he was concerned that “shrinking budgets have impacted our ability to hold courses, pay for travel to training and provide the necessary extra boat and aircraft hours.” Papp said the Coast Guard must “continually seek smarter, more innovative and more economical ways” to provide those experiences.
Touching on sexual assault, Papp said that issue has “no part in the Coast Guard.” The commandant rejected “the assertion of some experts that sexual assault is an unavoidable element of military service culture — not in my Coast Guard,” and emphasized that the service will work to “ensure accountability for those engaging in this violent crime or those who allow it to occur.”