BrownWater News, March 2014

U.S. budget for fiscal 2015 includes $4.6 billion for COE civil works

President Obama unveiled a proposed $3.9 trillion budget on March 4 that includes $4.6 billion for the fiscal year 2015 civil works program of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said at a news conference that the civil works budget proposed for the Corps is a “performance-based budget that funds the construction of projects that provide the greatest returns on the nation's civil works investments for the economy, environment and public safety."

Funding in the civil works budget consists of $3.5 billion from the general fund, $915 million from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), $85 million from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), and $44 million from special user fees.

The FY15 funding proposed for the Corps’ civil works program, $2 million less than the amount sought for this fiscal year, includes $2.6 billion for operations and maintenance, $1.1 billion for construction, $245 million for the Mississippi River and tributaries (MR&T), $200 million for the regulatory program, $80 million for investigations, $28 million for flood control and coastal emergencies, and $100 million for the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP).

Darcy said the proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2014 also includes $1.8 billion for the study, design, construction, operation and maintenance of inland and coastal navigation projects. It funds capital investments on the inland waterways based on the estimated revenues to the IWTF. The budget assumes enactment of a new user fee to increase revenue to the fund.

Among the highest-funded ongoing construction projects in the FY15 budget are Olmsted Locks and Dam, Illinois and Kentucky ($160 million); American River watershed, California, Folsom Dam modification ($93 million); Herbert Hoover Dike, Florida, seepage control ($75 million); and the Delaware River main channel, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware ($35 million).

The budget funds nine construction projects for completion: Cleveland Harbor, Ohio, dike raise; Dover Dam, Muskingum River, Ohio; Green Bay Harbor, Wisconsin; Hamilton Airfield wetlands restoration, California; Lower Savannah River, Georgia; Muddy River, Massachusetts; New York and New Jersey Harbor; Roanoke River upper basin headwaters, Virginia; and Texas City Channel, 50-Foot Project, Texas.

Darcy noted that the FY15 construction program includes one high-priority construction start: Louisiana Coastal Area ecosystem restoration ($10 million).

In answer to a reporter who noted that the Olmsted project was not among the construction projects funded for completion, Darcy said, “in order to complete Olmsted it would cost $1.3 billion.”

The National Waterways Conference found the administration’s proposed civil works budget for the Corps of Engineers “disappointing to say the least.” The NWC said the budget proposal was “a stark reminder of the importance of our collective efforts on Capitol Hill in support of increased funding for the nation’s water resources infrastructure.”

“Just six weeks after the Congress approved a FY14 funding package of $5.5 billion for the civil works program, the proposal released yesterday (March 4) would cut nearly $1 billion from that amount,” the NWC said.


Pittsburgh testing ‘Wireless Waterway’

The Port of Pittsburgh Commission is looking for local companies and individuals to participate in its Wireless Waterway Interoperability Test Bed (WWITB) the week of June 15.

Jim McCarville, the commission’s executive director, said applications are being accepted through April 1from entrepreneurs, organizations and vendors to conduct demonstrations of technologies and products on the WWITB. The commission also is looking for volunteers to act both as professional evaluators and to assist in the operations of the event, he added.

The commission established the test bed to help identify technologies that address critical river water challenges in the areas of transportation, communications environment, safety, cyber security, collaboration and interoperability, McCarville said.

The first test bed event was successfully held from May 28 to June 7, 2013, with experiments being conducted on the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers in southwest Pennsylvania. The Carnegie Science Center was used as central point for coordination.


New authorization bill for Coast Guard, FMC

Three House committee leaders have introduced a bill authorizing $10 billion for the Coast Guard in fiscal year 2015 and $10 billion in FY2016.

The bill (H.R. 4005) is sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee; Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; and Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., ranking member of the committee. It would authorize $7 billion for operations and maintenance; $1.5 billion for acquisition, construction, rebuilding and improvement of aids to navigation; $140 million for the Coast Guard Reserve program; $16 million for environmental compliance and restoration of Coast Guard vessels and other assets; and $20 million for research and development.

The bill, approved by the full Transportation Committee on Feb. 11, requires the secretary of transportation to provide the committee with a national maritime strategy that includes recommendations on ways to reduce regulatory burdens on the owners of U.S.-flagged vessels, improve the competitiveness of the U.S.-flagged fleet, increase the use of short sea shipping, and enhance U.S. shipbuilding capacity.

Regarding the Federal Maritime Commission, the bill noted that unlike similar federal panels, once an FMC member’s term expires the law allows the commissioner to continue to serve until a replacement is confirmed by the Senate. Furthermore, there are no term limits for FMC commissioners.

“This legislation prohibits a commissioner from serving more than one year after the five-year term expires, imposes a term limit of two terms, and codifies current conflict-of-interest prohibitions on the action of commissioners,” the bill states. “Additionally, the legislation reauthorizes the Federal Maritime Commission at current funding levels.”


Great Lakes projects need ‘minimum’ of $30 million

Thirteen senators have urged the Army Corps of Engineers to direct at least $30 million toward Great Lakes navigation projects such as maintenance, deep-draft harbors and channels, small remote or subsistence navigation, and regional sediment management. The money would come from additional funding provided by Congress, including $200 million for Great Lakes projects.

“We urge you (the Corps) to direct at a minimum $30 million” for the navigation projects, the senators said in a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works. Also, Darcy said, the lack of adequate dredged-material disposal facilities “necessitates a significant portion of the additional funds be directed to Great Lakes projects.”


Mississippi River Commission plans four meetings

The Mississippi River Commission has scheduled four public meetings aboard MV Mississippi while on its annual high-water inspection trip.

The first meeting will be April 7 at Riverfront Park in Tiptonville, Tenn. The next three meetings will be at the boat ramp in Helena, Ark., on April 8; the Cityfront in Greenville, Miss., on April 9; and the Thalia Street Wharf in New Orleans on April 11.

At each meeting, the president of the commission will deliver a summary report on national and regional issues affecting the Corps’ civil works program.

For more information, contact Timothy S. Gambrell at (601) 634-5766.


Lipinski, Timmons boost waterways at WCI seminar

Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., a strong advocate of the barge and towing industry, said on Feb. 11 that he has “long considered our inland waterway system in the U.S. vitally important to our interconnected freight system.”

Speaking at the 2014 Waterways Seminar of the Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) in Washington, D.C., Lipinski said he has made it a priority to work toward the development of “a well-maintained and healthy waterways system.”

Reminding his audience that he is the lead Democratic co-sponsor of H.R. 1149, the Waterways Are Vital for Economy, Energy, Efficiency and Environment Act (WAVE4), the congressman said that one of the most important reforms in WAVE4 is “the sensible increase of the fuel tax.”

“This user fee increase has been repeatedly requested by stakeholders who understand that a small fee can have a positive impact on the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, and of course new projects down the road,” he said. Not many groups in Washington ask to pay more, “but when industry asks for a user fee, as you have, it should send an obvious signal that there is great need to bolster the trust fund and get going on important new water infrastructure projects.”

Among other speakers at the seminar was Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, who said he had planned to deliver a “post-mortem” about the success of NAM and WCI “in navigating WRDA (the Water Resources Development Act) to President Obama’s desk.” But it was not to be. Instead, he said the House and Senate conference committee working on a compromise version of the bill “drags on, hopefully with an end in sight.”

During the past year, Timmons said NAM has focused its attention on “our nation’s infrastructure needs, particularly the needs of our waterways. That focus is long overdue.” He said the decline of the waterways infrastructure is the result of “willful neglect” on the part of Congress.

“Lawmakers know our infrastructure is out of date and badly in need of repair, but they haven’t followed through with common-sense, pro-growth policies,” he said.

But Washington “got the message” after the Mississippi River reached such low levels that it endangered the movement of commerce, Timmons said. That’s when NAM turned to education as the “centerpiece of our advocacy.”

Timmons said he always believed that education “is how you win votes. If you can deliver a clear and persuasive message to your elected officials — if you have the better argument — chances are you will win.”

In its effort to get the message out, NAM “made it clear that (the Waterways Resources Development Act) was a priority for our members,” Timmons said. “We made WRDA one of our key votes — the first time we gave that designation to a water infrastructure bill.”

Emphasizing the importance of this year’s midterm elections, he said “the men and women we send to Washington in the fall will be the ones writing the next WRDA bill.”

By Professional Mariner Staff