Brownwater News, March 2019

Trump budget cuts Civil Works funding by 31 percent

President Trump unveiled a proposed $4.75 trillion budget for fiscal year 2020, including $4.83 billion to fund the Civil Works program of the Army Corps of Engineers. The total proposed for the Corps includes $2.31 billion for commercial navigation.

The Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) said after a Corps budget briefing March 12 that the proposal represented a 31 percent cut from the current FY 2019 appropriated amount of $7 billion.

A WCI analysis of the proposed FY 2020 budget shows that the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) would receive $56 million, while $111 million was requested for the Lower Mon Project (Locks and Dams 2, 3 and 4, Monongahela River), funding it to completion. Funding also was proposed for three other construction projects scheduled for completion in FY 2020: the Charleston Harbor (S.C.) deepening project, $138 million; Melvin Price Lock and Dam, Illinois and Missouri, $24 million; and Mud Mountain Dam in Washington state, $16 million.

The FY 2020 budget again proposes a per-vessel charge on the inland waterways, expected to raise $178 million annually in addition to the current diesel fuel tax that commercial barge operators pay, the WCI said. The budget also seeks to have commercial operators pay 10 percent of operations and maintenance (O&M), “historically a federal responsibility,” according to the group.

The Corps reported that the president’s FY 2020 budget also proposes $2 billion for O&M, $210 million for the Mississippi River and tributaries, $1.2 billion for construction, $200 million for the regulatory program and $965 million for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

The proposed budget gives priority to coastal harbors and inland waterways with the most commercial traffic, the Corps said. It also provides for the maintenance of channels at small ports, with emphasis on those that support commercial fishing or public transportation. For coastal navigation, the proposed budget includes $500 million for construction and $1.6 billion for O&M.

In its FY 2020 construction performance guidelines, the Corps assures the waterways industry that “ongoing projects that can complete all remaining construction work during the budget year or the following year may be funded at the level needed to complete that work if the project has a BCR (benefit-to-cost ratio) of 1.0-to-1 or above, at a 7 percent discount rate.”

The American Association of Port Authorities said the proposed budget’s infrastructure funding is highlighted by a plan to invest at least $1 trillion in capital improvements, including $1 billion for the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program, $2 billion for the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program and $300 million for two innovative approaches to fund water infrastructure investments.

GAO finds Coast Guard infrastructure lagging

In a new report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that about 45 percent of the Coast Guard’s shore infrastructure is beyond its service life, and its current backlogs of maintenance and recapitalization projects will cost at least $2.6 billion to address.

The deferred maintenance backlog includes more than 5,600 projects with an estimated cost of $900 million, the GAO said. As of 2018, the recapitalization and new construction backlog had 125 projects with an estimated cost of at least $1.77 billion.

According to the GAO, an analysis of Coast Guard data found that as of November 2018, there were hundreds of recapitalization projects without cost estimates. The Coast Guard said that those projects are in the preliminary stages of development.

Grants helping Paducah establish container-on-barge service

The Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority has received two federal grants to help fund the first container-on-barge (COB) service on the Ohio River and in Kentucky.

The port authority said that in preparation for the service, it receive a $307,000 Delta Regional Authority grant in October 2017 and a $252,000 Department of Transportation Marine Highway grant last August.

The larger grant was used to repave the general cargo berth with 14 inches of concrete to support loaded container stacks and the weight of container-handling equipment. The 2018 grant will be used to help fund the purchase this spring of container-handling equipment for the COB service.

The Phoenix Paper Wickliffe mill in Ballard County, Ky., “will be the anchor customer of the COB service to import raw materials from another inland port, and with exporting finished goods via the port and rail,” said Bill Miller, the authority’s executive director.

Trump order aims to ease military-to-maritime transition

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, opened a hearing March 6 by applauding President Trump for signing an executive order to support the transition of active-duty service members and military veterans to careers in the merchant marine.

DeFazio said it was “the right thing (for the president) to do,” but that it would be “a cruel irony” if the administration were to waive the Jones Act “and simultaneously eliminate future job opportunities for those very same veterans (and service members).”

“It is the policy of the United States to support practices and programs to ensure that members of the United States armed forces receive appropriate credit for the military training and experience toward credentialing requirements as a merchant mariner,” Trump said in the order signed on March 4. “And it is further the policy of the United States to establish and maintain an effective merchant marine program by providing sufficient support and resources to active-duty and separating service members who pursue or possess merchant mariner credentials.”

Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby subsequently testified in an answer to a question that the United States “would not have a maritime industry without the Jones Act. Quite plain and simple.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, urged the panel at a separate hearing that “in addition to strong support of the Jones Act, this committee should consider supporting investments in vessel recapitalization programs.”

Several days earlier, the Transportation Institute announced a 30 percent increase in domestic maritime job creation “enabled by the Jones Act. Thanks to the law, the (domestic maritime) industry now employs nearly 650,000 Americans across all 50 states and contributes $164 billion to the nation’s economic growth annually.”

Seaway announces opening dates for navigation season

St. Lawrence Seaway officials have scheduled the opening of the international waterway’s 2019 navigation season for March 22 at the Welland Canal; March 25 at the Sault Ste. Marie locks and canals; and March 26 for the Montreal/Lake Ontario section.

Vessel transits will be subject to weather and ice conditions, the officials cautioned. Restrictions may apply in some areas until lighted navigation aids have been installed.

Great Lakes cargo volume doubles in January

In a report released earlier this month, the Lake Carriers’ Association said that U.S.-flag lakers moved 3.1 million tons of cargo in January, an increase of 110 percent over a year ago.

Iron ore shipments totaled 2.5 million tons in January, up 84 percent over the 1.4 million tons handled in January 2018.

By Professional Mariner Staff