House, Senate approve $6.2 billion for Army Corps' Civil Works
For the third year in a row, Congress has approved record funding for the Civil Works program of the Army Corps of Engineers. For fiscal year 2018, both the House and Senate funded the program at $6.2 billion, which is $1.16 billion more than the Trump administration requested in its budget.
Operations and maintenance also has been increased for the fifth year in a row to $3.48 billion in fiscal 2018. The Senate’s O&M funding level was $3.52 billion, surpassing the historic number in the House. The House also provided additional navigation funds for which the inland waterways are eligible to compete.
The Senate passed its Energy & Water Development appropriations bill out of committee but was unable to bring the measure to the floor before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The government is operating under a continuing resolution until Dec. 8.
The Waterways Council Inc. is confident that Congress will pass a long-term funding package after that date.
High water, lock delays slow Ohio River traffic
A combination of high water conditions and unscheduled lock delays significantly slowed Ohio River traffic as the peak of the harvest season approached. The resulting tow backups affected barge rates and agricultural markets.
According to the Waterways Council Inc., the river reopened Oct. 14 at Lock and Dam 52 after it had been closed for nearly a week due to rising river stages that exceeded the maximum locking stage of 20.7 feet. Precipitation from Hurricane Nate prompted the rising river levels and closure, but Lock and Dam 52 also was closed from Sept. 6-14 due to an unscheduled maintenance outage at the 89-year-old facility.
As of Oct. 16, there were 58 vessels with 658 barges waiting to transit Lock and Dam 52. The backup was over roughly a 20-mile stretch of river. Other recent backups have occurred up and down the Ohio, including at locks at Smithland, Cannelton, Meldahl and Dashields.
The delays occurred just months after President Trump visited the Ohio River and said its system of locks and dams was “dilapidated” and in “bad shape.” Trump said in June that the system “continues to decay” while capital improvements have been “massively underfunded. There is an $8.7 billion maintenance backlog that is only getting bigger and getting worse.”
The administration announced at the time that it would undertake a $1 trillion initiative to repair America’s infrastructure.
Two House lawmakers file new anti-Jones Act proposal
U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., announced on Oct. 10 that he and Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., have introduced a bill to lift Jones Act restrictions on shipping from the United States to Puerto Rico for five years. According to Palmer, a 2010 study at the University of Puerto Rico concluded that the island loses $537 million a year due to the law.
“The Congress has the responsibility to act when enacted laws prove to be burdensome,” Palmer said. “This is especially true in humanitarian crises. Our bill (H.R. 3966, the Puerto Rico Humanitarian Relief Act) provides Puerto Ricans with extended relief from the Jones Act to help them put their lives back together as they rebuild their homes, their communities and their infrastructure. The cost of goods in Puerto Rico is already substantially higher due to Jones Act-related shipping costs, and, especially in a humanitarian crisis, every penny counts.”
The act requires that goods shipped to Puerto Rico from a U.S. port be carried on vessels that are U.S. owned, crewed, built and flagged. Velazquez said that with Puerto Rico having a long and difficult road ahead, the Jones Act “will serve only to impede its physical and economic recovery.”
On Sept. 27, the American Maritime Partnership backed the capability of the U.S.-flagged fleet and refuted criticism of the Jones Act in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
“As our industry has done in past natural disasters, including most recently Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, we are actively working with the administration, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), MarAd (the Maritime Administration) and relief organizations to deploy quickly and deliver essential goods like food, fuel, first aid supplies and building materials," said Thomas Allegretti, chairman of the American Maritime Partnership. "Approximately 9,500 containers of goods were moved by domestic maritime companies to help its residents recover. A steady stream of additional supplies keeps arriving in Puerto Rico on American vessels and on international ships from around the world. The problem now is distributing supplies from Puerto Rico’s ports inland by surface transportation."
Union leader faults Senate bill to repeal Jones Act
Larry Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, criticized proposed legislation in the Senate that would repeal the Jones Act as it relates to Puerto Rico, stressing that “there has never been a need to repeal this law, and there is not one now.”
Claims that the Jones Act is hindering hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico are “simply false,” Willis said. The legislation (S. 1894) was introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Willis said damaged infrastructure on the island has prevented supplies from reaching those in need. Capacity of U.S. vessels “is not the problem, and repealing the Jones Act cannot fix roads and bridges that have been flooded or power grids that are offline,” he said.
The economic problems facing Puerto Rico are caused by Congress’ failure to provide real fiscal relief and an economic stimulus package the territory needs, Willis said. He said his department “would not oppose waivers that are needed in emergency situations when U.S. vessels are not available.”
Inland Waterways Users Board to meet Nov. 3
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced that the next meeting of the Inland Waterways Users Board will be held Nov. 3 at the Vicksburg Convention Center in Vicksburg, Miss. At the meeting, the board will receive briefings and presentations regarding investments, projects and the status of the inland waterways system.
The agenda will include the status of fiscal year 2018 funding, the status of the FY 2019 budget for the navigation program, and the status of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. For more information, contact Mark R. Pointon at (703) 428-6438.
Reviewers sought for merchant mariner exam questions
The U.S. Coast Guard has invited interested parties to serve on a working group to review questions for the merchant mariner examination. The deadline for submitting cover letters and resumes is Nov. 10.
Members of the working group must include Coast Guard-approved training providers, credentialed deck and engineering officers, and a member of the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee. For more information, email Cathleen Mauro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cernak takes over as AAPA chairman
Steve Cernak, chief executive and director of Florida’s Port Everglades, began his one-year term on Oct. 4 as the 2017-18 chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities.
Cernak succeeds Mark McAndrews, director of the Port of Pascagoula (Miss.), who had been chairman since October 2016. All of AAPA's 2017-18 officers and directors were inducted at the association's 106th annual convention in Long Beach, Calif.
Army Corps extends interbasin study comment period
At the request of stakeholders, the Army Corps of Engineers has extended the comment period for the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) by 45 days, from Oct. 2 to Nov. 16.
The goal of the study is to prevent the upstream transfer of aquatic nuisance species while minimizing impacts to waterway users. For more information, contact Andrew Leichty at (309) 794-5399.
Merchant marine personnel panel to meet Oct. 26
The working groups of the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee are scheduled to meet Oct. 26 and the full committee is set to meet Oct. 27 at the National Maritime Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.
Among the issues on their agendas are Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) for seafarers, the size of the pool of U.S. mariners necessary to support the U.S.-flag fleet in times of national emergency, and the current requirement for a U.S. merchant mariner to read and write using English. For more information, contact Davis Breyer at (202) 372-1445.