Brownwater News, September 2018

Congress approves $6.99 billion for Army Corps' Civil Works

Congress gave final approval in mid-September to an appropriations bill that includes $6.99 billion for the fiscal year 2019 Civil Works program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The House voted 377 to 20 in favor of the legislation (H.R. 5895), and the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 92 to 5.

“This is the first time in many years that a number of appropriation bills have been finalized before the start of the new fiscal year,” said Debra Calhoun, senior vice president of the Waterways Council Inc. (WCI).

The total for the Corps’ program includes a record $3.74 billion for operations and maintenance. That sum is nearly 25 percent higher than the administration’s request of $3 billion. Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) funding in FY19 is $326.5 million, up nearly 833 percent over the administration’s request of $35 million to fund only the Olmsted Locks and Dam project on the Ohio River.

The final conference report approved by Congress retains a Senate floor amendment to change the cost share at Chickamauga Lock on the Tennessee River to 85 percent federal funding and 15 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The cost share was previously a 50/50 split between federal and IWTF funds.

The WCI also praised the House for passing the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2018 by voice vote on Sept. 13. Senate passage is expected in the weeks ahead.

“With the dedication of the Olmsted Locks and Dam project last month, strong funding for the Corps in fiscal year 2019, and a potential final WRDA bill in 2018, the inland waterways’ many beneficiaries and the U.S. economy have much to celebrate,” said Mike Toohey, WCI president and CEO.

House panel weighs infrastructure legislation

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has offered a “discussion draft” of an infrastructure bill that addresses several issues, including the federal gas tax and water resources.

Shuster said the discussion draft is intended to “further the national conversation about the current state of America’s infrastructure and highlight some of the major roadblocks to funding and improving our transportation network.”

Among the issues addressed by the bill is establishing a pilot program to demonstrate whether a per-mile user fee can replace existing gas and diesel taxes. Another issue is whether to increase federal user fees on gasoline and diesel fuel by 15 cents and 20 cents per gallon, respectively. The increases would be phased in over three years and then indexed to inflation. The bill also calls for the elimination of the gas tax by Sept. 30, 2028.

The bill considers awarding transportation infrastructure grants as part of the National Infrastructure Investments Program, with 30 percent going annually to projects in rural areas, and the repeal of the $7.6 billion rescission of federal highway funding in the FAST Act. Another water resource issue addressed by the bill would be to allow revenue deposited in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be appropriated and expanded to address the maintenance and dredging needs of U.S. commercial harbors.

Olmsted Locks and Dam formally dedicated

The Olmsted Locks and Dam on the Ohio River, the largest civil works project in the history of the Army Corps of Engineers, was formally dedicated Aug. 30 as a tow led by Glenn W. Jones of American Commercial Barge Line (ACBL) passed through the $3 billion facility. When completed this fall, the new facility will replace deteriorating Locks and Dams 52 and 53, both built in 1929.

The effects of the Olmsted opening are being felt immediately on the Ohio River, where more than 800 tows have been delayed by 20 or more hours at Lock 52 since July 14, according to Marty Hettel, vice president of government affairs at ACBL. Hettel estimated that delays at Locks 52 and 53 cost $75 million in the past 10 months.

Ports cite negative impact of additional tariffs

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) has urged the federal government to consider the negative impact that expanded tariffs would have on ports and other trade-related American jobs.

Kurt Nagle, AAPA president and CEO, testified at a House hearing Aug. 24 that the impact of additional tariffs on cargo moving through American ports would be “significant.” At $4.6 trillion a year, cargo activities at American seaports are “significant drivers of the U.S. economy, generating over $320 billion in annual federal, state and local taxes,” Nagle said.

American ports and their private-sector partners plan to invest “significantly in improving port infrastructure by spending $155 billion between 2016 and 2020,” Nagle added.

Rep. Hunter indicted, loses panel chairmanship

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has been stripped of his title as chairman of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee after being indicted on charges stemming from mismanagement of campaign funds. The charges largely concern diversion of campaign money for personal expenses.

MarAd has new Gateway office in Paducah

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced last month that the Maritime Administration (MarAd) would establish an Inland Waterways Gateway Office in Paducah, Ky.

Chao said the new office would support Paducah’s “important role as an inland waterway crossroads between the Tennessee, Ohio, Cumberland and Mississippi rivers, as well as a major dry-dock center.”

Paducah’s Gateway facility, one of 10 such offices maintained by MarAd, will be responsible for all or portions of the following Kentucky-adjacent states: West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Tennessee. The Paducah office also will support MarAd’s St. Louis Gateway office for Arkansas and Oklahoma.

“Enhancing MarAd’s impact nationwide is critical for the continued success of the maritime industry,” said MarAd Administrator Mark Buzby.

Corps supports deeper channel on Lower Mississippi

James Dalton, chief engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, has issued a memorandum in support of a plan to increase the depth of the Mississippi River channel between Baton Rouge, La., and the Gulf of Mexico to 50 feet. Dalton also recommended to Army Secretary R.D. James that Congress appropriate funds needed to move the plan forward.

The total cost of the proposal is estimated at $237 million. The increased cost of annual dredging to maintain the 50-foot channel is estimated at just under $18 million.

Sean Duffy, executive director of the Big River Coalition, said the channel-deepening plan has been the No. 1 infrastructure goal of the coalition “since we revitalized the effort with the assistance of the Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development in 2011.”

The deepening project awaits an appropriation in the fiscal year 2019 budget.

Engineers’ advisory board to meet Sept. 21

The Chief of Engineers' Environmental Advisory Board has scheduled a meeting for Sept. 21 in Bowling Green, N.Y. At the meeting, the board will advise the chief of engineers on environmental policy, and identification and resolution of environmental issues and missions.

For more information, contact Mindy Simmons at (202) 761-4127.

By Professional Mariner Staff