Federal stimulus spending plan includes $340 million for maritime projects

The $787 billion stimulus bill passed earlier this year to jump-start the U.S. economy includes at least $340 million to upgrade maritime infrastructure, with appropriations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd).

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 17, provides $64.1 billion "to enhance the safety, security and efficiency" of the nation's public buildings and its highway, rail, aviation and maritime infrastructure.

The largest amount for infrastructure investment, $4.6 billion, will be allocated to the Army Corps of Engineers, with $2 billion of that sum appropriated for construction. The act designates $240 million for the Coast Guard and $100 million for MarAd.

While the allocation of funding to government entities has already begun, the question of how the money ultimately will be spent remained unclear in late March. The Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard and MarAd were all in the process of evaluating projects to determine a list of recipients within the time frames mandated by Congress. The following is a breakdown of the appropriations:


{C}A ship passes through the 1,200-foot-long Poe Lock, the largest of the Soo Locks connecting Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes. Shipping advocates want to see federal economic stimulus funds used to build a large new lock. Terry Phipps

• Army Corps of Engineers: Stimulus funding includes $2 billion for construction, $2.075 billion for operations and maintenance and $375 million for projects along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. According to an estimate by the American Waterways Operators (AWO), about $900 million of the total will go toward maritime navigation.

"We have identified a list of projects and now we have to cull it down to see what the funding will cover," said Gene Pawlick, spokesman for the Army Corps.

• Coast Guard: Funding includes $142 million for the alteration or removal of bridges that impede navigation, with $98 million for the construction of shore facilities, facilities to aid navigation, and the repair and renovation of vessels. The Coast Guard estimates the allocation will create or preserve 1,635 jobs.

• MarAd: The $100 million appropriation will be used to continue MarAd's Small Shipyards Grant Program, which provided $9.8 million to 19 shipyards in 2008. The new appropriation designates $75 million for shipyards with no more than 600 employees and $25 million for yards with up to 1,200 employees. Funds can be used for capital improvements and training programs "to foster technical skills and operational productivity," according to MarAd. For trade groups like the AWO and the Lake Carriers' Association (LCA), the federal effort to upgrade the nation's maritime infrastructure is long overdue.

"Most of the locks and dams used by the towing industry were built in the 1930s and are now decaying and failing, adversely affecting the industry's efficiency," said Anne Davis Burns, vice president of public affairs and communication for the AWO. "America's inland waterways are a precious natural resource that is the envy of the world, and our nation must make the necessary investment to protect its infrastructure in order to preserve (our) competitiveness."

Glen Nekvasil, vice president of corporate communications for the LCA, said two projects should be funded as soon as possible: a new lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and strengthening the Coast Guard's icebreaking resources on the Great Lakes.

"The Soo Locks connect Lake Superior to the lower four Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway," Nekvasil said. "For all practical intents and purposes, there are now only two functional locks at the Soo: the MacArthur and the Poe. The other two locks date from World War I and are no longer usable."

Nekvasil said the Poe Lock — 1,200 feet long, 110 feet wide and 32 feet deep — is the only one large enough to handle most of the U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleet.

"Poe-class vessels represent roughly 70 percent of U.S.-flag carrying capacity, so if (the lock) fails, Great Lakes shipping slows to a trickle," he said. "That will lead to raw-material shortages at steel mills, power plants and construction sites."

Building another lock the size of Poe would also greatly benefit Michigan's economy, one of the most battered in the country, Nekvasil said.

Pawlick said the Army Corps, which owns the locks, could not comment on plans for a new lock during the project selection process.

"Most of the Coast Guard's icebreaking assets stationed on the lakes are aged and in need of replacement," Nekvasil said. "This January, as the fleet was struggling to deliver the final cargos (before winter closure), four of the eight Coast Guard icebreakers were out of service. Congress should fund construction of a twin to the icebreaker Mackinaw."

For updates on maritime projects funded by ARRA, go to www.recovery.gov.

By Professional Mariner Staff