WCI: Obama's budget request for waterways 'disappointing'

The following is the text of a news release from Waterways Council Inc.:

(WASHINGTON) — Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) reacted to the FY 2016 budget request made by President Obama yesterday, as detailed below. The budget:

• Proposes $4.732 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works program, a 13.25 percent cut from the $5.454 billion FY 2015 appropriation for the program.

• Proposes a 28.5 percent reduction to the construction account, from FY 2015’s $1.639 billion to a proposed $1.172 billion.

• Proposes $2.710 billion for the operations and maintenance (O&M) account, $110 million more than the administration requested last year for the account, but a $198.5 million cut (6.8 percent) from what Congress appropriated for the current fiscal year.

• Requests $97 million for general investigations, but provides no funds for preliminary engineering and design (PED) for the Navigation Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP), authorized in WRDA 2007.

• Proposes funding as recommended by the Inland Waterways Users Board at $180 million for the Olmsted Locks and Dam project and $52 million for the Lower Mon 2, 3, 4 project — both to be cost-shared from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF). Of note is that the administration request for IWTF projects is more than $100 million below what could be supported by revenues going into the trust fund. 

• Once again suggests a $1 billion inland waterways user fee that has been proposed in past budgets and rejected by Congress.

• Provides no funding for Kentucky Lock or Chickamauga Lock, leaving that $100 million in supportable investment from the trust fund to languish.

• Requests only $915 million be appropriated from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), which is well below expected revenues into the trust fund for FY 2016, and is significantly less than WRRDA’s target level for FY 2016, and which would leave a balance of just under $10 billion in the HMTF on Sept. 30, 2016.

The Corps’ Civil Works Work Plan Fiscal Year 2015 (how the Corps will spend the money it was allocated) is now online at http://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/Budget.aspx.

The work plan allocates funding for FY 2015 as follows: 

Olmsted Locks and Dam project will receive $205 million (a $45 million increase); Lower Mon 2, 3, 4 will get $58 million (a $49 million increase); and Kentucky Lock will receive $12 million (all $12 million is from additional funds provided by Congress). Only $106 million of the congressionally-mandated $112 million increase for IWTF-funded projects is being allocated in the work plan, leaving $6 million unallocated.

“Given recent austere budget proposals for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it is not surprising that the administration has slashed FY ’16 transportation infrastructure funding. It is, nonetheless, disappointing to see so little appropriations funding requested for lock and dam modernization in a presidential budget portrayed as focused on infrastructure investment,” said Michael J. Toohey, president/CEO, WCI. “In fact, a new National Waterways Foundation study indicates that if 21 priority navigation projects on our inland waterways could be completed at an estimated total cost of just $5.8 billion, the 20-year sum of related economic output activity would exceed $82 billion that would benefit our nation’s economy overall."

By Professional Mariner Staff