WRDA 2018 Clears House Of Representatives On 408-2 Vote

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. House overwhelmingly approved the Water Resources Development Act of 2018, which targets federal investments in  inland waterways, ports and other infrastructure projects.

In a sign of just how popular such infrastructure measures remain in a sometimes bitterly divided Congress, H.R. 8 passed 408 to 2.

It now goes to the Senate, which is expected to take up its own America’s Water Infrastructure Act in the coming weeks.

Along with keeping the biennial schedule established over recent years, key backers said, the bill again focuses on the civil works of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers while building on previously approved reforms to boost the role of non-federal stakeholders such as states and local communities, expedite some projects by eliminating redundant environmental studies, and deauthorize other projects.

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It calls for a study on whether the Corps should remain within the U.S. Department of Defense, an idea pushed by leading Republicans.

Key Democrats expressed disappointment that another provision was dropped that would have ensured that revenue collected for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) would be used solely for harbor maintenance projects.

That idea remains a nonstarter for the White House, which gave the bill a decidedly mixed review.

Its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) said such a change for the HMTF would add to the deficit without an adjustment in the discretionary spending cap and repeated the administration’s suggestion that the Harbor Maintenance Tax should be reduced so ports could have more flexibility to finance capital on their own.

Still, the SAP expressed appreciation for certain elements of the bill such as deauthorizing projects that no longer meet the nation’s needs and encouraging non-federal parties to move forward with investments in water infrastructure projects.

It concluded by saying the president’s senior advisors would recommend that he sign the H.R. 8 if it reached his desk.

Once the Senate completes work on its version, a conference is expected to hammer out differences between the House and Senate versions.

MarAd Appropriations

A Senate subcommittee advanced a major appropriations bill for fiscal year 2019 that includes funding for maritime activities.

The Maritime Administration would receive $818 million to increase the productivity and safety of the nation’s ports, intermodal water and land transportation.

The bill includes $40 million for state maritime academies and $300 million for a new National Security Multi-Mission Vessel, a training ship viewed as essential to the academies to provide a strong merchant marine workforce. It also includes $20 million for the Small Shipyard grant program and $7 million for the Marine Highways grant program.

BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grants, formerly known as TIGER grants, would receive $1 billion.

The American Association of Port Authorities, which supports dedicating a minimum of 25 percent of the BUILD funding for port infrastructure projects, pointed out the Senate bill, unlike the House version, provides no set-aside as it came out of subcommittee.

Advanced by the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, the bill was scheduled for a markup by the full committee.

INFRA Grants

Several water infrastructure projects will be boosted by funding included in a list of proposed Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grants.

Pending a review by key congressional committees, the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority will receive $25.5 million to complete the second phase of a plan to modernize the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal to ensure it has sufficient berthing and terminal capacity to meet expected market demand. Larger vessels also would be handled after the project.

Miami-Dade County, Fla., will receive $7 million to replace two outdated cargo terminal gates at the Port of Miami with expanded and automated truck gates. Capacity will be increased and processing time reduced for trucks entering and exiting the terminal with the new gates.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development will receive $45 million for the Belle Chasse Bridge and Tunnel Replacement project that will help the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to operate more efficiently by eliminating frequent openings of the existing bridge.

Under a 2015 law, the U.S. Department Transportation is required to notify specific congressional committees of the list of proposed grants, which must remain with the panels for a 60-day review period before the final awards are made.

The list includes 26 projects totaling roughly $1.5 billion.

Maritime Workforce Training

The Maritime Administration has invited public comment on its process to designate training entities as Centers of Excellence for Domestic Maritime Workforce Training and Education.

MarAd is developing its Proposed Applicant Guide and will use comments to ensure that  its guidance is simple, clear and comprehensive.

Deadline for comments is July 2, but MarAd said those arriving after that date will be considered “to the extent practicable.”

For additional information, contact Nuns Jain at 757-322-5801.

MRRIC Membership

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is soliciting applications to fill vacant stakeholder positions on the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee (MRRIC).

MRRIC provides guidance to the Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the current recovery and mitigation plan.

Individuals who can demonstrate they meet the definition of stakeholder on navigation, hydropower and local government are among those targeted by the solicitation for applications.

Deadline for applications by the Corps’ Northwestern Division is close of business on July 27.

For additional information, contact Lisa Rabbe at 816-389-3837.

Great Lakes Pilotage

The U.S. Coast Guard is establishing new base pilotage rates and surcharges for the 2018 shipping season and making changes to the Great Lakes pilotage ratemaking methodology.

Changes include creating clear delineation between the Coast Guard’s annual rate adjustments and its requirement to conduct a full ratemaking every five years, the adoption of a revised compensation benchmark, reorganization of the text regarding the staffing model for calculating the number of pilots needed and certain editorial changes.

Based on a 1960 law, the rule will be effective July 5.

For additional information, contact Todd Haviland at 202-372-2037.