House-Passed WRDA Bill Includes Plan To Speed Up Port Projects

The Water Resources Development Act bill passed by the House of Representatives June 8 included two provisions introduced by Florida Rep. Bill Posey that are designed to give ports more flexibility in building their projects.

One amendment deals with Section 203 and would allow a non-federal sponsor of a port project to perform studies of projects, rather than waiting for the Corps of Engineers.

Another amendment would strengthen Section 204, said Posey, and could “speed up important port projects that have been authorized by Congress but are awaiting action by the Army Corps of Engineers.”

Jim Walker, director of navigation policy and legislation for the American Association of Port Authorities, told The Waterways Journal that this measure would give some ports more flexibility in deciding how to pay for authorized port projects whose funding is delayed by Congress. The AAPA supports both measures.

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Under Posey’s amendment, the port project sponsor can use their own resources rather than federal dollars, “while still having access to the very specialized services of the Army Corps when needed. Ports will be responsible for reimbursing the costs of the assistance provided by the Army Corps.”

Proceeding under this Section 204 measure would mean raising all or most of the funding up-front for a project.

Some large ports can do this. The Port of Corpus Christi, for instance, has announced it will pay for its own channel deepening. Even when a port pays for a project like channel deepening itself, it must sign what’s called an assumption of maintenance agreement with the Corps. This is a statement that once the project is built, the Corps will take responsibility for maintaining it at its new depth.

If a port elects to start a project with non-federal funds, the administration historically has asked that it fund the entire project as part of the assumption of maintenance agreement.

Walker said that measures like this have been made necessary by Congress’ rejection of earmarks, which prevents Congress itself from naming individual projects, although it allows the president to make such specific requests in his budget. Critics of the earmarks ban have argued that Congress ceded too much of its constitutional budgetary authority to the president.