Washington Waves: June 18, 2018

Washington, D.C.—Members of the waterways industry hailed a new work plan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for including record levels of funding, identifying new starts and feasibility studies and advancing high-priority projects.

In rolling out the plan, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James said it “will get dirt moving to better the lives of Americans, their infrastructure, economy and environment.”

Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) President and CEO Mike Toohey welcomed another year of record funding for the Corps’ critical civil works.

“When there was once just one navigation project (Olmsted) funded in past fiscal year budgets, today there are four projects proceeding and one new start,” Toohey said.

Sign up for Waterway Journal's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

In addition to Olmsted Lock and Dam, which receives $175 million, the other projects are: Kentucky Lock, $39.5 million; Lower Mon Locks and Dams 2, 3 and 4, $98 million; and Chickamauga Lock, $76.5 million. The new start is the major rehabilitation of LaGrange Lock and Dam, which receives $10 million.

WCI also stressed the $399 million in the Construction Account represents full use of Inland Waterways Trust Fund revenues.

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) highlighted the additional funding for high priority work at Jacksonville, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Wilmington, N.C., as well as $57.58 million for a major rehabilitation new start for Soo Locks, Mich.

AAPA also pointed to channel improvement feasibility studies for Miami, Tacoma and Corpus Christi new starts in the Investigations Account  and $485.68 million of additional funding for dredging, jetties, dredged material placement facility and other navigation efforts in the Operation and Maintenance Account.

Corps districts now can begin that work, AAPA stated, adding “as a reminder, FY 2018 began on October 1, 2017.”

The National Waterways Conference noted the $6.8 billion for the Corps’ civil works program represents $789 million more than the actual appropriations in fiscal year 2017.

 It counted 39 feasibility studies, four preconstruction engineering and design and 13 construction projects that will be funded.

Corps Funding

The U.S. House of Representatives continued to lead the way on fiscal year 2019 appropriations and included funding for the Corps in its first so-called minibus to win floor passage.

With $7.28 billion for the Corps, which amounts to an increase of $451 million over the agency’s current fiscal year appropriated funding, Waterways Council Inc. applauded the House action.

“For the fifth consecutive fiscal year, the House has provided extremely strong, and in some cases, record-level funding for the Corps’ civil works mission, well above what the administration has proposed,” Toohey said.

“Full-use of IWTF (Inland Waterways Trust Fund) revenues will allow for the continuation of the top priority navigation projects with exact amounts to be determined by the Corps’ FY19 work plan,” Toohey said

WCI also pointed out the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is funded at $1.6 billion, which hits the target set by the 2014 water resources development law.

Not included in the bill was the Trump administration’s request for a 10-year, $1.037-billion user fee to be paid by commercial operators on inland waterways, stated WCI, which opposed that proposal.

The National Waterways Conference said investigations would be funded at $128 million, construction at $2.32 billion, operation and maintenance at $3.82 billion and Mississippi River and Tributaries at $430 million.  The bill also calls for six new starts in investigations and five new construction starts.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, expressed a commitment to keeping the government open with responsible levels of funding.

Democrats objected to the three-bill package, accusing the Republican majority of using funding for veterans in the minibus as a pawn to force through cuts and other harmful provisions in other areas.

On passage, the vote was 235 to 179 with 16 Republicans breaking with their party by voting no and 23 Democrats doing the same by voting yes.

As the bill was headed toward the floor vote, the Trump administration used its Statement of Administration Policy to push for a “more modern approach” to infrastructure investment that encouraged greater non-federal participation in water resources projects.

Timing remained uncertain for Senate action on its appropriations bills.

Infrastructure: Not Giving Up

Despite the low odds others may be giving President Donald Trump’s infrastructure vision, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao insists the president and she have not given up.

“You know the president is very passionate about a number of topics. He’s very concerned about the infrastructure proposal,” Chao said at a Washington Post event.

“We sent the proposal up to the Congress on February 12 of this year, and we want to work with Congress on a bipartisan basis.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the retiring chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also is sticking with his plan to introduce an infrastructure measure sometime this summer.

In March, however, Shuster conceded action on such a bill might have to wait for a lame-duck session after the mid-term elections.

Harbor Funding

While commending the House for passing its Water Resources Development Act of 2018, Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, said lawmakers will continue to be urged to include language in a final WRDA bill to ensure that all of the federal harbor maintenance taxes will be spent to provide continued availability and competitiveness of the nation’s harbors.

WCI pointed out that the House bill does not contain a user fee or a public private partnership (P3) tolling proposal that it opposed.

The National Waterways Conference singled out language allowing local sponsors to pay the difference between the cost of repairing a levee damaged in a natural disaster and the flood protection benefits without additional cost to the federal government.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate’s version of WRDA, known as America’s Water Infrastructure Act, is expected to be considered on the floor at some point this summer.