Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Hope Persists For Infrastructure Package

Washington, D.C.—President Donald Trump once again used his annual State of the Union address to express his eagerness to work with Congress on delivering a major infrastructure investment package, and a White House fact sheet issued during Trump’s speech specifically mentioned funding for the locks and dams on high-traffic inland waterways.

“The seaports and inland waterways that facilitate commerce and transport American goods require continued investment,” the fact sheet stated.

“Many of our ports will require additional improvements to support larger cargo ships.”

Trump did not go as far as he did in his address last year when he called for action generating at least $1.5 trillion for new infrastructure investment over 10 years.

Still missing was a way to pay for such a massive spending proposal, always a tough obstacle to get over.

Despite the lack of action after last’s year’s speech, some found reason to remain hopeful about the chances of an infrastructure measure in 2019.

“It is time for infrastructure to move from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box,” Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, said, adding that challenges of moving freight must be addressed.

“We sincerely hope a bipartisan effort can produce an infrastructure initiative that benefits the needs of both urban and rural areas of this country.”

Robin Kemper, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said an infrastructure bill is overdue.

“In order to raise our grade from a D+ to an acceptable level, we need to fill a $2 trillion deficit over the next decade,” Kemper said.

“It is time Congress and the president get this done.”

Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, expressed hope for a bill that ends the decades-old dilemma of Harbor Maintenance Tax under spending and inequitable funds distribution.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he will work to build bipartisan agreement on infrastructure legislation.

“But I can’t do it alone. This will require massive effort from the White House, stakeholders and supporters in Congress to get something real across the finish line,” DeFazio said.

WRDA Implementation

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has scheduled a Stakeholder Session February 11 to receive public input on developing implementation guidance for provisions contained in the Water Resources Development Acts of 2018, 2016 and 2014.

Set to begin at 8 a.m., the session will be held at the Corps headquarters in the Government Accountability Office building, 441 G St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20314.

Advance registration was required due to security procedures with a deadline of February 6.

The agency said the session will also be available by teleconference by dialing 800-288-8960 starting at 7:55 a.m.

“All stakeholders, including those participating by phone, are welcome to provide oral comments during the session and will be selected to speak on a first-come, first-served basis,” the Corps stated.

One day after the session, the 60-day period for public comments on WRDA 2018 closes at midnight.

The National Waterways Conference credited its push for a more constructive engagement process on developing the implementation guidance.

“While we are appreciative of the meeting, we are disappointed that the comment period has not been extended,” NWC stated. “Comments are still due on Tuesday, February 12.”

Information about how to submit comments can be found here. The list of provisions that the Corps is developing implementation guidance on can be found here.

For additional information about the session, contact Ada Benavides at 202-761-0415.

Users Board To Meet

The Inland Waterways Users Board is scheduled to meet February 28 in Galveston, Texas.

Open to the public, the meeting is set to begin at 8 a.m. at the Texas A&M University Galveston Campus, Building 3035, Special Events Center, 200 Seawolf Parkway, Galveston, Texas 77554.

For additional information, contact Mark Pointon at 703-428-6438.

TSAC Meeting

The Towing Safety Advisory Committee and its subcommittees are scheduled to meet February 20–21 in Miami, Fla.

Scheduled to begin at 8 a.m., all meetings are to be held at Hyatt Place Miami Airport West/ Doral, 3655 NW 82nd Ave., Miami, Fla., 33166.

February 14 is the deadline for submitting pre-meeting comments.

For additional information, contact Douglas Scheffler at 202-372-1087.

Jones Act Waiver Opposition

A bipartisan group of leaders of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has urged the Trump administration to deny Puerto Rico’s request to waive the Jones Act for 10 years to allow foreign tankers to move liquid natural gas to the island.

“Administrative waivers of the Jones Act are constrained purposefully to rare cases where such a waiver is ‘necessary in the interest of national defense,’” they stated in a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

“It is our belief that no valid national defense rationale exists to support this waiver request of the Jones Act for Puerto Rico, especially for a 10-year period,”

Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) signed the letter along with Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio).

Previously, the American Maritime Partnership had come out against the waiver request.

Wheeler Nomination

A key Senate panel voted to advance Andrew Wheeler’s nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency as the agency moves to get its effort to redefine Waters of the United States (WOTUS) back on track.

That party-line 11-10 vote by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee came after an unsuccessful Democratic request for a delay to let Wheeler continue to serve as acting administrator and give him more time to embrace bipartisan policies.

Wheeler’s nomination now goes to the full Senate for final confirmation, which requires a simple majority.

Meanwhile, EPA has rescheduled a public hearing on its proposed WOTUS rule, which was delayed by the recent government shutdown, and expanded it two sessions on February 27 and 28 in Kansas City, Kan.

To be held at Wyandotte Ballroom of the Reardon Convention Center, 520 Minnesota Ave., Kansas City, Kan. 66101, the hearings are set to begin at 4 p.m. on February 27 and 9 a.m. on February 28.

The last day to pre-register for a three-minute speaking slot at the hearing is February 21.

A webinar also has been scheduled for 3:30 p.m. EST on February 14.

EPA said webinar registration is limited to 2,000 attendees so interested parties are encouraged to view with colleagues. To register, visit this link.

A registration link is available in this story on www.waterwaysjournal.net.

A copy of the webcast will be made available afterwards, the agency stated.

New FMC Members

Louis Sola of Florida and Daniel Maffei of New York were sworn in as members of the Federal Maritime Commission.

Sola, previously a member of the Florida Board of Pilots Commissioners, will serve a term expiring in 2023, while Maffei, a former member of the FMC who previously served in Congress, will serve a term expiring in 2022.

Nominated by President Donald Trump in November, the pair’s Senate confirmations bring the FMC up to four members with one vacancy remaining.

Trump has yet to tap a nominee for the fifth seat.

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