WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

A Historic Users Board Passes The Baton

The men and women who volunteer their time to serve on congressionally chartered boards in order to represent the interests of the inland navigation community are essentially taking on a second, unpaid full-time career.

All the congressionally chartered boards serve important functions. But perhaps the single most important one is the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB), “an advisory board established to monitor the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (Fund) and to make recommendations to the Army and to Congress on investment priorities using resources from the Fund,” according to its website.

In military terms, the IWUB is the “sharp end of the spear” of waterways interests. Meetings of this board are the premier venue where the Corps’ waterways infrastructure investment policies come in for critical, informed review by those most immediately affected by them—the commercial navigation industry. Industry board members  are senior figures—vice presidents, company owners, CEOs and other seasoned experts.

Their role was acknowledged by Maj. Gen. Scott Spellmon, deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations, when he told board members, “We could not do this without you—we couldn’t. When people dressed like me go to argue our budgets… or head up to Congress for testimony and we’re armed with the expertise from this group, it’s incredibly valuable.”

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As the IWUB changed the guard at its most recent meeting in New Orleans on May 23, outgoing chairman Marty Hettel allowed himself to reflect on its accomplishments. He thanked fellow outgoing members Bruce Reed, Scott Leininger, Charles Haun, Tim Parker, David Kontz, Dan Mecklenborg and Matt Woodruff.

Under this team’s guidance and leadership, board members have attended 22 meetings in 18 cities while visiting 16 major projects. Through two different administrations, the board has had four different executive directors and two designated federal officers. It has issued six annual reports, along with five recommendations on the president’s budget requests. This board also made an important procedural reform when it staggered terms of members to maintain continuity of knowledge.

The board has fully examined the Corps’ Capital Investment Strategy and made recommendations that speeded up crucial projects and resulted in significant savings to taxpayers.  The results of its work have been almost incalculable. On this board’s watch, the Olmsted Locks & Dam project was brought to early and cost-effective completion and made operational.  In addition, board members have seen “efficient funding” for the IWUB’s four priority projects each year since 2015. “We can now see when the Lower Monongahela, Kentucky and Chickamauga projects will become operational,” said Hettel.

With typical understatement, Hettel concluded, “All in all, I believe we have had a good run at improving our inland waterways infrastructure these past six years.” This board’s six years has been perhaps the most productive and fruitful period in its history. Incoming members will have large shoes to fill, but their work will have been smoothed by the achievements of their departing peers.