Temporary Fix Found For Dredge Funding Crisis

An emergency transfer of $1.8 million from the St. Louis Engineer District to the Rock Island Engineer District, which was on the verge of running out of dredging funds, will keep dredges running until at least August 25. But river interests warn this is a temporary patch and that the immediate release by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) of the $100 million in emergency dredging aid voted by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump on June 6 is still needed.

An August 16 email sent by Lynn Muench, senior vice president–regional advocacy of the River Industry Executive Task Force (RIETF), a river industry committee, confirmed the funds transfer, which “will keep all seven dredges in the Rock Island District working through August 25 or, perhaps, until the end of the month.”

But the email warned, “However, reprogramming funds [from one district to another] does not solve the fundamental problem.  It is only a matter of time before additional dredging funds are needed in the Rock Island District or elsewhere on the Mississippi River–from St. Paul to New Orleans.  And funding for dredging is needed on almost every other river system.  It is critical that we continue to communicate the current urgency:  additional funding is necessary to remove the unprecedented amount of shoaling throughout the Western Rivers.”

RIETF urged its members, and all interested river stakeholders, to continue to contact their members of Congress to urge that the funds be released. “Without your help, the Mississippi River would probably be closed tomorrow,” the email concluded.

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The email said, “The $100 million in supplemental funding appropriated by Congress and signed into law by the president in June has not been released by the Office of Management and Budget to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

The sentiment was echoed by AWO members attending the Midwest Regional Roundtable in St. Louis, Mo., August 22. Members heard a presentation by Tom Heinold, chief of operations of the Rock Island District, who said the district’s normal dredging budget for a year is about $3 million; this year’s extraordinary need will require about $10 million in dredging spending in his district alone. The most powerful dredge working there now, the Dredge Goetz, costs about $60,000 a day to operate.

Heinold said his district was still in “dire straits” and was trying to maximize the use of the six dredges currently working there. Sometimes a dredge must be repositioned to deal with a series of groundings; but when that happens, time is lost as crews are demobilized and remobilized. And some dredges will soon have to be moved to the Illinois River, which has its own shoaling issues, as well as delays due to a lock closure. “Frankly, I don’t understand why the money is not here,” he said.

Lee Nelson, president of Upper River Services, said there were numerous shoaling issues further upriver, and that the need for additional supplementary dredging funds would extend into next year.

AWO members pointed out that the money transferred from St. Louis to Rock Island was not really a fix, since it was pulled from necessary operations and maintenance expenses there, which will now be deferred.