Washington Waves
Washington Waves

New Report From USDA Boosts Waterway Transportation

Washington, D.C.—Two key federal officials used a newly released study to underscore the importance of America’s inland waterways system to the agriculture industry and the nation’s economy.

“Logistics and transportation are some of the most important aspects to farming, and America’s superior inland waterways are critical to our overall agricultural system,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said during a visit to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam in Illinois.

“Water transport is the most efficient, cost-effective transportation for our producers, and our waterways keep the American exporter the most competitive in the world.”

Perdue credited President Donald Trump’s efforts to make revitalizing the nation’s infrastructure a priority.

He was joined on the visit by R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, who spoke of the jobs provided by the world’s largest inland waterways system.

“This invaluable system is aging,” James said, citing the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address its maintenance needs and expand partnerships and alliances to maintain the nation’s competitive global markets.

Entitled “Importance of Inland Waterways to U.S. Agriculture,” the study also emphasized the lagging infrastructure maintenance that has resulted in frequent delays, with the percentage of vessels delayed increasing from 35 percent in 2010 to 49 percent in 2017, along with the added costs borne by shippers.

It used economic modeling to forecast impacts to the nation’s economy and agricultural competitiveness in global markets and the benefits and costs from various levels of funding to maintain and improve the system.

Informa Agribusiness Consulting prepared the report for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) welcomed the study.

“We believe the study makes the case to expedite the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) that would modernize five locks on the Upper Mississippi River and two on the Illinois Waterway to be ready to capitalize on predicted grain shipments, while at the same time improving the health of our marine ecosystems and habitats,” WCI President and CEO Mike Toohey said.

“NESP is awaiting pre-construction engineering and design funds to be ‘shovel-ready’ for these vital locks.”

Trade Negotiations

After several tumultuous days in the lengthy U.S.-China trade war, one important development to watch for could be whether the next round of negotiations between the two economic superpowers will take place as previously announced.

According to Bloomberg, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expect their Chinese counterparts to come to Washington, D.C., but Mnuchin would not say whether he expects that visit to stick with the September schedule.

“We continue to have conversations,” Mnuchin told Bloomberg.

“We’re planning for them to come.”

As the exchanges between the U.S. and China took on a sharper tone, President Trump made it clear he intended to send mixed signals.

“Sorry. It’s the way I negotiate,” he said when asked by a reporter at the G7 summit in France about his own “changing statements,” including referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping as an enemy at one point and then a friend at another.

“It’s done very well for me over the years, and it’s doing even better for the country.”

China kicked off this latest round of exchanges by announcing new tariffs.

Trump responded by first announcing an increase in tariffs and then ordering U.S. firms to stop doing business with China, a stunning development that Trump later conceded he was not ready to pursue.

NMC Catching Up

The National Maritime Center (NMC) posted a bulletin entitled “Final Update—Fiscal Year 2019 Partial Government Shutdown” stating that merchant mariner credentials (MMC) and medical certificates (national endorsements only) that expired December 2018 through July 2019, will remain valid only until August 31.

“No further credential extensions are authorized,” the bulletin stated, citing improvements in the backlog applications caused by the partial government shutdown.

“Within the next two weeks, the National Maritime Center (NMC) will resume processing all MMC applications within the stated goal of 30 net days.

Applications for medical certificates are currently processed well under the stated goal of 20 net days.”

NMC recommended that mariners submit their application packages at least two months prior to the expiration date of their current credentials.

For additional assistance or expedited processing, contact NMC’s customer service center by emailing IASKNMC@uscg.mil or calling 888-427-5662.

Port Rail Grant

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) encouraged ports to apply for a $244 million grant opportunity under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program.

AAPA put out its statement after the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for projects that boost rail transportation security, safety, efficiency, and reliability.

“Eligible applications must include projects that address highway-rail crossings, upgrade short-line railroad infrastructure, relocate rail lines, congestion challenges, improve intercity passenger rail capital assets, and deploy railroad safety technology. Passenger and freight rail infrastructure projects are eligible to apply,” AAPA stated in its alert.

“The CRISI grant program also directs investment to rural America; 25 percent of available funds are reserved for projects in rural communities, AAPA said. “These funds permit improvements to rural America’s rail infrastructure. CRISI supports safe rail systems across the country.”

Applications are due at 5 p.m. October 18.

FRA will offer web-based training and technical assistance for eligible applications on September 4.

For additional information, contact Frances Bourne at 202-493-6366.

Users Board To Meet

The Inland Waterways Users Board is scheduled to meet September 12 in Springfield, Va., to receive updates on the status of funding for inland and coastal navigation, the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), construction activities for Olmsted Locks and Dam Project, the Monongahela River Locks and Dams 2, 3, and 4 Project, the Chickamauga Lock Project and the Kentucky Lock Project and other matters.

Open to the public, the meeting will begin at 8 a.m. at the Hilton Springfield Hotel, 6550 Loisdale Road, Springfield, Va. 22150.

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

Page Limits

U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) made available for public comment two interim policies on page limits for National Environmental Policy Act documents and focused analyses and application of the One Federal Decision Process to DOT projects.

“DOT anticipates that the Page Limits memorandum will improve the quality of environmental documentation while reducing the length of these documents,” the agency stated in the August 23 Federal Register.

“The One Federal Decision memorandum will provide direction on how and when to apply the One Federal Decision process to DOT projects.”

Both interim policies took affect on the notice’s publication date, and comments must be received by September 23 with late-filed comments considered “to the extent practicable.”

In the past, the Trump administration’s One Federal Decision approach has drawn interest from those in the waterways industry who believe it could accelerate investments in infrastructure, reduce duplication and result in improved coordination among various agencies involved in specific projects.

For additional information, contact Rhonda Solomon 202-366-5397.