Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Inland Waterways Users Board Suspended In DOD Sweep

Washington, D.C.—The former vice chairman of the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB) expressed confidence the critical role the board serves will be recognized by a review ordered by the Department of Defense.

Michael Monahan, a member of the Campbell Transportation Company Inc. board, also predicted the current suspension the IWUB is under will be rapidly lifted.

That suspension and “zero-based” review were ordered by newly confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who included a list of more than three dozen advisory boards in a memo dated January 30.

An IWUB meeting previously scheduled for February 9 was canceled, stated an announcement posted on its website.

Initial coverage of the DOD memo focused on recent appointments by the Trump administration.

DOD’s memo acknowledged the important role advisory committees have and will continue to provide in shaping policy, adding the agency is required to ensure each committee provides appropriate value today.

“The Inland Waterways Users Board plays a critical role in advancing wise investment decision-making for our nation’s inland waterway transportation system infrastructure,” Monahan said in a statement.

“We are confident the DOD review will reach that same conclusion and rapidly lift the current suspension.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the IWUB’s federal sponsor, did not respond to a request for comment.

COVID-19 Relief

A key House panel was told COVID-19 infections among frontline port workers have reached crisis levels in many locations.

In the first three weeks of 2021, almost as many longshore workers tested positive at major ports in California as in the first 10 months of the pandemic last year.

Lauren Brand, president of the National Association of Waterfront Employers, shared that grim report as part of her testimony to the House Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

Brand joined other witnesses at the hearing on the maritime supply chain in urging lawmakers to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for mariners and to fund the newly created Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Act (MTSERA) to help provide crucial funding to ports impacted by the pandemic.

“Each port has been impacted differently,” said Mario Cordero, the executive director of the Port of Long Beach, who also serves as American Association of Port Authorities’ chairman of the board.

For every port that has experienced surges in cargo over the course of the year, Cordero said, there is a port that experienced declines with little recovery.

“By the end of 2020, commercial cargo volumes had declined across the industry, with total waterborne trade volume down 4.8 percent compared to the prior year, while the value of trade dropped by 11.3 percent, totaling nearly $200 billion,” he said.

Del Wilkins, vice chairman of the board for American Waterways Operators and president of Illinois Marine Towing, testified that prioritizing vaccinations for mariners could address unique challenges they face aboard vessels and being away from their home states that have authority over their vaccination programs.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who played a leading role in getting MTSERA approved last year, acknowledged that none of the previous COVID relief packages passed by Congress included the maritime industry.

“We are here hopefully today to begin to make the case to our fellow colleagues on the appropriations committee that this is something that should be funded this next year,” DeFazio said.

Responding to action in another committee, AAPA applauded a proposal to give state and local governments the flexibility to allocate COVID relief funding to U.S. ports.AAPA explained the funds could be used to respond to public health emergencies with respect to the current pandemic, including replacing revenue lost or delayed because of the pandemic.

‘Next Big Piece’

After passage of a pending COVID relief package, President Joe Biden served notice that infrastructure will be the next big item on his legislative agenda and singled out a key House Democrat to help.

“I can hardly wait to sit down with Peter DeFazio to work on infrastructure,” Biden told DeFazio and other House leaders at a White House meeting.

“This is the next big piece.”

DeFazio (D-Ore.) serves as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Biden’s highly anticipated infrastructure plan is expected to be laid out in the coming weeks.

“The president is going to roll out a ‘Build Back Better’ agenda, a jobs package in the coming weeks,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

During his Oval Office visit with House Democrats, Biden recalled that then-President Obama put him in charge of his administration’s recovery act and the lesson learned then.

“We can’t do too much here,” he said. “We can do too little and sputter.”

DeFazio responded with a fist pump and later issued a press release highlighting the Biden quote.

Navigable Waters Rule

Despite concerns from the Biden administration, the Democratic-controlled Senate narrowly voted to maintain the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule that replaced the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) introduced the amendment during a so-called “vote-a-rama” on the budget resolution.

Capito’s amendment drew the support of her fellow West Virginian, Democrat Joe Manchin, giving it a 51-49 vote.

Capito warned that reviving the Obama-era rule would devastate farmers, manufacturers and small businesses across the country. “We have had enough uncertainty,” she said.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) responded by warning the Trump administration’s rule would leave critical water unprotected from pollution.

Several days later, Carper and Capito ended up on opposite sides again as chairman and ranking member of a key committee that advanced Michael Regan’s nomination to serve as the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency by a 14-6 vote.

Inundation Maps

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is promoting a policy update allowing public access to inundation maps in emergency action plans, the National Inventory of Dams and critical information on residual flood risks from its dams and levees.

Sharing inundation maps through the National Inventory of Dams and public engagement will provide the best information available for communities to understand potential flood risk from dams and empower them to make more-informed decisions, the Corps stated in a press release.

Previously, access to Corps-generated inundation maps was restricted to emergency management authorities and other federal agencies upon signing a non-disclosure agreement.

“USACE-generated inundation maps assist with modeling, exercise scenarios, emergency planning and community preparedness,” said Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, the Corps’ commanding general and chief of engineers.

The Corps published Engineer Circular 1110-2-6075, “Inundation Maps and Emergency Action Plans and Incident Management for Dams and Levee Systems,” in October.