Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Past Successes Of Navigation Program Touted For New WRDA

Washington, D.C.—Key officials touted the success of the current investment in the nation’s navigation program to lawmakers now working on the Water Resources Development Act of 2024.

“It has forced us to take scheduling with the dredge industry to a whole new level,” said Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, commanding general and chief of Engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“I think you are aware there are 19 hopper vessels in the United States of America working today. Four of them belong to the Army Corps of Engineers,” Spellmon said.

Citing the 577 navigation channels at 1,208 ports he is responsible for across the country, he explained the scheduling exercises needed on the dredging work.

“We have great, great partners in the dredging industry. We just have to take our scheduling game to the next level,” Spellmon said.

He specifically singled out the direction from Congress that allows increased draws from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

Michael Connor, assistant Army secretary for Civil Works, also pointed to the funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the disaster supplemental that boosted dredging and the moving of dredge material, which previously had been in a deficit situation.

“It has been game-changing,” Connor said.

On the impact of the investments, Spellmon reported that forced outages at hydropower plants and unscheduled maintenance work at locks and gates have been declining.

He also told the lawmakers the agency is on track to submit 15 chief’s reports and one post-authorization change report for WRDA 2024.

The two men made their comments at the first hearing on WRDA 2024 held by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

Work on the biennial legislation is expected to pick up in early 2024 in both houses of Congress.

WOTUS Guidance Delay

Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor told a House panel a backlog of 4,000-plus jurisdictional determinations (JDs) must be addressed before more guidance on the revised Waters of the United States (WOTUS) definition will be issued.

“Those processes are informing what will ultimately be a guidance process,” Connor said.

He added that most of the 631 JDs already made since early September have not been controversial or required significant discussions between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Some of them are, and that is going to inform us as we further define what the U.S. Supreme Court meant,” he said, referring to the court’s decision on the Sackett v. EPA case.

Describing that approach as “very muddy water,” Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, pressed Connor on why the JDs would not be based on the guidance, rather than the other way around.

“It’s the chicken or the egg type situation,” Connor replied, stressing the importance of dissecting the court’s Sackett decision before moving forward with more guidance.

RAISE Grants

Port authorities were identified as eligible applicants in a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) published by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for $1.5 billion in funding through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program for 2024.

Targeting transportation projects with significant or regional impact, DOT stated, the RAISE discretionary grants help project sponsors at all levels of government complete critical freight and passenger transportation infrastructure projects. Eligibility requirements allow project sponsors to obtain funding that may be harder to support through other grant programs, DOT added.

As in previous years, the agency said it is encouraging applicants to consider how their projects can address climate change, ensure racial equity and remove barriers to opportunity.

In addition to port authorities, port infrastructure projects, including those at inland ports, were listed as eligible projects in the NOFO.

The deadline for applications is 11:59 p.m. EST on February 28, and selections will be announced no later than June 27.

For additional information, contact staff at RAISEgrants@dot.gov or call Andrea Jacobson at 202-366-9603.

Ferry Grants

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced 13 grants in eight states and the territory of Samoa totaling $220.2 million to modernize the nation’s ferry systems.

Approximately $170 million of the funding came through the FTA’s Ferry Service for Rural Communities Program for ferry service in rural areas, and $50.1 million through FTA’s Passenger Ferry Grant Program for capital projects to establish new ferry service and repair and modernize ferry vessels, terminals and facilities in urban areas.

Aquatic Nuisance Species

The Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Task Force is scheduled to meet January 24-25 on preventing the introduction of aquatic invasive species in U.S. waters.

Open to the public, the meeting is set to begin at 8:30 a.m. (Eastern) on both days at the U.S. Geological Survey National Center, Conference Room 5A217,12201 Sunrise Valley Dr., Reston, VA 20192.

The deadline for required registration and requests for accessibility accommodation requests is January 18. Members of the public also may choose to participate remotely by phone or video conferencing platform.

For additional information on registration, remote participation or providing oral and written comment, contact Susan Pasko at 571-623-0608 or Susan_Pasko@fws.gov.

Benkert Award

The Coast Guard is soliciting applications from the maritime industry for the biennial Rear Adm. William M. Benkert Award for Environmental Excellence.

The deadline for applications is January 31.

In May, the 2024 Award is to be presented during the North American Marine Environment Protection Association Safety at Sea National Maritime Day seminar and Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System awards. More details will be announced as the event approaches.

The program recognizes businesses involved in marine facility or vessel operations that have demonstrated sustained excellence and outstanding achievement in protecting the marine environment and encourages innovations in operations, maintenance, cargo handling, refueling and training while providing a means to share best practices with others in the maritime community. Additional information can be found at https://homeport.uscg.mil/Lists/Content/Attachments/406/2024%20Brochure.pdf.