BrownWater News October 2012Oct 17, 2012 03:09 PM
NWC offers ‘objectives’ for new water resources bill
Amy W. Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference (NWC), offered lawmakers several "objectives" to consider while working on a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).
Writing to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which met Sept. 20 to evaluate WRDA legislative and policy proposals, Larson urged the committee to ensure that all funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund be used for harbor maintenance, “as intended.”
Larson also asked the committee to consider enacting a long-term funding solution for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, and to develop a levee safety program that does not create additional unfunded federal mandates or programmatic requirements.
"Regular authorizations to permit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address critical water resources needs are essential to our nation's environmental well-being and our economic vitality," she said. "Equally important is the development of rational, balanced, common-sense policies and programs that recognize the multiple uses of water and the essential contributions of a healthy and environmentally sound water resources infrastructure to the nation's economic prosperity, public health and national security."
Senate authorizes $21 billion for Coast Guard over three years
The Senate has passed a bill authorizing about $21 billion for the operation and maintenance of the U.S. Coast Guard in fiscal years 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The legislation (H.R. 2838) was sent back to the House for concurrence in two procedural amendments.
The measure would authorize $6.8 billion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, $6.9 billion for the new fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and $7.02 billion for FY 2014.
For the acquisition, construction, rebuilding and improvement of aids to navigation, the legislation authorizes a total of $4.5 billion for the three fiscal years.
The bill also establishes the Marine Transportation System Committee to assess the adequacy of the marine transportation system (including ports, waterways, channels and their intermodal connections) and to develop and coordinate policies among federal agencies and local businesses to promote the efficient use of the system.
Navigation projects said to need immediate attention
Rick Calhoun, president of Cargo Carriers and immediate past chairman of Waterways Council Inc., cautioned lawmakers that if something isn’t done “immediately” to improve the delivery schedule of navigation projects, the waterway system’s reliability “could be challenged.”
Noting that 34 locks are over 80 years old, Calhoun said that if nothing is done, “this infrastructure will be on the brink of collapse.”
As an example of the system’s deficiencies, Calhoun said that while the Olmsted Lock and Dam project on the Ohio River was authorized by Congress in 1988 at $775 million, and scheduled for completion in 12 years, “the project is nowhere near completion and has ballooned to a cost of more than $3 billion.”
Calhoun was among several witnesses testifying Sept. 20 at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing called to evaluate legislative and policy proposals for the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).
Another witness was Janet F. Kavinoky, executive director of Transportation Infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who labeled America’s marine transportation system “an essential investment for the future of our country. One that we can no longer afford to put off.”
Kavinoky argued that while growth in international trade is expected to overwhelm U.S. intermodal freight capacity over the next 30 years, China, Brazil and others are investing in ports and waterways.
“Some of the nation’s infrastructure — in particular, elements on the nation’s inland waterways — is outdated, overwhelmed and, in some places, literally falling apart,” Kavinoky said. “The lack of attention to these issues has real ramifications for America’s competitiveness and economic health.”
Jeffrey Soth, assistant legislative and political director of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), cited a new report that charts the current trends in investment in airports, inland waterways and marine ports.
“This timely report makes plain that the funding gap that exists in WRDA-related investments threatens the global competitiveness of the nation,” Soth said. “Congressional leadership is necessary to address this dramatic need.”
The report was unveiled Sept. 13 by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate committee, said in opening remarks that “later this year” she hopes to move forward with WRDA legislation. “I have already been working closely with Sen. (James M.) Inhofe (R-Okla.) and look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance a bill.” Inhofe is ranking member of the committee.
NWC reminds DOT of Waterways’ importance
Amy Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference (NWC), took the Department of Transportation to task for not mentioning inland and coastal waterways when it said that the nation’s freight transportation system moves goods on “ships, rails and roads.” Larson raised that concern during negotiations leading up to the development of the final highway bill, MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act).
“DOT has advised that freight and logistics industries, consumers and other stakeholders will also play an advisory role on the Freight Policy Council established under MAP-21, and states will be asked to offer proposals for improving the freight system in their region,” Larson said. “We will continue to work with DOT and the Maritime Administration to ensure the recognition and inclusion of the inland and coastal waterways as essential components of a multimodal transportation system.”
Plans regarding implementation of MAP-21 and the Maritime Administration’s ports initiative were taken up at a meeting of the Waterways Alliance Oct. 17 in the Washington, D.C. offices of K&L Gates, Larson said. The guest speaker was Deputy Maritime Administrator Paul N. Jaenichen Sr.
House panel examines states’ role in dredge permit program
The House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing recently to examine the potential for states to assume the lead role under the Clean Water Act’s dredge or fill (wetlands) permit program, also known as the Section 404 Permit Program.
Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), chairman of the subcommittee, said he wanted to find out why only Michigan and New Jersey out of 46 qualified states have assumed administration of the program, which is primarily administered by the federal government. “Specifically, I want to hear about what are the barriers that are holding states back from assuming the program.”
One of the witnesses, David Paylor, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, identified several “substantial financial and administrative barriers” facing states that seek to assume the program. For one thing, Paylor said, federal funding is not currently available for the program. Furthermore, he said, there is “uncertainty regarding the criteria for assessing a state’s legal authority” to assume administration of the program. Paylor also said the Section 404 program “does not include an option for partial assumption by states.”
Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, testified that states also have the option to improve efficiency and effectiveness in navigable waters and adjacent wetlands without pursuing Section 404 assumption.
Darcy said that states could work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop State Program General Permits, which can include many of the activities that are covered by a Section 404 permit.