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Brownwater News, May 2016

May 20, 2016 11:47 AM

Senate approves higher funding for Corps projects

On May 12 the Senate voted 90-8 to approve a spending bill that would provide $6 billion in fiscal year 2017 for the civil works program of the Army Corps of Engineers. The total for the Corps represents an increase of $11 million over this fiscal year and $1.4 billion above the budget request.

The Senate bill (S. 2804) more than restores the 23 percent budget cut that the administration had proposed.

The bill increases the funding level of the Corps’ construction account by $723.65 million, raising it to $1.8 billion. With the Olmsted Lock and Dam funded at $225 million as requested by the president, a total of $376 million will be made available for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) priority navigation projects, an amount that makes full use of the estimated annual revenue in the IWTF.

Commercial barge and towboat operators support the Trust Fund through a 29-cents-per-gallon fuel tax that pays for half of new construction and major rehabilitation on the inland waterways system.

The spending bill approved by the Senate includes $126.5 million for Corps project investigations — $41.5 million more than the administration’s FY17 request — and a record $3.17 billion for operation and maintenance, nearly $469 million higher than the administration’s FY17 request. Mississippi River & Tributaries would receive $368 million for flood damage risk reduction efforts.

A similar spending bill calling for about $6.1 billion for the Corps’ civil works program was under consideration on the House side, where the Appropriations Committee noted that the nation’s marine transportation industry supports $2 trillion in commerce and creates employment for more than 13 million people.

In its report on the bill, the House Appropriations Committee said that the administration’s claims that it understands the importance of infrastructure “ring hollow when it comes to water infrastructure investments. In fact, if enacted, the budget request ($4.6 billion) would represent the lowest level of funding for the civil works program since fiscal year 2004.”

Within the navigation mission area, the report said, the administration’s budget request “proposes to reduce funding for activities eligible for reimbursement from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by $312 million from the fiscal year 2016.”

Turning to the nation’s inland waterways system, which includes 12,000 miles of commercially navigable channels and 236 lock chambers “essential to supporting the national economy,” the report notes that much of the physical infrastructure is “aging and in need of improvements. For example, commercial navigation locks typically have a design life of 50 years, yet nearly 60 percent of these locks in the United States are more than 50 years old, with the average age at almost 60 years old.”

The report took issue with the administration for changing a safety policy in such a way as to “delay completion of important public safety improvements” to dams posing the greatest risk to life and safety.

The House committee said in its report that it “strongly encourages the administration to revert to the previous definition of capability funding in future budget requests.”

In previous years, “capability funding” for such projects meant money that could be “obligated” within the fiscal year. However, for FY17, the administration changed the meaning to money that could be “expended” within the fiscal year. “By making this definitional change, the administration is choosing to delay completion of important public safety improvements,” the committee said.

Senate weighs future of new WRDA

The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee joined in the April 25 introduction of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA) and paved the way for committee approval three days later.

Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said that for the U.S. to succeed in moving $1.4 trillion worth of goods through American ports each year, Congress “must provide steady support and thorough oversight of our inland water and marine transportation system by authorizing WRDA every two years.

“This year, our bill (S. 2848) prioritizes projects that will deepen ports to increase our global competitive advantage, will provide protection from disastrous flood waters and will help to restore our nation’s critical ecosystems.”

The committee’s ranking member, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), noted “what happened in Flint, Michigan,” and said that incident “has shown us how vulnerable some of our water systems are, and this bill is a perfect vehicle to upgrade our water infrastructure.”

Boxer called for the authorization of projects that have been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, including projects to revitalize the Los Angeles River and to restore wetlands in San Francisco Bay and protect communities from flooding. Boxer said the bill promotes technologies to respond to such challenges as weather, desalination and water recycling.

Among other things, the bill would:

  • Invest in the nation’s ports and inland waterways to improve commerce.
  • Improve flood protection and safety for communities.
  • Restore ecosystems and promote public access for recreation.
  • Address high-priority regional water resources issues.
  • Streamline reviews and increase local participation.

MarAd highlights funds for Marine Highway grants

The Maritime Administration has announced that it has available funding for Marine Highway grants.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, signed by the president in December 2015, appropriated $5 million for the Short Sea Transportation Program. The purpose of the appropriation is to make grants for existing projects related to documented vessels and port and landside infrastructure.

MarAd said the Department of Transportation will award Marine Highway grants to implement projects or components of projects already designated under America’s Marine Highway Program.

Eligible applicants must be sponsors of Marine Highway projects formally designated by the Transportation Secretary. The current list of designated projects and their sponsors can be found on the Marine Highway website at: http://www.marad.dot.gov/wp-content/uploads/pdf/Marine-Highway-Project-Description-Pages.pdf. Applications, which must be received by May 27, must be submitted electronically, using www.grants.gov.

For more information, contact Tori Collins at (202) 366-0795.

‘Open season’ for new Marine Highway projects

Speaking of Marine Highways, the Maritime Administration has announced the “open season” for Marine Highway projects, meaning that the period for submissions for new Marine Highway projects is being extended to Dec. 31, 2018.

The purpose of the announcement is to extend the invitation to interested organizations to submit Marine Highway project applications to the Department of Transportation for review and consideration, MarAd said. During the extended Marine Highway open season, there will be five project review periods.

The new application due dates, along with the project review periods, are:

Dec. 31, 2016, review period Jan. 1, 2017-April 30, 2017; June 30, 2017, review period July 1, 2017-Oct. 31, 2017; Dec. 31, 2017, review period Jan. 1, 2018-April 30, 2018; June 30, 2018, review period July 1, 2017-Oct. 31, 2018; and Dec. 31, 2018, review period Jan. 1, 2019-April 30, 2019.

Full details on the open season were released in the Federal Register of June 2, 2014.

Applications should be submitted to Fred Jones via the Office of Marine Highway and Passenger Services, W21-311, Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration, 1200 New Jersey Ave. S.E., Washington, DC 20590, or via email to mh@dot.gov.

For more information, contact Jones at (202) 366-1123 or Timothy Pickering at (202) 366-0704.

Military education versus STCW credentials

A working group of the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee has scheduled a meeting for May 25-26 at the Coast Guard National Maritime Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

The group has been working on a request to evaluate utilizing military education, training and assessment to satisfy national and Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) credential requirements. At the meeting, the group will specifically consider the development and application of tonnage equivalencies and horsepower equivalencies for military ships.

For more information, contact Davis Breyer at (202) 372-1445.

AWO supports port access route study

The American Waterways Operators (AWO) has advised its members that it has voiced its “strong support” for the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Coast Port Access Route Study (ACPARS) and has urged the agency to work swiftly to implement the report’s recommendations.

Published in March, ACPARS incorporates the Atlantic Coast safe navigation corridor recommended by a Coast Guard-AWO Quality Action Team, the AWO said.

“It will help ensure that wind energy projects do not obstruct the safety and efficiency of tug and barge traffic along the East Coast,” AWO told its members. “ACPARS is also a significant step forward in AWO’s ongoing effort to ensure safe navigation along the Atlantic Coast through improved communication and coordination between the Coast Guard and maritime stakeholders.”

Semonite is the new chief of engineers

The Senate has confirmed the nomination of Maj. Gen. Todd Semonite as the 54th chief of engineers and his appointment to lieutenant general.

Semonite will assume command upon the retirement of Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick on May 20. Semonite previously served as the deputy chief of engineers and the commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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