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Brownwater News, February 2018

Feb 15, 2018 09:46 AM

Trump's proposed budget cuts Civil Works funding, disappoints WCI

President Trump’s proposed $4.8 billion budget for fiscal year 2019 for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program was met with disappointment by the Waterways Council Inc. (WCI). The proposal represents a 22 percent decrease from the Senate Appropriations Committee’s FY 2018 funding level of $6.16 billion.

Announcing the budget at a news conference in Washington on Feb. 12, Ryan Fisher, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said the proposal “enables the Corps to carry out its important missions, while advancing the administration's infrastructure initiative.”

But rather than echoing the Corps’ support of the proposed budget, Mike Toohey, WCI president and CEO, found that the administration's overall $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal “moves toward eliminating the role of the federal government to construct, operate and maintain the nation’s waterways by transferring that responsibility to non-federal public or private entities.”

Toohey said the WCI was “extremely gratified” that the president mentioned waterways in his State of the Union address and visited the Ohio River last June, where Trump said that “together, we will fix it,” meaning the “dilapidated system of (locks and dams) that are more than half a century old.”

However, Toohey said, the infrastructure proposal “actually seems to mean that commercial operators and shippers are the only ‚Äčones who will be expected to pay, and significantly more, for the nation’s waterways transportation system, despite being just one beneficiary of the lock and dam system.”

The president proposes to modernize the system by authorizing the government and “third-party service providers” to impose and retain tolls or lockage fees. The FY 2019 budget also proposes a new user fee on inland waterways.

"The proposal would establish a vessel user fee to supplement existing revenue from the 29-cent-per-gallon diesel fuel tax to help finance the users' share of anticipated capital investment projects, as well as 10 percent of the cost of operations and maintenance (O&M) activities on the inland waterways, historically a federal responsibility," the WCI said in a news release.

During the news conference, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commanding general and chief of engineers, said the FY 2019 budget funds seven commercial navigation projects but only one to completion: Olmsted Locks and Dam on the Ohio River.

The budget includes no new construction starts. For navigation, Semonite said, the proposed construction budget ($872 million) provides $49 million for the Savannah Harbor expansion in Georgia; $35 million, including $5.2 million from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, to complete the Olmsted project; and $28 million for Columbia River at the mouth. Other proposed Civil Works funding includes $2 billion for operations and maintenance, $965 million for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, $5 million for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, $245 million for the Mississippi River and tributaries, and $200 million for the regulatory program.

Seaway raises tolls, wharfage rate for 2018 season

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. has announced a toll rate increase of 1 percent for the 2018 navigation season, with a continuation of the New Business Incentive Program and Gateway Incentive Program.

Bruce Hodgson, director of market development for the corporation, said that over the past 10 years, $36.3 million in new business has been generated “as part of ongoing efforts to diversify our commodity base.” Hodgson added that the recently introduced gateway incentive “provides a stimulus for shippers to save by switching the movement of their cargo to the Great Lakes.”

The Seaway also announced that its schedule of charges on goods or cargo landed, shipped, trans-shipped or stored has been modified, with a wharfage rate increase of 1 percent for the 2018 navigation season and a reduction of the maximum charge on a measurement basis. The Seaway also reported that its 2017 navigation season ended with 38.1 million tons of cargo, nearly 9 percent more than the 35 million tons of freight hauled in the 2016 season.

For more information about tolls and wharfage rates, send a request to tariff@seaway.ca.

Funds available for Marine Highway projects

The U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd) has announced that sponsors of designated Marine Highway projects can apply for another round of federal grants totaling about $4.8 million.

In its Federal Register notice, MarAd said it would seek to obtain “the maximum benefit from the available funding by awarding grants to as many qualified projects as possible.” However, the agency said, it reserves the right to award all funds to just one project.

“MarAd may partially fund applications by selecting discrete components of projects,” it said.

Grant applications must be submitted electronically by March 2 at www.grants.gov. The registration process usually takes two to four weeks to complete. For further information, call Tori Collins at (202) 366-0795 or email Tori.Collins@dot.gov.

Waterways board to meet March 1 in Tennessee

The 86th meeting of the Inland Waterways Users Board has been scheduled for March 1 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

On the preceding day, Feb. 28, there will be a briefing on the status of the Chickamauga Lock project at the Embassy Suites Hotel, followed by a tour of the lock site.

For more information, contact Mark Pointon at (703) 428-6438 or Ken Lichtman at 703-428-8083.

Transportation league adds voice to Fair Port Practices

Three officers of the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) have joined leaders of other organizations urging the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) to keep steamship lines and marine terminal operators from imposing detention and demurrage charges due to circumstances beyond shippers’ control.

The league said the affected organizations, known collectively as the Coalition for Fair Port Practices, noted at recent FMC hearings that unfair port charges have been levied more frequently in recent years as a result of labor strife, increasing freight volumes and weather emergencies.

Demurrage is assessed on cargo left at a terminal beyond allotted free time; detention charges are levied for late return of carriers’ containers.

The NITL officers joining the coalition members were league director Don Pisano, Karyn Booth and league counsel Nick DiMichael.

AAPA touts infrastructure, ports

Steve Cernak, chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), said at an “infrastructure summit” sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in January that infrastructure “is the cornerstone of everything we do as a nation.”

Anticipating an infrastructure package this year, Cernak said the AAPA has identified several priorities, including $66 billion in federal freight and port-related infrastructure investments over the next 10 years, and full use of the Harbor Maintenance Tax by providing the funds directly to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“There is no greater ‘poster child’ for the dynamic need to invest in our nation's infrastructure than America's ports," Cernak said. “All modes intersect at ports. That is why we need strong and resilient infrastructure to be efficient as well.”

Among the dozen or so examples of port-related needs in the U.S. are the Mobile (Ala.) River Bridge ($1.5 billion), waterside deepening at the Port of Savannah ($973 million), a multimodal harbor project at the Ports of Indiana ($30 million), and the multimodal Hampton Roads Crossing at the Port of Virginia ($3.3 billion).

As for the final tax reform bill approved by Congress just before Christmas, the AAPA was pleased that the legislation kept private activity bonds (PABs) tax-exempt and that wind energy production tax credits remained intact.

Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the AAPA, said that keeping PABs tax-exempt “will help foster investments, not just in and around ports, but also in needed infrastructure development throughout the nation.”

Coast Guard updates House on US maritime industry

Rear Adm. John Nadeau, assistant Coast Guard commandant for prevention policy, went to Capitol Hill on Jan. 17 to update members of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee on the state of the U.S.-flag maritime industry.

Nadeau assured the lawmakers that members of the Coast Guard continue to conduct their work “using a consistent and enduring concept of operations that has successfully guided us for decades.” Elaborating, he said the Coast Guard develops standards for safe, secure and environmentally sound operations in the MTS (Maritime Transportation System); assesses and enforces compliance with those standards; aggressively investigates noncompliance and drives the lessons learned back into compliance and standards activities.

“These three phases of operations rely on our ability to leverage our marine safety work force, engage governmental, non-governmental and industry partners, and properly manage information and risk,” Nadeau said.

The assistant commandant said that as the lead federal regulator for the maritime industry, the Coast Guard must be “attentive to the industry’s changing needs and dynamic challenges.” The Coast Guard’s concept of operations and its approach to continuous improvement, Nadeau said, “remains unchanged.”

Two Coast Guard committees seek new members

The Coast Guard has invited interested parties to apply for membership on the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee or the Merchant Mariner Medical Advisory Committee.

Completed applications should reach the Coast Guard by Feb. 26. The Coast Guard will be considering applications for eight personnel advisory positions that will be vacant Aug. 13 or are currently vacant. The medical advisory committee will have one vacancy to be filled.

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

Senate confirms new leader of Army Corps' Civil Works

R.D. James has been confirmed by the Senate to serve as the assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

James, a civil engineer, farmer and manager of cotton gins and grain elevators in New Madrid, Mo., has been a member of the Mississippi River Commission since 1981. A strong advocate for the Army Corps of Engineers' program, he has provided the commission with water resources engineering direction and policy guidance.

James is the recipient of the Bronze de Fleury medal for his significant contributions to Army engineering.

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