BrownWater News March 2011

Obama proposes $4.6 billion budget for Corps program

President Obama has asked Congress to approve a fiscal year 2012 budget that calls for an appropriation of $3.7 trillion to fund federal programs, including $4.6 billion for the civil works program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A new administration idea expected to raise a lot of eyebrows in the maritime industry is a proposal to use receipts in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to cover the federal share of commercial navigation work conducted by agencies other than the Corps.

This time last year, the president submitted a FY 2011 budget that included $4.9 billion for the Corps’ civil works program.

“This year’s civil works budget for the Corps reflects the administration’s priorities through targeted investments in the nation’s infrastructure that help restore the environment and revitalize the economy, while also reflecting the need to make the tough choices necessary to put the country on a fiscally sustainable path,†said Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, at a press conference Feb. 14.

New federal funding in the civil works budget consists of $3.8 billion from the general fund, $758 million from the HMTF, $77 million from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) and $43 million from Special Recreation User Fees. 

A breakdown of the Corps’ budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, shows $2.3 billion for operation and maintenance, $1.48 billion for construction, $210 million for Mississippi River and Tributaries, $196 million for the regulatory program, $185 million for expenses, $109 million for the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP), $104 million for investigations, $27 million for flood control and coastal emergencies, and $6 million for Darcy’s office.

Elaborating on the Corps’ proposed reconsideration of the HMTF’s intended and legislatively directed uses, Darcy said the Corps is looking at “more of a system-wide use of those funds.†She added that her office is working “within the administration and with our stakeholders on just exactly how we’re going to go about doing that sort of reallocation.â€

“The budget proposes to increase revenues paid by commercial navigation users sufficiently to meet their share of the costs of activities financed from this trust fund (IWTF) in future years,†she said. “In addition, legislation will be proposed to expand the authorized uses of the HMTF so that its receipts are available to finance the federal share of efforts carried out by several agencies in support of commercial navigation through the nation’s ports.†

The HMTF is fed by a tax assessed at a rate of 0.125 percent of cargo value ($1.25 per $1,000 in cargo value). The tax collected from importers is deposited into the fund and appropriated by Congress for harbor dredging. 

In last year’s proposed budget, the administration said it planned to replace the excise tax on diesel fuel with a new mechanism to build up the IWTF. That new mechanism turned out to be a reiteration of the proposed lockage fee that was subsequently ignored by Congress. This year’s proposed FY 2012 budget made no mention even of a planned replacement for the fuel tax.

In fact, Darcy said at the press conference that the lockage user fee “has not been proposed in this (FY 2012) budget, but we are looking forward to try to develop a mechanism to help fund the Inland Waterways Trust Fund in a way that is substantial as well as meets the needs of the inland waterway users and everyone.†

Turning to the construction account, Darcy said three projects are funded for completion in the FY 2012 budget: Crookston, Minn., $1.25 million; Dover Dam, Ohio, $5 million, and Santa Paula Creek, Calif., $2.1 million. The FY 2012 budget also includes two “high-priority†new construction starts: Hamilton City, Calif., $8 million, and Raritan to Sandy Hook (Port Monmouth), N.J., $3 million.

Rogers vows to ‘work hard’ for the waterways industry

Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) promised the barge and towing industry that he would “work hard to ensure that our waterways remain an affordable, viable option for your industry.â€

Speaking at the Leadership Service Award Reception and Dinner sponsored by Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) Feb. 16, Rogers, winner of this year’s award, defended the House-approved budget bill with targeted spending cuts “five times larger than any other discretionary cut package ever considered by the House.â€

“I won’t sugar coat it,†the 15-term congressman said. “These decisions were tough, and they represent a commitment to shared sacrifice. We’re all going to have to do more with less, just as families around the country are tightening their belts and stretching their budget.â€

Rogers said the bill (H.R. 1), which takes aim at $100 billion in government-spending cuts, “roots out underperforming and wasteful programs while maintaining our commitment to our troops overseas and our veterans here at home. We’ve been indiscriminate, not in our cutting, but in our spending these past few years; that ends here.â€

The lawmaker applauded the waterways industry for coming forward with a proposal to increase the diesel fuel tax to help modernize the waterways’ aging infrastructure.

“I can’t remember the last time someone came to me and said, ‘Please raise my taxes,’†he said. “But that’s exactly what you’re doing, and that is an embodiment of the spirit of shared sacrifice I mentioned earlier.â€

Echoing Rogers’ call for more attention to the waterways’ infrastructure was WCI Chairman Rick Calhoun, who likened the waterways infrastructure to the bridges, roads and runways that also need attention. 

“Too often out of sight, out of mind, it (the waterways infrastructure) continues to show its age, and is in need of urgent recapitalization,†he said. “And so our inland waterways modernization challenge ahead is the need to create and implement an improved program for the future. The current project funding and delivery system is too inefficient, resulting in much wasted time and money.â€

Seaway’s 2011 navigation season to open March 22

This year’s navigation season on the St. Lawrence Seaway’s Montreal/Lake Ontario section will open March 22, Seaway administrators reported Feb. 16. Navigation on the Welland Canal also will open March 22. Navigation through the Sault Ste. Marie locks and canal will open March 25.

Officials said that the draft on the MO/LO section will be 26 feet 3 inches until the South Shore Canal is ice-free, or April 15, whichever occurs first. At that time, the draft will be increased to 26 feet 6 inches for all vessels if water levels are favorable.

The Seaway reminded mariners that speeds of ships loaded to a draft greater than 26 feet 3 inches will be monitored carefully between St. Lambert Lock and St. Nicolas Island.

In the Welland Canal, a maximum allowable draft of 26 feet 6 inches will be in effect from the start of the navigation season for all vessels.

Inland Waterways Users Board to meet April 1

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced that the Inland Waterways Users Board will meet April 1st at Westin New Orleans Canal Place.

During the meeting, the board will be provided the status of the funding for inland navigation projects and studies, the status of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), and the funding status for Fiscal Year 2011 and the FY 2012 budget.

The board also will consider the implementation of recommendations made by the Inland Marine Transportation System Investment Strategy Team, including the team’s proposal that new construction of locks be held at 50 percent federal/50 percent IWTF cost share and major rehabs under $100 million continue at 100 percent federal cost. All dam work would be paid for by the federal government. In addition, a cost-sharing cap would be implemented so that any project that exceeds the cap would thereafter be at 100 percent federal costs. Finally, the fuel tax, which would remain as the funding mechanism for the trust fund, would be increased between 30 percent and 45 percent (or 6 to 9 cents) as needed to generate $110 million per year as the industry’s share into the trust fund.

Maritime Cabotage Task Force renamed

The Maritime Cabotage Task Force has changed its name to American Maritime Partnership (AMP), it was announced recently by James Henry, president of the Transportation Institute and chairman of the board of directors of AMP.

Henry said the new name “better reflects the coalition’s focus on the domestic maritime industry’s role in promoting national, homeland, and economic security. To increase awareness of itself in the social media world, AMP has launched a new website: www.americnmaritimepartnership.com, and has new social media applications on Facebook and Twitter.â€

Coast Guard, EPA tighten steps against pollution from ships

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining steps they will take to better coordinate efforts to prevent illegal discharges of pollutants from commercial ships.

Under the MOU, the Coast Guard has agreed to incorporate components of the EPA’s vessel general permit program into its existing inspection protocols and procedures to help the United States address vessel pollution in U.S. waters.

The commercial ships that would be affected by the MOU number more than 61,000 based in the U.S. and more than 8,000 foreign ships operating in U.S. waters.

Lower Mississippi River committee to meet March 24

The Lower Mississippi River Waterway Safety Advisory Committee has scheduled a meeting for March 24 at the Sector New Orleans Building.

The committee will discuss the Regulated Navigation Area; Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, and the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal.

For more information, contact Chief Warrant Officer David Chapman at (504) 365-2282.

Categories: Maritime News