NEW YORK Executives at
major metal-handling ports are disappointed that language in
the most recent transportation bill has not translated into
more money spent on maintaining the nations
In June, President Obama signed
into law a 27-month transportation bill that continued funding
for the nations roads, bridges and highways. The bill
included language stipulating the use of revenue collected via
the 0.125-percent harbor maintenance tax for port dredging (
amm.com, July 11), but port and shipping interests
say the fundwhich has an estimated $6-billion
surplushasnt been used as intended.
James Lyons, executive director
of the Alabama State Port Authority, estimated that ports
across the United States receive only about half the tax
collected. "Its not a Mobile problem, its not a New
Orleans problemits every port out there. Look at
the Great Lakesmany of those ports havent had their
full authorized depths for many years," he said.
Lyons said the weak language in
the transportation legislation appears to be part of the
problem, but the bigger issue is Washington itself. "Its
(the transportation bills) soft language (and) ...
its a bit of a budget game. The reality is that all of
the excess unused harbor maintenance tax funds have melted into
the budget deficit that we had. There is no true surplus," he
Without federal funding for
harbor maintenance, imports and exports from major ports could
suffer, Lyons said. "Our depth is 45 feet ... and its
important for us to maintain that 45 feet because we use it.
Ships coming out of Brazil with slabs all draw 45 feet. All of
the metallurgical coal that we load going to steel mills in
Europe, Asia and Latin Americamost of that is loaded to
Other ports also have been
frustrated at the lack of maintenance funding.
The Port of Houston Authority
recently submitted applications to the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers to authorize dredging up to 45 feet at its Bayport
terminal, Ricky Kunz, the ports vice president of trade
development and marketing, told AMM. The project will
cost the port about $120 million to $130 million to dredge the
three-mile channel, and its all coming out of the
ports own pockets.
"Because we cant wait for
the federal government, were spending the money
ourselves. Were going to try to recover those monies from
the federal government, but will it happen? Maybe, maybe not. I
dont know. Well have to wait and see," he said. "If
we wanted to wait for the Corps, it might be a 10- to 15-year
ordeal. Business doesnt wait for 15 years."
The Port of Houston collects
about $130 million in harbor maintenance tax annually and needs
about $50 million to dredge its channels, but receives only
around $20 million each year from the federal fund, Kunz said.
"We are speaking with legislatorscongressmen,
senatorsas well as the Corps of Engineers to work this
out. This is obviously a very, very important channel not only
for cargo but also for the petroleum industry."
Steel traders from the American
Institute for International Steel in the fall urged Congress to
spend the harbor maintenance tax fund on dredging needs, which
impact costs along the entire supply chain (
amm.com, Sept. 24).
"Its a battle ... and
theres no indication that the battle is over," Lyons
said. "Its a battle were going to continue to