CHICAGO Port and shipping interests reacted positively to a Senate subcommittees efforts to put a record $1 billion in the federal governments fiscal 2014 budget toward the dredging of U.S. waterways.
The Senate appropriations bill, which went through markup by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committees Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development on July 25, would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation "to continue important flood control and navigation projects," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), chairwoman of the subcommittee.
The funds would be drawn from the Harbor Maintenance Trust (HMT) Fund to maintain navigation channels and related infrastructure.
Glen Nekvasil, a spokesman for the Lake Carriers Association, which represents U.S.-flag ships moving commodities such as iron ore and coking coal on the Great Lakes, called the proposed draw a welcome move. However, with the HMT boasting an annual revenue stream of $1.6 billion, Nekvasil told AMM those paying into it via user fees want all the moneynot just $1 billionto be spent.
Susan Monteverde, vice president for government relations at the American Association of Port Authorities, agreed. "While AAPA advocates for full utilization of (HMT) collections, this is an important step towards full use of those revenues, particularly in these constrained fiscal times," she said in a statement.
The Senates Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill, which was passed by the chamber on May 15, seeks to achieve full use of the fund by 2020 (amm.com, May 16).
If the appropriations bill is passed, the Corps would receive nearly $5.3 billion for operations and maintenance, construction, regulations and investigations, of which $300 million would be allotted for the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
"Look at the demands put on our dredges during the low water last year. We moved 8 million cubic yards and kept the (Mississippi) river flowing," Mike Petersen, spokesman for the Corps St. Louis District, told AMM June 26. "If the highs and lows we see on the river draw attention to the age of the infrastructure and its importance to the economy, that benefits river navigation."
Other waterway projects, however, are moving ahead without the HMT funds. The Port of Houston, for example, a major landing point for imported steel, will widen and deepen two channels in front of its Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals, spokesman Bill Hensel said. The project will begin this year and finish in 2014 and cost between $130 million and $150 million, said Hensel.
"Because of the time it takes to do projects like this and the time required to secure funding, we are self-funding this through revenues," he said.
Houstons port usually tries to find $70 million per year for annual maintenance dredging but "in recent years, we have been getting back only $20 million to $30 million and that is not enough," he added.