Source: Journal of Commerce
December 16th 2015
WASHINGTON – Congress is set to give U.S. ports and cash-strapped states in need of freight project funding an early Christmas gift via an omnibus appropriations bill expected to be sent to President Obama later this week.
Through the bill, U.S. ports would receive $1.2 billion for jetty and maintenance dredging and $2.6 billion for Army Corps of Engineers coastal navigation projects and studies for fiscal year 2016, which ends Sept. 30. National freight projects would also have a shot at securing grants via $500 million in the Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, program. The dollop of funding is crucial for many U.S. ports already financially strained because of costly mega-ship infrastructure preparation.
Although the funding collected via the Harbor Maintenance Taxes – the 0.0125 percent levy on the value of imported cargo – can’t be used for channel deepening or post-Panamax cranes, it will help ports make sure their harbors are dredged to federally authorized depths, allowing them to handle fully-loaded vessels. Only about half of the nation’s ports are dredged to their federally authorized depths, according to the American Association of Port Authorities.
The annual port funding agreed to Tuesday meets the goals set up by the landmark Water Resources Reform Development Act. It’s a significant step after many industry trade groups complained Congress and the president dropped the ball on meeting WRRDA funding goals during the first year of implementation.
A year later, the increase to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and Corps coastal navigation projects and studies arrived at Tuesday is a 7.1 percent increase over the $1.12 billion approved last year by Congress and significantly more than President Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget request of $915 million.
The agreement also includes an amendment sponsored by Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., directing the secretary of Homeland Security to submit a report to Congress containing assessments of risks and shortfalls along with recommendations regarding cybersecurity at the most at-risk ports.
Other highlights from the agreement include $405.6 million for priority Inland Waterways Trust Fund navigation projects in fiscal year 2016, a 75 percent increase over the White House’s original request; $121 million allocated to the General Investigations account; $100 million in funding for Department of Homeland Security port security grants; and a $3.137 billion increase to navigation operations and maintenance, a 15.8 percent increase over the president’s initial request, according to the Waterways Council industry group.
Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the AAPA, said he welcomes the significant increase in the Corps navigation program and the much-needed boost to the HMT.
“Additionally, we were pleased to see that the conference agreement approved up to seven new navigation planning studies and six new navigation construction starts for America’s 21st century maritime infrastructure,” the AAPA said in a statement.