Bills seek to increase dredging
A group promoting transportation on the Great Lakes hailed legislation seeking to increase funds for dredging harbors.
“Ships working the Great Lakes won't leave port with their cargo holds less than full once Congress passes legislation introduced in the Senate,” said the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force in a statement issued last week, applauding the Senate version of the Harbor Maintenance Act of 2010 (S,3213). The bill was introduced with bipartisan support on April 15. The House version of the bill (H.R. 4844) was introduced by Reps. Charles Boustany, R-La., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., on March 15.
The bill calls for the funds made available from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) each fiscal year for dredging projects to be equal to the level of receipts, plus interest credited to the fund each year, instead of allowing the surplus in the fund — now exceeding $5 billion — to continue to grow.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said in a speech introducing the bill that half of federal harbors and ports “are not maintained to their authorized dimensions. This results in less efficient and more polluting transport, as well as an increased risk of vessel groundings and collisions.”
Levin was one of four Democrats and four Republicans sponsoring the Senate legislation at the time of its introduction. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is the lead Republican co-sponsor of the bill.
Levin said since 2003, “there has been a growing gap between the annual amount of revenue deposited into the HMTF and the annual amount of expenditures from the HMTF. Similarly, administration-requested funding levels for harbor maintenance have lagged behind HMTF revenues. Funds that are not spent on HTMF purposes are available for use as general revenue.
“If enacted, the legislation would allow any member of Congress to raise a point of order against a spending bill that seeks to use less than the total HMTF projected revenue.,” he explained. “If a harbor bill is considered that does not use all of the funding available that year, any member could block the bill to encourage the full expenditure of the funds. The point of order could be overridden with a separate vote.”
Barry Holliday, executive director of the Dredging Contractors of America, told the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee on April 15 that in 2009, the Harbor Maintenance Tax collected about $1.3 billion from shippers for the purpose of funding dredging projects, but only $808 million of dredging and related maintenance costs were reimbursed from the fund through regular appropriations.
“At this funding level, most ports and harbors were unable to be dredged to their authorized project dimensions,' he said. “With the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2015, many of our ports will realize substantial volume growth and it will be essential to ensure consistent maintenance of the navigation channels.
“A fully funded dredging program would ensure that the Corps could properly plan and manage dredged material for potential beneficial uses and environmental restoration applications,” he said.
“Similar problems with the Highway Trust Fund and Airports and Airways Trust Fund were addressed by past Congresses by enacting legislation to more closely tie trust fund expenditures and revenues through a guarantee and a point of order,” he said. The new bills would “do the same for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.” ' Chris Dupin