American Shipper

Congress sends WRDA to president for signature

The legislation, which is now being sent to President Obama to sign, authorizes about $9 to $10 billion worth of projects for harbor dredging and navigational aids, river locks, flood protection, beach replenishment and environmental restoration.

   The Senate on Saturday passed comprehensive infrastructure legislation critical for ensuring efficient passage of commercial vessels through seaports and inland waterways, with the ultimate benefit cascading to domestic and international shippers.
   The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which authorizes about $9 to $10 billion worth of projects for harbor dredging and navigational aids, river locks, flood protection, beach replenishment and environmental restoration, is part of a legislative package called the “Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation (WIIN)” that includes measures addressing contaminated drinking water systems in certain cities and drought conditions in the West.
   The legislation will now be sent to President Barack Obama to sign into law following House passage by a vote of 360 to 61 and a Senate vote of 78 to 21.
   “There’s no better way to end the 114th Congress than with a long-awaited victory for manufacturers,” Jay Timmons, President of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a statement. “With WIIN, we can keep our manufactured goods moving on America’s waterways. We can get our products to market more quickly – certainly a win for customers and a win for the men and women who makes those products. But now, let’s take it to the next level. The next Congress and new administration should build on this achievement with a bigger, comprehensive plan for infrastructure renewal.”
   The WRDA legislation updates the cost share depth for channel projects from 45 to 50 feet so local ports only have to contribute 25 percent instead of 50 percent for deepening projects. The 45-foot depth was established in 1986, when vessels were much smaller. The cost-share for maintenance was updated in the 2014 bill and this provision in WIIN makes maintenance and construction cost-share depths consistent.
   It also ensures Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) funding targets will increase by 3 percent over the prior year, even if the HMT revenue estimates decrease, to continue annual progress towards full use of the HMT by 2025. The legislation extends until 2020 a provision allowing ports that donate more HMT fees than they receive to use funds for purposes other than dredging and for energy transfer ports to receive funds. Congress also included language that clarifies the process for HMT donor rebates and an expansion of this program for medium-size donor ports that handle over 5 million tons of cargo annually.
   The harbor provisions were all top priorities of the American Association of Port Authorities.
   WIIN includes approval for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deepen the Port of Charleston’s harbor to 52 feet, with federal funding for fiscal year 2018 now up to congressional appropriations committees. The state of South Carolina is seeking the added depth so fully loaded neo-Panamax vessels can reach container terminals without tidal restriction.
   The legislation also authorizes several inland navigation projects. The bill did not contain a Public-Private Partnership provision that could have allowed for the collection of tolls or lockage fees on tributary waterways, a provision opposed by the Waterways Council Inc.