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American Shipper

House transportation panel introduces WRDA bill

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee this week will vote on its version of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, which authorizes funding for dredging and navigation programs critical to ports and inland waterways.

   The leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said it will formally introduce draft legislation this week to reauthorize programs for maintaining and upgrading harbors, inland waterways, dams, flood protection systems and environmental restoration initiatives. A session to edit the bill into its final version for consideration by the full House is scheduled for Wednesday.
   In April, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) reauthorization bill  that includes modernization of the cost-share formula for harbor deepening projects, extension of funding authorization for donor and energy-transfer ports and new language to improve the approach of appropriating annual Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) revenues until full use of the funds is achieved in 2025.
   Other provisions authorize more than two dozen harbor deepening projects recommended by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Once authorized, federal funds for project construction can be sought through annual Energy and Water Development appropriations bills.
   Earlier this month, the Senate easily passed a fiscal year 2017 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill (S. 2804) to fund the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers navigation program for coastal and inland waterways.
   S.2804 includes $1.3 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Tax for dredging to maintain the authorized depth and width of harbor channels, $37 million above the fiscal 2016 funding level and $160 million above the HMT funding target for the year that was established in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014. The bill also includes new navigation study and construction starts, as well as funding donor and energy transfer ports at $50 million, which is double last year’s funding level and the full amount authorized in WRRDA.
   The House version of the appropriations bill, which passed out of the Appropriations Committee in April, is a awaiting floor action.
   If Congress passes WRDA 2016 it would put the reauthorization process back on a biennial cycle after a seven-year hiatus that ended in 2014.The gap in action put many projects on hold at a time when ports were under pressure to expand capacity to accommodate larger cargo ships being deployed by international fleets. The 2014 legislation included new reforms related to funding, studying and delivering dredging projects.
   Following the review process established in the 2014 law, the House’s draft text of WRDA authorizes 28 Army Corps “Chief’s Reports” submitted to Congress since the enactment of the previous measure. Chief’s Reports are the final recommendation to Congress for water resources infrastructure priorities. The draft legislation authorizes about $5 billion in federal funding for Corps activities, offset by $5 billion in deauthorizations of previously authorized projects that never got off the ground. The measure also sunsets new authorizations to prevent future project backlogs.

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