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American Shipper

WATERWAYS USERS SAY BUSH BUDGET WOULD MISUSE TRUST FUNDS

WATERWAYS USERS SAY BUSH BUDGET WOULD MISUSE TRUST FUNDS

   A group representing a coalition of inland waterways users and coastal ports is criticizing the Bush administration for proposing a budget that would allow new dams, locks and other waterways projects to be funded in part by a trust fund dedicated to pay for operating and maintaining such infrastructure.

   The civil works portion of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' budget expands the authorized uses of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to cover 25 to 50 percent of the cost of inland waterways operations and maintenance, in addition to providing financing for 50 percent of construction costs. On the flip side, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund would for the first time be used to finance the federal share of construction costs, in addition to its authorized purpose of paying for operation and maintenance costs, according to an Army Corps budget summary.

   'This unprecedented proposal, if enacted, would have a devastating impact on a vital transportation sector at a time when the economy is struggling to recover,' the Waterways Works! coalition said in response to the president's budget released this week.

   Among those working to promote the importance of inland waterways through the unified Waterways Works! campaign are the American Waterways Operators —    representing tugboat, towboat and barge operators — and the American Association of Port Authorities.

   The barge and towing industry, which pays a diesel fuel tax of 20 cents per gallon into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, is facing the prospect of additional taxes once the $412-million trust fund surplus is drawn down in a couple of years, John Doyle, the coalition's vice president for governmental relations said in an interview.

   The Army Corps budget also limits planning and design of new projects, emphasizes projects that are nearing completion and provides substantial funding for eight high priority projects, including $115 for deepening the New York and New Jersey Harbor.

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