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Two Key Dredging and Waterway Improvement Bills Move Forward

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By The Maritime Executive 07-16-2020 08:40:39

On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee voted to approve the FY2021 funding package for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The proposed top line number for USACE is $7.6 billion, about $1.7 billion more than the administration requested.

According to the Waterways Council (WCI), Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) projects will receive $1.7 billion, about $665 million more than the Trump administration’s FY2021 budget request. The amount represents 92 percent of estimated HMTF revenue, well above Congress' previous target and a substantial departure from its historical practice of repurposing HMTF receipts.

In a separate allocation, the USACE is set to receive $17 billion in emergency funding - more than twice the agency's top-line budget - to accelerate work on its current projects. The Construction account would receive $10 billion to speed up projects across all Corps mission areas, at least $3 billion of which is set aside for inland waterways projects. The bill also provides $5 billion in emergency funding for operations and maintenance. These funding levels are unprecedented, and they may face scrutiny when the bill proceeds to the full House and to the Senate.

“This bill appropriates an amount close to the record-level funding provided to the Corps’ Civil Works mission for FY20 and an additional $17 billion in emergency infrastructure funding to significantly advance the completion of important water resources projects. A new start for the inland waterways in FY21 is welcome news and helps to further modernize this critical transportation system,” said WCI President and CEO Tracy Zea in a statement. 

Water Resources Development Act passes committee

On Wednesday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved this year's draft of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the recurring authorization bill for waterway projects. 

Perhaps its most significant element is the removal of the cap on spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). Currently, the fund has a surplus balance of about $10 billion, and WRDA 2020 would allow Congress to appropriate additional money for harbor maintenance from this amount.

The bill would also change the cost share for inland waterway infrastructure projects from the current 50/50 split to a ratio of 65% federal and 35% Inland Waterways Trust Fund, leveraging a larger federal share. 

It would also deauthorize about $10 billion worth of old Corps projects and would require the Corps to reassess and update the economic and environmental impacts
of antiquated projects before they may be carried out. 

"We are grateful to have maritime champions like Chairman Peter DeFazio, Ranking Member Sam Graves, Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Janet Napolitano and Ranking Member Bruce Westerman," said Jennifer Carpenter, AWO President & CEO. "AWO is proud to back this bill, which will strengthen our waterways infrastructure system to the benefit of American shippers, the tugboat, towboat and barge industry and American maritime as a whole."