U.S. Senate Passes Water Resources Development Act


Published Sep 15, 2016 6:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Senate passed the S.2848, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016 by a vote of 95 to 3 on Thursday.

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) welcomed the progress, as the bill maintains many AAPA requests, including modernizing the cost-share formula for channel deepening projects, from 45 feet to 50 feet, which hasn’t been updated in 30 years, even though there have been seven generations of container ships deployed during this period (with ship sizes increasing from 3,000 to 18,000 twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs). Modernizing the channel deepening cost-share formula would make it similar to the maintenance cost-share formula.

The Senate bill also addresses an AAPA request to extend the authorization to provide funds to Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund donors and energy transfer ports, which Nagle cited as “an important equity issue.” 

Additionally, it includes revisions to streamline and expedite existing projects, as well as authorize eight new navigation developments.

AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle said: “Americans needs this crucial legislation to pass in order to fortify our freight transportation infrastructure, create good-paying U.S. jobs, grow our economy and enhance our international competitiveness.”

Nagle noted that Congress passed the last water resources reauthorization bill in 2014 after a seven-year hiatus. Passing it again this year would put it back, as intended, on an every-two-year cycle, which hasn’t happened since 2000.

“More than a quarter of America’s economy is based on the value of goods that transit in and out of our ports. In order to keep our economic recovery progressing, we must ensure these goods can move efficiently, without avoidable and costly delays caused by inadequate or poorly maintained infrastructure,” he said.

Nagle says: “America’s public ports – which create jobs for more than 23 million U.S. residents and handle 99 percent of our nation’s overseas trade – together with their private-sector partners are investing about $31 billion annually in marine terminal infrastructure. We look forward to the House soon passing its version of WRDA, with a final bill to result in the federal government upholding its end of this partnership by authorizing badly needed investments to waterside connections with seaports.”

TTD Responds

Edward Wytkind, President of the Transportation Trades Department, a coalition of 32 member unions, said: “For our nation’s seaports and the men and women who depend on them for good jobs, this legislation could not come at a better time. Megaships will soon become the norm in our maritime shipping sector leaving many U.S. ports at a competitive disadvantage due to chronic delays in much needed channel deepening projects. These delays are harming our economy, threatening port jobs and undermining America’s ability to accommodate export growth.

“Specifically, WRDA helps accelerate spending out of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) on port improvement and modernization projects which will make our shipping industry more competitive in an increasingly cutthroat global market. We believe this represents a step forward in our long-standing campaign to ensure that all Trust Fund money is spent on ports and harbors. For that reason, we hope that when the Senate and House get to a Conference, lawmakers will ensure that all HMTF money is delivered to ports as intended by Congress, and not left unspent or redirected to other congressional priorities.”

API Applauds

Energy industry body API also welcomed the bill’s passing. “Our nation is leading the world in the production of oil and natural gas and in the reduction of carbon emissions which are near 20 year lows. In order for this leadership to continue, we need strong energy infrastructure,” said API Executive Vice President Louis Finkel. 

“This bill, aimed at maintaining and improving the safety of our nation’s ports and harbors, will help ensure that our nation’s energy renaissance continues to provide benefits to American consumers while taking steps to improve the environment.”

Approximately 40 percent of all goods moved on the nation's waterways are crude oil or petroleum products.

South Carolina Ready for Harbor Deepening 

The passing of the Act moves the 52-foot Charleston Harbor Deepening Project to the U.S. House of Representatives for final authorization to begin construction.

“WRDA is critical legislation for port and port-related infrastructure modernization projects across the country, and we are grateful to Senators Graham and Scott for their unwavering support of its passage,” said Jim Newsome, South Carolina Port Authority president and CEO. 

“We are extremely pleased that the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project will now move forward to the House for final authorization. Congressional approval will allow project construction to begin, ensuring the Port remains on track to deliver all of the capabilities needed of a modern harbor by the end of the decade.”