EDITORIAL - April/May 2014
Our cover shows the final leg of dredging work for the Panama Canal expansion. Originally scheduled for completion in October 2014, the project is now on course for completion at the end of 2015. The massive project will be a paradigm shifter for cargo flow and trade patterns in the shipping industry. Discussions at the ports about the Panama Canal are rarely lamenting any delays in the project, but rather scrambling to meet the demands of the new post-Panamax ships.
As detailed by a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD), ports that will receive the largest of the post-Panamax ships must have channels and water depths alongside the berths that are 50 feet. (See the related article in the Jan/Feb 2014 issue, page 8.)
Although all the major West Coast ports have adequate depths, the MARAD report notes that the East and Gulf Coasts and inland states east of the Mississippi River will feel the greatest impacts. Although the new Panama Canal is no surprise for most of these ports, dwindling federal funding levels since the expansion was approved in 2007 has made routine maintenance difficult, let alone massive deepening projects.
In March, I was in Miami, Florida, for the IQPC Dredging & Reclamation Summit. The Panama Canal, no surprise, was a big point of discussion. The opening talk from the Jacksonville Port Authority Senior Director for the Facilities Development Engineering and Construction Department, discussed a proposed deepening project at Jaxport. Joe Miller argued that in order to compete worldwide, not only was deepening at U.S. ports a national priority, but deepening was also only part of the problem – other much needed infrastructure improvements, to accommodate deepened harbors, include new Panamax cranes, intermodal container transfer and dock side off-loading facilities, distribution centers, warehouses, storage yards and storage tanks, interstate highway access, and rail line loading. The large scale infrastructure needs at many ports are vast, and the funding sources are anything but. For now, Jaxport must wait on WRRDA authorization. See the related article on page 33.
In April, I traveled to St. Louis for the Inland Rivers Ports & Terminals (IRPT) annual conference. The inland waterways are affected by increased traffic at coastal ports by way of the inland infrastructure needs and increased cargo, but they are also affected at its ports more deeply by the drain on funding.
At the IRPT Dredging session, Joe Neiman from Great Lakes Dredge & Dock painted a grim picture for the dredging market on the inland waterways. Because funding is funneled away to larger coastal ports, many dredging contractors are leaving the inland market. Neiman said the funding problem is exacerbated inland because the money flow is often restricted to Corps district lines, and districts can’t get combined projects funded together, along waterways that run through many districts.
There is hope for the inland waterways with alternative and additional funding measures, like funding through WRRDA and increased user fees that feed into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. In March, the President released his proposal for the FY2015 Corps of Engineers Civil Works budget, which included $1.825 billion for the study, design, construction, operation and maintenance of inland and coastal navigation projects and funds capital investments on the inland waterways based on the estimated revenues to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The President’s budget also supports the fee increase to increase revenues to the trust fund. The FY15 budget also funds O&M programs at $2.752 billion, including $152 million for the Mississippi River and Tributaries account. See the related story, page 28.