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Senate EPW Committee Introduces WRDA 2016

Editor’s Note: On May 25, at presstime, the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced its version of the bill, H.R. 5303. We will detail that bill in the next issue.

On April 28, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016 was approved by the Senate Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee, introduced during the 114th Congress by Senator Jim Inhofe (R- OK), chairman of the Senate EPW Committee, and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), ranking member of the EPW Committee.

A number of sections attempt to clarify and strengthen public-private partnerships (P3s) between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local and state partners at the project level: 

• authorizing the Corps to provide technical assistance to a non-federal sponsor that is developing its own feasibility study (Sec. 1001); 

• expanding the existing authority of the Corps to accept funds from states and local governments to carry out water resources projects, to apply to all projects, not just flood control projects, and expanding the definition of state to include territories and Indian Tribes (Sec. 1002); 

• authorizing the Corps to establish partnerships with non-federal interests to al-low the non-federal interest to help address the backlog of maintenance at Corps projects by maintaining the projects at their own expense (Sec. 1004); 

• and authorizing the Corps to accept non-federal funds to help non-federal sponsors that are developing their own feasibility study or carrying out the construction of an authorized federal water resources project, and such funds would be eligible for credit or reimbursement (Sec. 1005).

Another provision addresses and amends Sec. 1024 of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014 to accept and use materials and services donated by non-federal interests to address any risks to the functioning of a project, not just emergencies (Sec. 1003), while another streamlines the approvals provided by a section 408 permit, which is needed by non-federal entities seeking to alter, use or cross a federal water resources project (Sec. 1008).

Sec. 1010 changes a small but important step in project approvals and funding, which amends the Corps’ authority to accept funds from non-federal interests by removing the requirement that there first be appropriated funds before accepting non-federal funds.

Sec. 2015 establishes a pilot program authorizing a non-federal interest to maintain a federal navigation project with its own equipment and personnel, which is eligible for some reimbursement. The reimbursement for per-forming maintenance activities cannot exceed the estimated federal cost for the work, and the reimbursement must be directly related to the operation and maintenance of a dredge, based on the period of time the dredge is used on the federal project. Sec. 7301 also amended the public-private partnership program established by WRRDA 2014 to remove the requirement that it be authorized in an appropriations bill.

Before initiating maintenance activities, the non-federal sponsor will enter into an agreement with the Corps that specifies the performance of the maintenance activities, the terms and conditions that are acceptable to both parties. No later than 2021, the Corps will conduct an audit on any maintenance activities for an authorized navigation project to determine if permitting a non-federal interest to carry out maintenance resulted in “improved reliability and safety for navigation; and cost savings to the federal government.”

OTHER PROVISIONS
The following is a summary of other important provisions in WRDA 2016 that relate to the dredging industry and its partners and projects:

Sec. 2003: clarifies the target appropriations from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund set forth in WRRDA 2014, in the event that the prior year appropriation was a de-crease. “If the target total resources for a fiscal year is lower than the target total budget resources for the previous fiscal year, then the target total budget resources shall be adjusted to be equal to the lesser of either 103 percent of the total budget resources appropriated for the previous fiscal year; or 100 percent of the total amount of harbor maintenance taxes received in the previous fiscal year.”

Sec. 2004: requires dredge material disposal to meet state water quality standards. “Dispos-al of dredged material shall not be considered environmentally acceptable if the disposal violates applicable state water quality standards, approved by the administration of the Environmental Protection Agency, under section 303 of the federal Water Pollution Control Act.”

Sec. 2009: extends the 10 percent set aside from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for emerging harbors to 2025.

Sec. 2011: aligns the cost-share for the construction of harbors with a change in WRRDA 2014, which modified the cost-share for the maintenance of harbors.

PROJECT AUTHORIZATIONS
WRDA 2016 also authorized a number of projects: eight navigation projects (including Craig Harbor, Alaska; Little Diomede, Alaska; Port Everglades, Florida; Portsmouth Harbor and Piscataqua River, New Hampshire and Maine; Charleston Harbor, South Carolina; and Brazos Island Harbor, Texas); five flood risk management projects; six hurricane and storm damage risk reduction projects (including Encinitas-Solana Beach, California; Hereford Inlet to Cape May Inlet, New Jersey; Bogue Banks, North Carolina; and Town of Edisto Beach, South Carolina; four flood risk management and environmental restoration projects; and five environmental restoration projects. 

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