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The Feds Need to Support Shallow Draft Channels

Waterway interests are continuing the discussion about how value is assigned to projects for purposes of federal funding, and the Bush administration needs to reassess its policy. Because recreational purposes are given no weight when assessing value, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AIWW) has no value in the eyes of the Administration's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and no maintenance funds have been assigned for this or other shallow draft waterways and harbors this year.

The decision is based on the Administration’s formula in which a waterway is considered for federal support only if it handles at least one billion ton-miles annually. At 400 million ton-miles, the AIWW is therefore out of the running. That this is not a valid method of assessment was borne out by the extensive hearings held by Ouachita River stakeholders in April, and the OMB reversal of policy as a result. (OMB Adds $8 Million To Ouachita '05 Budget Request, IDR, July/August 2004.)

That hearing produced an exhaustive list of businesses, uses and benefits connected with transportation and boating on the river, including jobs, businesses, recreation and property values, among others. Now the OMB needs to apply this information to all shallow draft waterways, instead of turning its back on the source of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of commerce, a recreational boating industry that is far larger, the ancillary business created and supported by waterway users, and commercial and private development inevitable along our water highways.

According to the public affairs office at the Corps Wilmington District, the waterway has been receiving only 25 percent of the money needed to maintain the 12-foot channel for the past five to seven years.
Rosemary Lynch, executive director of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association, (AIWA) reports that the President's budget provided minimal funds for the AIWW in the ‘04 budget but none of it was for dredging. The ‘05 budget had some money for Virginia but the AIWW in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida was no longer a line item.

The State of Florida, mindful of the tremendous value of recreational boating to its economy, created a tax district to ensure adequate maintenance money for the Intracoastal Waterway within its border. Called the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND), it has assessed the economic benefits of the waterway for each county in the system, and finds that recreational boating in Florida is a $7.5 billion per year industry. This takes into effect business volume, personal income, jobs and property values.

Though no such study has been done for the rest of the waterway, similar figures can be assumed for the entire system, adjusting for differences in population.
Lynch is hopeful that people on Capitol Hill are taking notice of the situation. This is in part a result of her efforts on behalf of the AIWA, and of other waterway organizations, specifically the National Waterways Conference under the extremely proactive leadership of its president, Worth Hager.

Congress authorized a 12-foot depth for the AIWW in 1938, and private citizens and businesses have rightly come to depend on it from Virginia to Miami. The federal government needs to continue to fund operations andmaintenance of the waterway as has been directed by Congress for more than 50 years, and to stop neglecting this important segment of the economy.

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My special thanks go to Connie Boris, Ray Bergeron and our friends at VOSTA for distributing IDR at WODCON in Hamburg; and to Marsha Cohen for her able report and pictures of the event on page 15 of this issue.




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