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National Dredging Meeting and DCA Reception Celebrated Passage of WRRDA

James E. Walker

James E. Walker

Dredging Meeting and Hopper Dredge Management Group (ICHDMG) was held on June 25 in Washington D.C. and included talks on dredging policy and issues by Corps members and others from the dredging industry.

Held just 15 days after President Obama signed the 2014 Water Resources Reform & Development Act (P.L. 113 – 121) into law, the meeting was preceded by the annual Dredging Contractors of America (DCA) congressional reception – this year to celebrate passage of the bill, which came about with massive support from DCA and the dredging industry.

A highlight of the meeting was an update by Jeff McKee, chief of the Corps Navigation program, on what lies ahead now that WRRDA 2014 is law.

“Execution of the law is an Executive Branch responsibility,” he said. The purpose of WRRDA implementation guidance is to determine how the Administration/Agency will proceed under the new law in light of existing policies and procedures, OR to develop new policies and procedures where needed to implement the law. The intent is to ensure consistent application of the law across the Corps, he said. Guidance is issued in the form of memoranda, ECs or ERs, and not all provisions in the law will be funded or implemented as a matter of policy.

“We are currently drafting implementation guidance,” McKee said.

Target Expenditure 67 Percent

Regarding the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), the target expenditure in FY 2015 is 67 percent of the funds collected in 2014 actually going for harbor maintenance. The expenditure rate will rise two to four percent per year until FY 2025, when it will be 100 percent of funds collected in 2024.

To help emerging harbors enhance competitiveness, the law requires that they receive at least 10 percent of the total appropriated from the trust fund for FY 2012.

Regarding the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), there is a review of ways to increase revenue collections for inland waterways, such as increased fuel taxes, user fees, construction bonds and the like. Olmsted Lock and Dam will receive just 15 percent of its cost from IWTF, down from 50 percent, meaning that 85 percent of its cost would be funded through general treasury revenues. This will free up funds from IWTF, which now go almost entirely to Olmsted, for other projects.

McKee gave an illustration of how the HMTF funds will be allocated. An estimated $1.8 billion will be collected in FY14, and 67 percent of that will be available for harbor maintenance projects. Some changes include Equitable Distribution Factors, which are no longer based solely on cargo tonnage, but include national and regional significance, national security and military readiness. Port and harbor categories are: high use – more than 10 million tons per year; moderate use – one to 10 million tons per year; and emerging harbors, less than one million tons per year. The accompanying slide from McKee’s talk contains other distribution figures.

Jim Walker Receives Murden Award

At the DCA reception, held in the Dirkson Senate Office Building the evening of June 24, the organization presented James E. Walker with the Murden Award, given in memory of William R. Murden to individuals who had spent their careers in government service.

Walker retired from the Corps of Engineers in January 2013 after a 36-year career, the final six years as manager of the navigation program.

He started with the Corps in 1976 as a coop student, and learned dredging from the most basic work – surveying, drafting and inspection. Upon graduation he moved to the Mobile District Office and prepared dredging plans and specs, and cost estimates. He participated in the Industry Capability Program in the early days of private sector hopper dredging and transitions to the Minimum Fleet.

He then enrolled in graduate school to learn dredged material management, and also “learned from the true experts around the Corps – Pat Langan, Herbie Maurer and Braxton Kyser,” he said.

Walker got into budget development and program execution, and then served seven years under Wynne Fuller, “one of the great operations chiefs in the Corps”, he said.

“All this was a tremendous foundation for the opportunity to come to Corps Headquarters and lead the Navigation program. I focused on three areas – partnering, communication and fixing the Navigation trust funds,” he said. He was responsible for a $2 billion annual budget for the 27-river inland navigation system and more than 900 coastal navigation projects. 

“With supportive senior leaders and a highly dedicated navigation staff, we made great progress in all these areas culminating in the recent passage of WRRDA,” Walker said.

Walker’s post-retirement career is with the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), where he is director of Navigation Policy and Legislation. He is responsible for addressing national legislative issues on behalf of U.S. ports with Congress and the Corps of Engineers, with a principle focus on navigation channels, which are a federal responsibility for construction and maintenance. He also serves as staff liaison to AAPA’s Harbors and Navigation Committee, which has 147 members, many from the dredging industry.

Walker is a registered Professional Engineer (P.E.), and holds a bachelor of science in Civil Engineering from the University of South Alabama, and a master of science in Civil Engineering from Colorado State University.

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