On July 11 the House of Representatives voted 281 to 137 in favor of amendment H.R. 4923 to the House’s FY15 Energy & Water Appropriations Bill authored by Rep. Janice Hahn (D–CA) and Rep. Bill Huizenga (R–MI). The amendment increased funding for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) from $57.6 million to more than $73.3 million. The additional funds will push the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers budget to the level specified in the recently enacted Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA).
Barry Holliday executive director of Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) told the coalition that “this vote clearly sends a strong message that funding our ports and harbors is a priority. Hopefully this message will resonate in the Senate as well. Great job RAMP Team! Thank you.”
In the floor debate Hahn said “As a representative of the nation’s busiest port complex and the co-founder along with you Mr. Speaker of the Ports Caucus I have fought hard from my first day here in Congress to increase the funding for our nation’s ports and to fully utilize the harbor maintenance trust fund to ensure that the money that we collect at our ports goes back to our ports. Around here they’re starting to call me Ms. harbor maintenance – and after working for months with my colleagues we reached a plan to finally put the harbor maintenance trust fund to work and fully utilize this trust fund by 2025.”
The amendment was added to the FY15 Energy and Water (E&W) Appropriations Bill and increased HMTF by approximately $58M offset by a reduction in funding for nuclear energy acquisition construction and expansion account. This is the amount of funding by which the E&W Appropriations Bill is below the WRRDA HMTF spending target for FY15. The House FY15 E&W bill would add $193M to the President’s $915M request for harbor maintenance for a total of $1108M. The WRRDA target for FY15 is $1165.6M.
Also during floor debates Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) spoke about some of the serious water and infrastructure needs in his district at the Port of Houston. “The Port of Houston’s the second largest port in the country by tonnage. In 2012 we expanded operations to cruise ships. Maintenance dredging operations at the Port of Houston requires $70 million annually. They generate a given tax revenue both for the state and federal government. The challenge is to meet the opportunities of the 21st century the ports all over the country need more than what’s available in this appropriations bill. That’s why I’m a strong supporter of the Hahn amendment.”
The Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (GLMTF) a coalition that promotes domestic and international shipping on the Great Lakes said Great Lakes legislators played a key role in boosting U.S. Army Corps of Engineers budget by almost $58M.
During the floor debate Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D–OH) stressed that “waterborne shipping is the most efficient mode of moving goods in and out of this country.” Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) said “All Americans depend on the Great Lakes for transportation of goods and services.” Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN) focused on the dredging crisis noting the Great Lakes “are operating at 80 percent of capacity. It’s costing us $3 billion in annual business jobs growth and income.”
John D. Baker GLMTF 1st vice president and president emeritus of the International Longshoremen’s Association Great Lakes District Council stressed the need for dredging has never been as great as it is right now. “The brutal winter of 2013/2014 has everyone on the Lakes trying to play catch up. Cargo movement in March and April was a fraction of normal volumes and the St. Lawrence Seaway recorded its latest opening ever. Every ship needs to utilize every inch of draft available to it.”
Tom Curelli 2nd vice president of GLMTF and director of operations for Fraser Shipyards Inc. cautioned that the higher water levels have not lessened the need for dredging. “Even the best loads right now still represent a loss of three four percent of the vessel’s carrying capacity. The gap will start to grow again when water levels begin their seasonal decline in autumn. Dredging is still the only way to restore the Great Lakes Navigation System.”
Paul Doell 3rd vice president of GLMTF and legislative director for American Maritime Officers said that it will take several years to complete the dredging backlog on the Great Lakes; more than 18 million cubic yards of sediment is clogging ports and waterways.