Inland funding change proposed by Congress

In June, the advancement of several waterways issues have made industry supporters hopeful that Congress might resolve several pending items this year.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed a significant change in the cost-sharing arrangement for the Olmsted Lock and Dam project that would free up funds for other navigation projects that faced closure due to funding shortfalls. 

The change was offered by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, ranking minority member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, who said that other lock projects shouldn’t be sacrificed “due to IWTF’s failure.”

Waterways supporters fear that Olmsted’s projected $3.1 billion construction cost over-runs will siphon all available funds from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), thus jeopardizing other important navigation projects.

The proposal still has a ways to go. A House waterways funding bill does not include the cost-share change, so it will have to be negotiated at a later date by a House-Senate conference committee.

In addition, the House Homeland Security Committee passed the SMART Port Security Act that contains three important improvements to the TWIC security card program.

The American Waterways Operators, which worked with Congress on many of the TWIC reforms, said it’s pleased with progress to improve the program. “We think the requirement to make two costly and time-consuming round trips to pick up and activate a TWIC is one of the biggest burdens facing the men and women who work in the maritime industry, and we’re extremely happy with the bi-partisan congressional support this effort has received so far,” said Brian Vahey, government affairs associate at AWO. 

The bill must clear the full House and Senate before becoming law.

In another development, the Inland Waterways Users Board is back in operation after nearly a one-year hiatus. It held its first meeting in 14 months in Pittsburgh in June, after being closed down over a dispute regarding appointment of board members. 

Pamela Glass 

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