A leadership shakeup is underway at the Waterways Council Inc., the industry-funded group that advocates strong federal support for the inland waterways system.
WCI announced yesterday that its CEO and president, Cornel Martin, is stepping down to “pursue other interests,” effective at the end of June. A search committee has been established to replace him.
Martin’s departure comes at a time when the inland waterways industry is facing some big challenges. Perhaps the biggest is finding a long-term strategy to fund the nation’s aging and crumbling inland waterways infrastructure.
The group is fighting a tough battle with an increasingly fractious and budget-minded Congress to fund expensive lock-and-dam projects that the industry considers vital to the future health of the barge industry and the U.S. economy.
Martin, an experienced hand in the maritime industry, including several years as a congressional aide and several years with the American Waterways Operators, made passage of a capital development plan a top priority for WCI. He worked hard to build a national coalition of backers and supporters in Congress.
The plan proposes a shift in funding of some inland construction projects from a shared arrangement between industry and Uncle Sam to one paid entirely by the federal government. It also proposes an increase in the diesel fuel tax paid by the barge industry, a tax hike that is supported by the industry to pay for a share of new project construction.
These two important features, however, have drawn opposition from environmental and taxpayer groups and the Obama administration.
Could Martin’s departure indicate that the waterways community is divided over how best to move this plan forward? Or does it perhaps signal a new direction or strategy?
The next head of WCI will have his hands full. He must reassure a jittery membership, help educate 100-plus new members of Congress on waterways issues, and keep his organization united and committed to its mission.
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