Inland, ports fare well in spending bill

President Obama signed an omnibus federal budget compromise in January that provides healthy spending for inland navigation projects, including the Olmsted Locks and Dam, as well as port infrastructure, maritime academies and other federal maritime programs.

The $1.1 trillion omnibus budget bill combines 12 spending bills into a single measure and will keep the federal government functioning through Sept. 30.

Legislators were especially kind to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which runs the nation’s lock and dam system on the inland waterways. The agency was given a budget of $5.46 billion, an increase of $748 million over the fiscal year 2013 post-sequester enacted level. 

In the Civil Works budget, the construction account will get $1.6 billion, of which $163 million will go towards continued work on the much delayed and over-budget Olmsted project in Illinois. 

The legislation also establishes a new cost-sharing formula for the project during this fiscal year. It stipulates that 75 percent of Olmsted’s costs be paid by the federal treasury and 25 percent by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), which is financed by a diesel fuel tax paid by the barge industry. This follows language in the House version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) legislation that would make the 75-25 formula permanent for the life of the project. The normal cost share is a 50-50 split between Uncle Sam and the IWTF, but cost overruns at Olmsted have been eating up just about all the Trust Fund’s money, forcing other inland waterways projects to be put on hold.

“Federalizing a portion of the Olmsted project to allow for funding to flow to other priority projects is noteworthy,” said Michael J. Toohey, president and CEO of the Waterways Council Inc., an industry-supported group. 

The bill also includes other maritime provisions:

• Provides $600 million — a 20 percent increase — for DOT’s Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, which are used for port infrastructure and other transportation improvements. 

• Requires that 20 percent of the FEMA state and local programming budget be used for the Port Security Grant Program, used to boost technology, infrastructure and personnel at U.S. ports.  

• Significantly increases spending for port and navigation channel improvements, with $1 billion provided from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. 

• Offers full funding ($186 million) for the Maritime Security Program’s fleet of 60 U.S.-flagged ships.

• Provides funds to fight the spread of Asian carp in the Great Lakes.

• Requires the Maritime Administration to report to Congress on how cuts in cargo reserved to the U.S.-flag fleet is impacting the merchant marine and develop a national sealift strategy to assure the long-term viability of the merchant marine.

• Funds the Title XI shipbuilding program at a robust $38 million, which will provide a significant boost for projects at U.S. yards and restricts the scrapping of vessels by the Maritime Administration to U.S. facilities.

• Provides $11.3 million for maintenance and repair of training ships at the state maritime academies, and $16 million to continue facilities improvements at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. 

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