President Joe Biden has signed legislation that includes a healthy infusion of funds to continue maintenance and modernization of the inland waterway system.

The fiscal year 2024 budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was included in a funding package for six federal agencies that was signed by Biden on March 8.

Overall, the bill provides $8.7 billion for the Corps through Sept. 30, an increase of $1.27 billion over what the Biden Administration had proposed for FY24.

Construction projects along the inland rivers received a record funding of $456 million, with at least $120 million coming from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund that will supposedly fund three of the current six active construction projects to completion, according Tracy Zea, president and CEO of the Waterways Council, which advocates federal support of inland waterways.

These three include: $236.8 million for the Chickamauga Lock in Tennessee, $103.2 million for the Three Rivers project in Arkansas, and $41 million for the Lower Monongahela River project in Pennsylvania.

Zea said this funding bill was a top priority for WCI and avoids a “catastrophic setback to the inland waterways construction program” that would have occurred if Congress opted instead for a full-year Continuing Resolution (CR) rather than pass an appropriations bill for the Corps. Under a CR, he explained that inland waterways construction would have received $59.3 million, nearly $400 million below what was proposed in the Corps budget bill.

Funds were also included for the Bayou Sorrel Lock in Louisiana replacement study, examining the feasibility of deepening the Bennett Johnston Waterway in Louisiana, making channel improvements along the Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee rivers, and funding dredging at harbors in Greenville, Miss., Vicksburg, Miss., and Memphis. These ports were hit hard during low water last year.

Four days after signing this FY24 bill, the president released his proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2025. That proposal would fund the Corps of Engineers at $7.22 billion, down from both Biden’s FY24 request and the $8.7 million level approved by Congress.

Also a disappointment for waterways advocates is a repeat proposal from the president’s budget last year to provide no funds for ongoing and new construction and major rehabilitation projects from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which is funded by a fuel tax on barge operators, despite the Fund containing a balance of $150 million.

It will be up to Congress to review this request and decide whether to increase these levels as they have in the past.

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.

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