WRRDA to direct more money for dredging
A joint House-Senate version of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act is expected to be publicly released Thursday after a conference committee from both chambers reached agreement on the authorization bill last week.
The long-awaited bill provides appropriators and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with spending guidance for improving harbor channels and inland waterways for commercial traffic, as well as flood-control and environmental mitigation. Water resource bills sailed through both chambers last year, but institutional and other differences led to a six-month negotiation in the conference committee.
Legislative leaders have not publicly revealed details about the compromise legislation that will be voted on by both the House and Senate, but some outlines of the package are becoming clear.
Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., in a press release this week, said the WRRDA bill puts the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund on a path to be fully utilized in 10 years, instead of holding back some of the fees for other governmental purposes. And, she indicated that West Coast ports were successful in getting a provision that would allow some of the HMT fees to flow back to them to be used for improvements other than dredging. The ports have complained about the fairness of their customers paying the fees but not seeing any of the money reinvested because many of them have naturally deep harbors.
At a briefing at the American Trucking Associations Capitol Hill office on the pending surface transportation bill, Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities, said he had also heard from legislative sources that Congress was moving toward full use of the HMT within 10 years.
Currently only about half of the $1.8 billion annually collected is used to maintain channel depths.
The bill also is likely to include provisions for streamlining the approval process for deepening projects and give states and localities more flexibility to advance funding on their own to get projects started if Congress lags with appropriations, Nagle said.
WRRDA is expected to authorize more than $8 billion in port and waterway projects, although there remains a $60 billion backlog of authorized projects on the books.
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