The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday urged House and Senate negotiators to resolve the differences
between the Senate and House-passed versions of the Water Resources Development Act and favorably report a joint bill as soon as possible.
In a letter to conference committee members, the largest U.S. business federation said the two bills, S. 601 and H.R. 3080, contain many common elements that have consensus agreement.
The Chamber said said it favors the Senate's approach toward the overdue Olmstead Lock and Dam Project, which would free up about $750 million for other capital construction projects along the inland waterways system.
It also expressed support for the Senate provision that would provide for the ultimate full usage of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for its intended purpose. Both bills rightly give permanent authority to the Secretary of the Army to accept and expend funds contributed by non-federal public entities to expedite the evaluation of permits for harbor deepening, it said.
The Chamber also said it is pleased that both the Senate and House would address the issue of public-private partnerships (PPP) for delivery of water resources projects. Although H.R. 3080 would establish a PPP pilot program (Section 117), the Chamber urged the conferees to take the additional step of providing financing for projects and include Title X of S. 601, the “Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2013,” as part of the final legislation.
However, the Chamber strongly opposes Section 10016, the “Buy America” provision requiring the use of American iron, steel and manufactured goods.
The Chamber also urged the conference committee to remove Section 10009(a)(5) of S.601 that would prohibit use of both private activity bonds and WIFIA assistance on the same project.
"While we welcome the increased investment in America’s ports, the Chamber is disappointed by the omission of the recommendation made by the Inland Waterway Users Board to provide predictable, reliable and sustainable revenues to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund from both the House and Senate bills," the Chamber said.
On Monday, Nick Rahall of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a member of the WRDA conference committee, toured the Port of Jacksonville, along with fellow conferee Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla.
Jacksonville is seeking federal authorization to deepen its ship channel and needs to clear an obstruction at Mile Point that prevents larger ships from entering the St. John River.