House of Representatives Passes 2018 Waterways Bill

Corps of Engineers dredge in operation (file image)

Published Jun 7, 2018 8:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed its version of the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the recurring bill for waterways policy and project funding.  

In an unusual show of bipartisan support, the measure passed by a vote of 408 to 2, a margin of 99.5 percent. The bill contains funding authorizations for eight major projects across the country, including $2 billion for storm risk reduction along Texas' Gulf Coast and $700 million for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.

“We commend the House of Representatives for helping ensure that crucial water resources legislation is addressed and passed by Congress on an every-two-year basis,” said AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle. “The House bill just passed continues the trend of streamlining maritime infrastructure improvements by expediting evaluations, enabling timely decisions and providing greater funding flexibilities, as well as authorizing new projects.”

The White House has signaled the president's willingness to sign WRDA 2018 as written, and the Senate is expected to vote on its own version of the legislation within several weeks. 

HMTF appropriations

The House version does not include AAPA's proposed solution for the allocation of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), a tax on cargo that is intended to support navigation channel maintenance. Congress has not fully allocated HMTF receipts to maintenance projects, leading to a $9 billion surplus, and AAPA has developed a plan that would distribute all collected HMTF funds to seaports around the country for their intended use. The plan would set aside a portion of the funds collected at deepwater ports for other waterside improvements, alleviating fairness concerns for busy deep-sea ports that generate HMTF taxes but do not benefit from dredging projects. 

“Our long-term solution for harbor maintenance tax spending fixes the inequities in our current system while addressing the health and well-being of our seaport water highways," said Nagle. "We’ll continue urging Congress to include this agreement prior to WRDA 2018 being enacted.”

In a statement of policy, the White House said that it "appreciates that the bill does not include a provision that mandates spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund." Instead, the administration suggested reducing the tax that supports the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund in order to provide ports with "flexibility to finance more of their capital and operating costs on their own." 

Separately, the White House also urged the imposition of a new fee to support the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. "[The fee] would support economic growth, help cover the expected future construction and operating requirements of the inland waterways, and more accurately reflect actual costs incurred by the Corps on behalf of commercial users," the White House wrote in a statement. The fee proposal was widely opposed by inland waterways interests, including the leading towboat operators and their clients in the agriculture and energy sectors.