Capitol Currents Newsletter

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Strong FY20 Funding; Partisanship Delays Measure; C.R. Moving in House

September 24, 2019

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Capitol Currents Newsletter
September 24, 2019

This is a text-only version of Waterways Council’s newsletter, Capitol Currents.  To read the full PDF version, including all images, click here.  


Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Strong
FY20 Corps Funding; Partisanship Delays Measure;
C.R. Moving in House

On September 12, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its 12 Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) appropriations bills – with the FY20 Energy & Water Development (E&WD) bill that funds the Corps one of the first to move forward – with the Department of Defense Appropriations bill.


Overall total funding level recommended in the Senate FY20 E&WD Appropriations Bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, is $48.87 billion, $4.23 billion above the FY19 enacted level and $10.81 billion above the President’s budget request.


The bill proposes to fund the Corps of Engineers at $7.75 billion, $751.5 million above the FY19 enacted level and $2.786 billion above the President’s budget request. By comparison, the House-proposed FY20 funding level for the Corps is $7.36 billion, an increase of $357 million above FY19’s appropriated level and $2.53 billion above the President’s FY20 budget request.


A very significant provision in the Senate bill would once again adjust the cost-share change for Chickamauga Lock, this time to 75% Federal funding/25% Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) for one fiscal year.


The Senate press release on the bill noted that “for the sixth consecutive year, the bill makes full use of the estimated annual revenues from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to advance American competitiveness and export capabilities.” The release also noted that for the sixth consecutive year, the bill meets the spending targets in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014 for appropriations from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for the Corps of Engineers.


The Senate also recommended $2.795 billion for the Corps’ Construction account or $1.624 billion more than the President’s FY20 request, and $612.148 million more than the FY19 enacted level.


For the Corps’ Operations & Maintenance (O&M) account, the Senate recommends $3.799 billion, which is $1.868 billion above the President’s FY20 budget request, and $59.472 million above the FY19 enacted level. The bill provides for six new construction starts subject to selection by the Secretary of the Army in the Corps’ Work Plan to be released 60 days after enactment of the bill.

The Mississippi Rivers and Tributaries (MR&T) account is proposed to receive $368 million in FY20.


Finally, the Investigations account is recommended to receive $154.9 million in the Senate bill, which is $77.99 million above the FY20 Administration request and $29.9 million above the FY19 enacted level. The Senate bill also proposes six new study starts within this account to be identified in the Corps’ Work Plan.


On September 18, Senate Democrats blocked spending bills to fund the Federal government, including the E&WD Appropriations bill. Republicans need at least 60 votes to take up spending measures and the motion to proceed fell short, garnering 51 votes. Senate appropriators plan to move forward on negotiations in anticipation of an agreement ahead. The House is moving a short-term Continuing Resolution (C.R.) to keep the government funded and open until November 21. 


NESP Pre-Construction Engineering Design (PED) Ordered

Language in the Senate Report to accompany the E&WD Appropriations bill for FY20, which was marked up by the full Appropriations Committee September 12, included good news on funding Pre-Construction Engineering Design (PED) for the Navigation & Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP): The report language said, “Of the additional funds recommended, the Corps shall allocate not less than $4,500,000 for PED of inland waterway lock and dam navigation and ecosystem restoration projects authorized by title VIII of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, including equitable consideration of ecosystem restoration components.” While this news is welcome, this report language must be supported in the House-Senate Conference ahead. Funding for NESP has been a WCI priority for many years and we are grateful that the Senate has taken this first significant step to initiate this project.


NESP is an unprecedented, multi-purpose authority allowing the Corps to integrate management of the Upper Mississippi River System’s infrastructure with ecosystem improvements. NESP includes construction of seven modern 1,200-foot navigation locks at vitally important lock locations (Locks and Dams 20, 21, 22, 24 and 25 on the Upper Mississippi River, and La Grange and Peoria Locks on the Illinois Waterway). Congress further authorized smaller-scale navigation efficiency improvements. NESP’s authorization includes $1.948 billion for the new locks and $256 million for the small-scale efficiency measures; $1.717 billion was authorized for a 15-year ecosystem restoration program and $10.42 million annually for its monitoring.


USDA Releases Study on Importance of Waterways to Agriculture

On August 28, a Town Hall Meeting was held at Mel Price Locks and Dam in St. Louis, organized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The purpose was to release a significant new study to quantify cost-savings and competitive advantages that would accrue from investments made to long-delayed inland waterways locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Waterway system.


The study, Importance of Inland Waterways to U.S. Agriculture, underscores the important connection between the inland waterways and the competitiveness of American agriculture in global markets.

U.S. farmers and agri-businesses, as well as the overall U.S. economy and balance of trade, depend upon and benefit from the inland waterways and its infrastructure, which provides the safest, lowest-cost and most environmentally sustainable and fuel-efficient way to move grain and other agricultural products. 


Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, accompanied by Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) R.D. James, unveiled the study, which was produced for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service by Informa Economics.

The study noted that:

  • U.S. farmers enjoy a competitive advantage in global export markets in large part because of the nation’s robust, resilient transportation and infrastructure network that moves corn and soybeans, the nation’s highest yielding crops.
  • Because of its efficiencies and lower costs, the inland waterways system saves between $7 billion to $9 billion annually over the cost of shipping by other modes. These values are based on all goods currently being moved on the water compared to the same volume transported by rail.
  • Every dollar of waterways activity output results in $1.89 in additional U.S. economic activity directly related to the waterways.
  • Compared to the status quo, increasing investment in the inland waterways system by $6.3 billion over a 10-year period (through 2029) and $400 million per year thereafter through 2045 cumulatively would grow the waterways’ contribution to U.S. gross domestic product by 20 percent (to $64 billion) and increase waterways-related employment by 19 percent – to 472,000 jobs. The study says this option would more than offset the cost of completing all the proposed projects, and would increase the market value of U.S. corn and soybeans by $39 billion. Conversely, reduced investment would decrease the market value of those commodities by $58 billion, the study says.
  • The inland waterways’ infrastructure is aging and needs major rehabilitation and construction to restore its full capability, forestall major disruptions and provide opportunities for growth. Most locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System have far exceeded their projected 50-year lifespan. Delays can cost operators and shippers more than $44 million annually.  For corn, delays on the Mississippi River could have up to a $0.24 per bushel negative impact.
  • While the United States currently has a $5.35 per metric ton advantage over Brazil when shipping soybeans on the inland waterways system (from Davenport, Iowa, to Shanghai, China), aging U.S. waterways infrastructure will increase the price to the end-user, lower the demand for U.S. grains and soybeans, and make them less competitive in global markets.

WCI and the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) issued a joint press release after the event, with WCI President/CEO Mike Toohey saying, “USDA’s study underscores the inland waterways as a conduit to our nation’s agriculture competitiveness, as well as to overall U.S. economic prosperity. We believe the study makes the case to expedite the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) that would modernize five locks on the Upper Mississippi River and two on the Illinois Waterway to be ready to capitalize on predicted grain shipments, while at the same time improving the health of our marine ecosystems and habitats.  NESP is awaiting Pre-Construction Engineering and Design (PED) funds to be ‘shovel-ready’ for these vital locks,” he continued. 


 “We appreciate the leadership of Secretary Perdue and USDA in once again spotlighting the importance of the U.S. inland waterways transportation system to U.S. agriculture’s global competitiveness and farmers’ bottom lines,” said NGFA President and CEO Randy Gordon. “Very importantly, this study quantifies the significant cost of further delays in rebuilding America’s inland waterway infrastructure, and it’s not a pretty picture. Foreign competition from countries like Brazil is only increasing given current trade disruptions, and China is investing aggressively in South America’s transportation infrastructure to the United States’ detriment.


“The United States simply can’t afford to lag behind any longer,” Gordon continued. “This study is a wake-up call to the White House Office of Management and Budget and Congress to make the PED funding for NESP available this year, and to ensure growing investments are continued and expedited in the tremendous natural resource that America’s inland waterways represent.” w


Former WCI President/CEO Donates Historic Waterways Records To Carnegie Mellon

In August, former WCI President/CEO and former DINAMO President R. Barry Palmer transferred his historical records to the Archives at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)-University of Pittsburgh (PITT) where they will now be available for researchers and scholars to better understand and write about the development of the nation’s Inland Marine Transportation System. Mr. Palmer’s records cover the critical development period on the Ohio River from the 1960s through the early 2000s, and detail many of the issues, discussions and legislative background of that era. Mr. Palmer was recognized and spoke at the August meeting of the Waterways Association of Pittsburgh (WAP) and presented his records to the curators of the combined archives at CMU and PITT.


Former Port of Pittsburgh Commission Executive Director Jim McCarville, and former Corps of Engineers’ Pittsburgh District Chief of Operations and Regulatory Division Richard Lockwood, now teachers of a CMU course on the value of the waterways to the economy and to quality of life, are particularly pleased with the acquisition. “Perhaps this will encourage others to archive and preserve some of the history of the world’s greatest inland navigation system,” Mr. Lockwood said. w


WCI Fall Waterways Symposium Expected to Make a Big Splash

Renowned global economic author Peter Zeihan (The Accidental Superpower) will keynote the 16th Annual Waterways Symposium and WCI Annual Meeting, November 6-8, 2019, in Pittsburgh, at the Fairmont Hotel, 510 Market Street.  The event is sponsored by Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI), IEG Vantage and Waterways Journal


Register before October 7 for savings at

The current schedule of events (subject to change) and symposium brochure is here:

Cost is $650 for Early Bird Registration (by October 7) and $725 after that date. Registration for guests attending social events only is $250/guest. 


Interested in sponsoring the event? Contact Deb Calhoun,  Sponsorship levels are Platinum: $5,000, Gold: $3,500, Silver: $2,000.


The deadline to reserve your room at the Fairmont Hotel under the group rate of $239/night plus tax is October 7. (For hotel reservations, please contact the hotel directly at (412) 773-8928 and reference “Waterways Council.”)  Online hotel reservations can be made here.


For questions, please contact Medina Moran, (202) 765-2115 or w


Photo Contest Accepting Photos Through September 30!

RiverWorks Discovery (RWD), WCI and Waterways Journal have teamed up for the third annual photo contest that runs through September 30. This year’s contest seeks towboat/barge action photos; infrastructure photos (locks & dams, bridges, buildings, cityscapes); people at work on the river; and nature shots (wildlife, conservation/cleanup efforts, historical sites along the river including steamships, paddle wheels, music, storytelling, rivermen performing daily tasks, work boats, and any creative ideas that promote the inland waterways). Winners will be announced and winning photos displayed at the upcoming Fall Waterways Symposium, November 6-8. Last year’s winners are shown below. w



WCI Spotlight Article: J.F. Brennan Company, Inc.

WCI member J.F. Brennan Company, Inc. (Brennan) is a marine construction, environmental remediation, and harbor management company focused on providing quality services to both public and private owners of marine-based infrastructure. For 100 years, they have worked closely with engineers, industry partners, government agencies, and other stakeholders. Brennan specializes in environmental services, marine and dam construction, commercial diving, harbor management, railroad construction, and hydrographic surveys.


What began as a small construction company along the banks of the Upper Mississippi River evolved into a diversified service provider with over 450 employees. Brennan’s extensive fleet of specialized dredges, amphibious equipment, tugboats, and marine construction equipment facilitated the completion of competitive projects throughout the decades.


Established in 1919 as Brennan Brothers Construction by James (Jim) and Eugene (Gene) Brennan in Lansing, Iowa, the company began by building small road bridges and culverts. During the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Brennan advanced to become one of the nation’s leading marine contracting firms. Founders Jim and Gene Brennan initially learned to make do with their existing equipment or to use their ingenuity and improvise the tools they needed. This experience fostered a knack for innovation that prevails as a core company value a century later.


In addition to being founded by brothers, Brennan recently entered their fourth generation of family ownership and leadership, with a workforce that boasts numerous multigenerational employees. The company attributes their longevity and positive reputation on a safety-first culture and genuine care for their number one asset: their employees.


What sets Brennan apart and accounts for their success is the evolution of a unique corporate philosophy called “The Brennan Way.” Perhaps best summarized as a love for the company and the work they do, The Brennan Way encompasses loyalty for people and their talents, the sense of family that pervades the company, and an intense pride in knowing that tangible achievements will stand as an enduring tribute to the people who performed the work.


Reflecting the difficulty and danger of daily activities in the marine industry, Brennan naturally emphasized safety and mutual concern from the start. Today, safety remains as the highest value of The Brennan Way, and the company invests heavily in safety management and resources. Strict adherence to honesty and transparency is a Brennan business value dating to the founding brothers, when a handshake sealed the deal and Brennan committed to uphold their end of the bargain.


This year, Brennan announced that they received their third consecutive Great Place to Work®-Certification. Great Place to Work 

President and CEO Matt Binsfeld credits Brennan’s important work and talented team for their success. “Being recognized as a Great Place to Work is a tremendous honor and well-deserved for all of the people who work so hard day in and day out here at Brennan. More than anything, I think this award speaks to the value of our wonderful culture, built around exceptional people, performing work that has deep purpose and meaning for the greater good of our country. People are at the foundation of everything we do and being the type of organization that grows and develops its people is how we’ll ensure we will exist throughout the next 100 years.”


“When it comes to maintaining and vastly improving the conditions on the inland waterways, WCI is a crucial advocate. WCI pushes for modernization of the waterways and funding for overdue rehabilitation on the infrastructure of our rivers, which is over 90 years old. Across 38 states, riverways are used to transport goods and without them, the U.S. economy, global market, and the livelihood of all who depend on the river system can suffer –as they did this spring with record high water. Plainly put, without a unified group of interested experts and government-savvy supporters, the safety and reliability of U.S. waterways are at risk,” Binsfeld continued.


For more information, call (800) 658.9027 or visit w


New Inland Waterways Users Board Members Sworn In

At the 92nd meeting of the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB) held in Springfield, VA on September 12, new members of the Board were sworn in, under the new Chairmanship of Rob Innis, LaFargeHolcim. Current Board Members include Chairman Innis; Vice Chairman Mike Monahan, Campbell Transportation Company; Matt Ricketts, Crounse Corporation; Mike Fewell, Dow Chemical Company; and David Earl, Marathon Petroleum Company. New Board Members are Dennis Oakley, Bruce Oakley, Inc.; Spencer Murphy, Canal Barge Company; Jeff Webb, Cargill, Inc., Cargill Marine and Terminal; Damon Judd, Marquette Transportation Company; Tim Powers, SCF Marine, Inc.; and Rob Rich, Shaver Transportation Company. w


Industry Calendar

October 14-15: Tennessee River Valley Association/Tennessee-Cumberland Waterways Council 53rd Annual Meeting (Nashville, TN, Embassy Suites at Cool Springs). Learn more here.

October 16-18: 75th Anniversary Fall Convention and Board of Directors Meeting, American Waterways Operators (San Diego, CA, Fairmont Grand Del Mar). Details here.

November 6-8: 16th Annual Waterways Symposium and WCI Annual Meeting (Pittsburgh, PA, Fairmont Hotel). Register at

December 5: Seamen’s Church Institute 20th Annual River Bell Awards Luncheon, (Paducah, KY, Paducah McCracken County Convention Center). Details here. w

Capitol Currents is published by:


Deb Calhoun – Editor

Michael J. Toohey – Publisher

499 S. Capitol Street, SW
Suite 401
Washington, DC 20003