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Shippers, port groups dissatisfied with Corps of Engineers proposed budget

March 15, 2023   AgriPulse

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Groups representing waterway shippers and ports groups say the White House's $7.4 billion budget request for the Army Corps of Engineers fails to put enough of its trust funds toward construction and maintenance projects.


The fiscal 2024 budget proposes no allocations from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which pays for construction and major rehabilitation projects on inland waterways.


USACE Chief of Engineers Scott Spellmon said during a press briefing that the decision to not request any of the trust fund’s money is because the Corps’ is tied up with ongoing Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act projects like the Lower Mon Project (Monongahela River), Kentucky Lock and Dam, Chickamauga Lock and Dam (Tennessee River), Montgomery Locks and Dam (Ohio River) and the Mississippi River Lock and Dam 25.


"We want to finish what we start," Spellmon said. "We have a lot of work ongoing currently on inland waterways and we want to get this work finished before we open up the next round of important projects."


Tracy Zea, the president and CEO of Waterways Council, told Agri-Pulse that this was the first time in “recent memory” that a budget has not included any requests for IWTF funding. He said there are waterway projects in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Texas that could make use of the money, and now it will be up to Congress to determine whether to appropriate dollars towards these projects.


“It’s very concerning because now when we go to Congress to try to get our Inland Waterway Trust Fund dollars, it’s an uphill climb,” Zea said. “With them saying there’s no capability, it now becomes a Congress vs. the Corps fight and we’re solely reliant on Congress to potentially give us the money that these locks and dams need.”


The IWTF relies on a 29 cent-per-gallon per gallon diesel tax on shippers that generates around $110 million to $120 million for the fund each year, according to the Soy Transportation Coalition. These funds are then matched with Treasury revenue.


The Corps did request $1.726 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which pays for the maintenance costs of harbors. The HMTF relies on funds generated by a 0.125% ad valorem tax on imports, according to the Soy Transportation Coalition.


Jen Armstrong, the director of navigation policy and legislation for the American Association of Port Authorities, said her organization is disappointed that the Corps did not “make full use” of the HMTF, which has an estimated balance of around $9.25 billion. USACE could have asked for up to $2.77 billion to use based on the current rules surrounding use of the fund, Armstrong said.


“The budget request that comes out of the Corps, regardless of administration, has always been woefully under the need,” she said.


Similar to the IWTF, however, congressional appropriators will have the final say on the amount of funds to provide. Armstrong said Congress has often added additional funding to the final budgets in the past.


The USACE’s budget request does include $2 billion for its construction program, including $350 million for a previously unfunded bridge project at the Cape Cod Canal, and another $2.62 billion for its operations and maintenance program. The agency also will get $50 million in construction and $1 billion for operation and maintenance to use in 2024 through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.