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Army Corps of Engineers sets priorities for inland waterways projects

May 22, 2024   Workboat

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has released its “work plan” for spending on priority waterways modernization projects around the country, signaling the advancement of many long overdue projects and the completion of one that has been in the works for 20 years.


The Biden administration’s investment in coastal ports and inland waterways “will strengthen the economy and help maintain our farmers’ competitive advantage in the global marketplace,” Michael Connor, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said in a statement last week.


Connor said resources have also been dedicated to assure the full reopening of Baltimore Harbor to maritime traffic after a container ship slammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, toppling the span into the Patapsco River, killing six construction workers in the early morning hours, and halting shipping traffic into the port for weeks.


The funds are contained in the Energy and Water Development section of the Consolidated Appropriations Act that was signed by the president on March 9. It provides $8.7 billion for the USACE civil works program. The work plan announced last week sets the agency’s priorities for spending this budget across numerous projects and studies in 50 states and territories and the District of Columbia for the upcoming year.


The following construction projects are included in the work plan:


• Complete the Chickamauga Lock on the Tennessee River ($236.8 million). This project has been ongoing since 2004.


• The Lower Monongahela River locks and dam near Pittsburgh ($41 million)


• The Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program ($75 million) to in part continue progressing toward future construction of a new 1,000-foot lock in LaGrange, Ill. Money would also help build mooring cells to assist inland navigation.


• The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System Three Rivers Project ($103 million) to create a 12-foot navigation channel along the 445-mile system, allowing an increase in barge cargo.


The legislation also includes a provision sought by the waterways industry that would ensure that cost escalations at these projects would not be paid for by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which draws half of its funding from a 29-cent per gallon tax on diesel fuel paid by the barge industry and the rest from general revenue. The industry argued that the private sector should not be penalized for cost escalations of these projects by depleting the Fund, which would leave less money for other priority navigation projects.


Money would also be spent on the Sault Sainte Marie Locks in Michigan, jetty construction at the mouth of the Columbia River, enhancements to the Houston Ship Channel and various important maintenance and improvement work in the Mississippi River area.


“The stakeholders that advocated for the inland waterway system may be modest in number, but we continue to demonstrate an ability to punch above our weight class,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition in Ankeny, Iowa, whose organization lobbied for strong waterways funding.


“Farm and agricultural organizations, the barge and towing industry, inland waterways shippers, coastal and inland port authorities, organized labor and a host of others are to be commended for continuing to effectively advocate for a maritime transportation system that enables agriculture and other industries to remain competitive,” he said.


With the FY 2024 funding now set, Congress and stakeholders have now turned their attention to waterways funding in the FY25 federal budget, which is now working its way through Congress.