Working to Develop an Integrated Maritime Transportation System
The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association is an advocacy organization for one of the nation’s longest water infrastructure projects stretching over 1,100 miles – the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AIWW). Additionally, the AIWW offers a direct connection between three of the nation’s top 10 ports measured by cargo value that we commonly refer to as ‘exit ramps to the world.’ In our role as advocates for the maintenance of the AIWW, we are cautiously optimistic about the national discussion revolving around infrastructure investment in the coming year, and the ability for the Administration and Congress to come together to integrate the Nation’s maritime system.
In looking to the future, it is important to reflect on the past year and efforts to address waterway maintenance from our federal partners, specifically Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), non-federal sponsors, and the dredging community itself.
In the President’s Budget for 2016, the AIWW began the appropriations process with only $7.2 million for the entire waterway. This amount was $6 million less than the final amount appropriated for the waterway in 2015. These funds are not allocated entirely for maintenance dredging as a substantial percentage is spent on the annual operation and maintenance of locks on the waterway.
In response, the AIWA requested that Congress increase funding for USACE to perform Operations & Maintenance (O&M) of Inland Waterways and Small, Remote and Subsistence Navigation, both of which could be used to fund waterway projects. In the final Energy & Water Appropriations bill, Congress increased the amount of federal funding available to these two categories of projects by $45 million and $48 million, respectively, and USACE determined which projects would receive increased funding in their work plan.
In the FY16 USACE work plan, the AIWW received a substantial increase in the amount of funding available for waterway maintenance as the original budgeted amount was increased to over $13.9 million. The additional funding is being used to conduct dredging projects to address substantial shoaling problems in North Carolina and Florida
as had been done in 2015 in South Carolina and Florida.
Additionally, we were focused on Section 2008 of the 2014 Water Resources Reform & Development Act (WRRDA 2014). This section required USACE to conduct an Assessment of Operations and Maintenance Needs for the AIWW and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and provide a report to Congress. Fortunately, the Congressional delegation along the waterway supported this effort in committee hearings and bi-partisan delegation letters, but no funding was provided and the report was not completed. However, through ongoing coordination with USACE, AIWA was provided the following information:
- The anticipated cost to return the project to the authorized dimensions because of backlog maintenance
- The annual cost of O&M of the AIWW assuming the channel has been fully dredged in the past to the authorized length, width and depth
- The annual O&M funding requested in the President’s FY 2016 Budget by District
- The amount of O&M funding received in FY 2016
Although a report was not provided, the information showed that the estimated cost to return the project to the authorized dimensions because of backlog maintenance would be about $126 million. Once the waterway is returned to its authorized dimensions, it was estimated to cost less than $50 million in annual maintenance. These estimates do not discriminate between federal and non-federal monies, but are an estimate of overall need for the entire 1,100 miles. We believe that with a concerted federal and non-federal funding effort, the most critical shoaling areas can be addressed and the overall maintenance needs reduced to a number more in-line with the annual maintenance needs.
Why are we cautiously optimistic in 2017? First, we are pleased that President-elect Trump proposed a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure development as part of his platform for election. Water transportation is clearly the most cost-effective and environmentally-sound means of freight movement. If estimates from the U.S. Department of Transportation are correct and freight movement increases by 45% by 2040, it will be incumbent upon us to develop and maintain all possible avenues for moving products in the decades to come. We see the AIWW as an integral piece of the puzzle for the eastern seaboard and the nation.
Secondly, although the amount of AIWW funding included in the President’s FY 17 budget is less than the FY16 amounts, Congress provided additional funding for inland waterways and small, remote and subsistence navigation projects in previous years, and both houses of Congress included
additional funding in their individual FY17 appropriation bills before the election. These funding categories were included with bi-partisan support and we are looking to increased funding through future USACE work plans as was done in previous years.
Finally, we have a clearer picture of the O&M needs for the AIWW. These estimates provide us a roadmap to pursue additional non-federal partners to supplement federal funding for their section of the waterway while continuing to pursue federal appropriations. This year holds plenty of unknowns regarding federal investments, but we believe we have new opportunities to raise awareness and secure additional funding as we continue to be the Voice of the Waterway.
Brad Pickel is Executive Director Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association.
(As published in the February 2017 edition of Marine News