UPDATED: U.S. Congress Passes Water Resources Bill
The United States Congress passed a new water resources bill over the weekend.
The House of Representatives passed a final version of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN) on Thursday by a vote of 360 to 61. The Senate passed the bill on Saturday by a vote of 78 to 21. President Obama signed the legislation into law on December 16.
The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) celebrated passage of the legislation, saying many of its recommendations were adopted to help the U.S. build and maintain twenty-first century seaport water infrastructure.
The legislation also “enables the much-needed return to biennial legislation in order to authorize twenty-first century navigation channel improvements in a timely manner,” said AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle.
The bill also moves forward harbor and channel deepening projects such as that being undertaken by the South Carolina Ports Authority.
The bill, following AAPA recommendations, modernizes the cost-share depth for navigation construction projects from 45 to 50 feet deep to reflect the growing size of the world vessel fleet. The 45-foot depth was established in 1986. The cost-share for maintenance was updated in WRRDA 2014 and this provision in WIIN makes maintenance and construction cost-share depths consistent.
Also at AAPA’s urging, WIIN includes authorization backstop language that ensures Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) funding targets will increase by three percent over the prior year, even if the HMT revenue estimates decrease, to continue annual progress towards full use of the HMT by 2025.
Another important element of the legislation is an AAPA-advocated extension of the HMT donor and energy transfer port provision. WIIN extends the program through 2020, along with a provisional extension to 2025 if the annual HMT appropriation targets are met or exceeded. In WIIN, Congress also included language that clarifies the process for HMT donor rebates and an expansion of this program for medium-size donor ports which handle over five-million tons of cargo annually.
The passage of WIIN moves the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project closer to securing the authorization necessary to begin construction.
The project was formally recommended for Congressional authorization in January with the issuance of the Record of Decision by the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works). The project has moved expeditiously through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers SMART Planning process and received strong support by all levels of government. In 2012 the South Carolina General Assembly set aside $300 million for the state share of the project.
Upon completion, the project will deepen the Charleston Harbor to 54 feet at the entrance channel and 52 feet in the harbor.
Thanks to the passage of WIIN, “we are well-positioned to be the deepest harbor on the east coast by the end of the decade,” said Jim Newsome, SCPA President and CEO.