WRDA 2016 Headed for House-Senate Conference Negotiations
The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) is focusing on three key priorities for the 2016 Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, in advance of it being finalized by a House-Senate conference committee.
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved its version of the bill on September 29 by a vote of 399 to 25, while the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved its version on September 15 by a vote of 95 to 3.
AAPA’s top three priorities are continuing the progress toward full use of the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) and providing greater donor equity; modernizing the channel deepening cost-share formula; and making efficiency and technical improvements to enable the program to run more efficiently.
“AAPA urges passing WRDA 2016 this year, enabling the much-needed return to biennial legislation and authorizing 21st century navigation channel improvements,” said AAPA President and CEO Kurt Nagle.
As a vital part of the path to full utilization of the HMT, AAPA supports an extension of the historic WRRDA 2014 water resources agreement that provided more equity for ports where much more is collected in HMT revenues than is spent. Of the nearly 200 U.S. ports where the HMT is collected, the top six donor ports generated 49 percent of the HMT revenues while receiving only 4 percent in return. To address this imbalance, Congress authorized a new program for donor and energy transfer ports which expires in 2018 and needs to be reauthorized. Other transportation fees, such as the federal gas tax and airline passenger facility charges, provide more fairness in terms of returning funds to the area where they were collected. Both the House and the Senate versions include provisions to extend or make permanent funding for donor and energy transfer ports.
Next, AAPA supports modernizing the cost-share formula to help bring America’s navigation channels into the 21st century. WRDA 2016 can do this by changing the cost-share deepening level from 45 feet to 50 feet. In 2014, Congress changed the cost-share level for maintenance dredging to 50 feet and this provision would make the cost-share formulas for maintenance and deepening comparable. The original deepening formula was established 30 years ago in WRDA 1986. Enormous changes in global shipping have occurred since then; there have been seven generations of containerships deployed, with ship sizes increasing from 3,000 to 18,000 twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs. The Senate bill includes this provision but not the House.
AAPA supports including efficiency improvements and technical changes into WRDA 2016 that would streamline and expedite projects. A technical change in the Senate bill that AAPA requested is to assure annual progress is made towards full use of the HMT revenues.
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