Congressional and industry opposition is mounting to an Obama administration plan to use some Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund money for purposes other than dredging ports and harbors, its sole use now.
At an April 13 hearing before the Senate appropriations energy and water development subcommittee, the Army's assistant secretary for civil works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, said the administration plans to develop a bill in the coming months that would allow the trust fund to finance port security and other non-dredging activities.
Several senators, including subcommittee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), expressed displeasure with the plan. Bills to ensure all trust-fund receipts continue to pay for dredging have drawn 77 co-sponsors in the House and 17 in the Senate. The trust fund is supported by a tax on imports and domestic cargo moving through ports and harbors.
Barry Holliday, the Dredging Contractors of America's executive director, says he is hopeful House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) may fold a maritime measure into the surface transportation reauthorization his panel is drafting.
Industry officials say several senators have urged Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to include the trust-fund measure in the next Water Resources Development Act.
Dave Sanford, the American Association of Port Authorities' director of navigation policy and legislation, says, “I can't find anybody that supports” the administration's proposal. He says the Corps has more projects than the trust-fund revenue can pay for. If trust-fund money were allocated for non-dredging uses, he says, “we would go from being in critical condition to being comatose.”
Holliday suggests the federal government could tap the roughly $22 billion a year in other fees and navigation-related revenue to fund non-dredging maritime work, such as port security. He adds, “I don't think they need to look at the harbor trust fund for that.”