In May, 2016, the US Senate enthusiastically passed the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2017. Funding includes $6 billion for the US Army Corps of Engineers and $1.3 billion for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. This funding represents an increase of $11 million over last year, is more than that which was requested by the administration, and reflects the US' commitment to increasing foreign exports. The House's version of the bill now needs to be acted upon; then, the legislation will go on to the President for his signature.
The Civil Works Program of the US Army Corps of Engineers is the agency responsible for the maintenance of and improvements to navigable waterways. The funds will go toward harbor improvements, channel deepening, flood storm damage reduction, shore protection, aquatic ecosystem restoration, operations and maintenance, and construction.
As specified in the US Army Corps of Engineers proposed budget, 2017 projects will include a variety of work or studies on inland lakes and dams, coastal harbors and inland waterways with high commercial traffic, and harbors with significant commercial fishing or public transportation benefits. It will also include writing proposals for the deepening and/or widening of eleven US harbors/channels: Houston Ship Channel (TX), Manatee Harbor (FL), Matagorda Ship Channel (TX), Mississippi River Ship Channel – Gulf to Baton Rouge (LA), Mobile Harbor (AL), New Haven Harbor (CT), Norfolk Harbor (VA), Port of Long Beach (CA), San Juan Harbor (PR), Seattle Harbor (WA), and Unalaska Harbor (AK).
During 2017, the Corps is expected to complete a variety of construction projects including the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Bridge Replacement at Deep Creek, Chesapeake (VA), Delaware River Deepening (NJ, PA, DE), and the Oakland Harbor 50-foot project (CA). Ongoing construction projects include the $42.7 million Savannah Harbor Expansion (GA). Full information on items in the proposed budget can be found here.
The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund was established in 1986 to fund the operation and maintenance of Federal ports and harbors. A harbor maintenance tax is charged against the value of imports and domestic cargo arriving at US ports with federally-maintained harbors. Generally, the funds are to be used for dredging and other maintenance items. Each year about $1.8 billion is collected, but Congress has, previously, only appropriated a fraction of that amount, reserving the balance to be spent on items unrelated to port development. This is something that the oversight of the fund has been criticized for in the past as this amount of appropriation is not sufficient for the Fund to fulfill its mission.
As reported in TheHill.com, less than 35% of the time are the full depth and width of our coastal ports available, forcing ships to carry less cargo or to wait for high tide to enter harbor waters. In 2015, the Water Resource and Reform Development Act established a method to increase harbor funding so that all taxes collected would be put to use by 2025. However, this latest appropriation is once again less than the amount being collected for use in harbor maintenance as was the appropriation in 2016.