For what may be the first time, the U.S. has a transportation bill that acknowledges some goods move on the surface of the water.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., included in his transportation a “placeholder” for the Realize America’s Maritime Promise Act, or RAMP Act, which calls for all Harbor Maintenance Tax revenue collected each year to be used for its intended purpose: maintaining harbors and channels.
Although 40 percent of the House supports the measure, it lacked the approval of the House Ways and Means Committee, approval that was needed for inclusion in Mica’s legislation. Supporters hoped the RAMP Act sponsor, Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., could offer the measure as an amendment to the transportation bill.
Boustany launched his HMT campaign after finding the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund had a surplus of more than $6 billion, but the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t have enough money to maintain the country’s waterways. “There’s a lot hanging on this,” said Barry Holliday, executive director of the Dredging Contractors of America and chairman of a coalition supporting the RAMP Act.
“I’m still very optimistic. We have 171 co-sponsors, so there’s a lot of people out there who really believe strongly in this. We have the largest maritime coalition telling people this is important to our economy, and it’s important to jobs.”
Holliday said Boustany had a letter from the corps saying annual revenue from the Harbor Maintenance Tax, about $1.5 billion, is enough to adequately maintain all of the country’s active navigation infrastructure.
The corps tracked 59 ports that handle the largest tonnage, Holliday said. The results were sobering: The corps found that 33 percent of the time channels were insufficiently dredged to operate at full capacity. The result: Some vessels have to carry lighter loads, or two ships can’t pass each other in the channel.
“Clearly, there’s been a reduction in service over the four-year period that they’ve been looking at it,” Holliday said. “We’re definitely looking at a system of ports that are diminished in their level of service.
“We’ve been really lucky. If we had a series of hurricanes that raked up the East Coast or Gulf Coast, the money is just not there to respond to those kinds of dredging needs,” he said. “It’s a lot of risk.”