A bipartisan group of 25 senators urged the Office of Management and Budget to allocate all money collected through the Harbor Maintenance Tax for port dredging in its fiscal 2014 plan.
The senator cited language in the recently passed surface transportation bill stating the administration “should request full use” of the tax, which is expected to fill the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund with roughly $8 billion by the start of fiscal 2014. Annual budget requests over the past few years for operating and maintenance of harbors and ports have averaged about $800 million, according to the Aug. 14 letter sent to OMB Acting Director Jeffrey Zients.
“Inadequate funding has resulted in channels getting narrower and shallower due to inadequate dredging, which has resulted in ships having to light-load, increasing the cost of shipping, this risk of vessel grounds, collisions, and pollution incidents. This situations is totally unacceptable,” Democratic Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin wrote.
The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that major cargo ports that handle about 90 percent of commercial traffic are only dredged to their authorized depths 35 percent of the time. Under the current version of the fiscal 2013 budget, ports will get about $1.1. billion in dredging dollars.
“With 13 million jobs and $4 billion in economic activity dependent on the ports and harbors, we cannot let them fall into further disrepair,” the letter stated. “Because waterborne transportation is often the least expensive means of transporting vital commodities and goods, maintaining this essential infrastructure bolsters our economic competitiveness and strengthens the economy.”