If ever a legislative scenario existed in which the light at the end of the tunnel turned out invariably to be a train coming the other way, it would apply
to the longstanding challenge faced by the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers in accessing funds that sit in the
Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF).
It is no secret that maritime stakeholders across the
federal and private sectors are incensed over the existing
$9 billion in funds that have failed to be sufficiently appropriated by Congress for their intended purpose of
maintaining the nation’s harbors and navigation channels.
Passage last June of the Water Resources Reform
and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014 was seen as a
sound remedy for requiring that, within a 10-year window, 100 percent of the HMTF be used as intended.
But what troubles shippers, port operators, mariners
and a range of maritime officials across the nation is
the reality that the new law is not enough, particularly
in the face of project backlogs and the laws that deem
how money is appropriated by Congress.
The pace and process for freeing
up much-needed funds for their
intended purpose of dredging has
not met targets, say officials from the
Maritime Administration, the Army
Corps of Engineers and members of
Congress, among others. And it is
hampered by caveats and limitations
within the legislation that weigh
against other Army Corps projects,
all of which hinge on how Congress
is bound by limits in discretionary
spending and budget caps. Meanwhile, the HMTF will have developed a surplus of about $9.5 billion
by the end of fiscal 2015.
“Increased spending of HMTF is
needed to make essential infrastructure upgrades at our ports, but this
need not come at the expense of the
remainder of the Army Corps budget,” said Rep. Janice
Hahn, D-Calif. Hahn, whose district includes the port of
Los Angeles, has been leading the push in Congress for
mandatory spending of the HMTF, and has focused on
ensuring Congress meets the spending targets set forth
in WRRDA 2014.
“The Army Corps’ other responsibilities are also
important to our infrastructure needs. This should not
be an either/or situation,” Hahn told Seapower.
Last May, WRRDA 2014, the primary legislation by
which Congress authorizes the Army Corps’ missions,
overwhelmingly passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. On June 10, President Barack Obama
signed the bill into law. In his remarks, he addressed
directly the imperative for more dredging and harbor
maintenance in order to facilitate maritime commerce.
“As more of the world’s cargo is transported on these
massive ships, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got
bridges high enough and ports that are big enough to
hold them and accommodate them so that our businesses
Legislative caveats, fine print continue to bog down
Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund expenditures
By DAISY R. KHALIFA, Special Correspondent
Billions in Limbo
The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) was established in
1986 to fund the operation and maintenance of ports and harbors and is funded by the Harbor Maintenance Tax.
; More than $9 billion sits in the fund awaiting appropriation by
Congress for the intended purpose of maintaining the nation’s harbors and navigation channels.
; The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014,
passed last June, stipulates that, within a 10-year window, 100
percent of the HMTF be used as intended.
; The pace and process for freeing up the funds conflict with
other projects executed by the Army Corps of Engineers, as well
as limitations on Congress regarding discretionary spending and