US dredging applauds federal funding boost

Congress blocked a White House plan to remove coastal restoration from Army Corps oversight. Credit: Weeks Marine
Congress blocked a White House plan to remove coastal restoration from Army Corps oversight. Credit: Weeks Marine

Lawmakers in the US have set aside a record USD3.74 billion into an account used by American dredging contractors for maintenance dredging and rejected a White House scheme that would have weakened the US Army Corps of Engineers’ dredging oversight.

The funding, which is 25% more than what the Trump administration had recommended for the Army Corps’ FY19 Operations & Maintenance budget, passed the US House of Representatives on 13 September by a vote of 377 to 20, and passed the US Senate a day earlier by a vote of 92 to 5.

The allocation is part of a USD147.5 billion inter-department appropriations package that now awaits US President Donald Trump’s signature.

“It’s great that the Army Corps will not be reorganised, and it’s great funding all around,” commented Michael Gerhardt, assistant executive director for the Dredging Contractors of America.

Funding for the Corps’ entire FY19 Civil Works programme, which includes money for port deepening studies, increased 46% from the administration’s request of USD4.79 billion to USD6.99 billion.

The Association of American Port Authorities (AAPA) pointed out that the funding package, which also boosts dredging and other port construction work by 10% to USD1.54 billion year on year through the Harbor Maintenance Tax, marks the first time in more than a decade that the US Congress has sent more than one funding bill to the president’s desk before 30 September, the end of the fiscal year.

“Federal investments in navigation-related infrastructure are an essential and effective utilisation of limited resources, paying dividends through increased trade and international competitiveness, sustainable job creation, and more than [USD320 billion] annually in federal, state, and local tax revenues,” said AAPA president and CEO Kurt Nagle.

Language in the bill blocks a plan announced earlier this year by the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB), an agency within the White House, to move the Army Corps’ commercial navigation mission to the US Department of Transportation, and its responsibilities for coastal restoration to the US Department of Interior – part of a massive infrastructure overhaul scheme.

Mark Sickles, who heads corporate and government relations for New Jersey-based dredging contractor Weeks Marine, said the OMB’s Army Corps changes resulted out of frustration with the amount of time it takes to move projects through the permitting and authorisation process.

“[The Army Corps] gets a lot of criticism for that. They have a lot of laws that they have to comply with. But once that process is completed, they’re very good at contract management. They’re also very fair, which is especially important for dredging contractors. Most localities don’t have the expertise to put these packages together,” he told IHS Markit.

Sickles added that because shore protection is a significant market for the dredging sector, “It’s a good thing that Congress isn’t allowing that to be taken away from the Army Corps. We’re happy they’re staying intact.”