Obama’s new budget splits opinions


Originally hailed for its solid Infrastructure Programme, the FY 2015 budget has come under flack for neglecting valuable dredging projects.

The ports of Manatee, Florida, and Charleston Harbour, South Carolina, are two of only three granted the funding needed to continue deep-dredging studies in the newly outlined financial budget.

The news comes as both a shock and a surprise to the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), who only earlier last week sang the president’s praises.*

At a total of US$4.56 billion, ‘the Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works funding has decreased by 5.8 percent from last year’s budget.

Charleston was one of only three ports to benefit from the new budget. Image: Jonathan LambThe AAPA voiced further disappointment on hearing that a nine percent decrease in the operations and maintenance project has been put forward. Whilst experiencing a 2.8 percent increase from the year previous, the suggested $1 billion comes nowhere near the amount gained in Harbour Maintenance Tax (HBT) which funds the programme.

The presidential proposal considers using only 51 percent of the yearly collections gathered to finance works to increase harbour quality, whilst the remainder will be added to the ever growing Harbour Maintenance Trust Fund, which currently stands at $8.1 billion.

Kurt Nagle, AAPA CEO, voiced this feeling of disappointment stating that “the Corps of Engineers’ budget proposals fall well short of the waterside maintenance and modernisation needs of this country.

“We were disappointed to see that the budget request for Corps port-related programs decreased from the FY 2014 enacted budget in both the operations and maintenance and the construction accounts, despite the President's call to upgrade US ports and the goal of doubling exports.”

“Our nation is at a critical point in maintaining our international competitiveness, and the FY 2015 budget request would result in trade-related infrastructure losing further ground at a time when we are already behind many of our competitors.”

This rather dampening message comes at a time where the world’s ports are preparing for the influx of larger vessels associated with the Panama Canal expansion project, slated for completion towards the end of 2015.

Swimming against the tide

The ports of Manatee and Charleston were two of the very few who managed to benefit from the cuts.

Both ports will gain the necessary funding needed to complete projects that will allow the passage and docking of larger vessels.

The administrative budget has agreed to supply the full $100,000 needed for primary reconnaissance at the Port of Manatee to increase depth. 

By increasing harbour depth to 45-feet, the port will be more than adequate to handle the majority of ships traversing the expanded waterway. 

Charleston Harbour officials were also successful in gaining the $695,000 they needed to continue the critical dredging study already underway at the port.

The Army Corps are currently in the middle of a feasibility study in Charleston, and with financial backing from the proposed budget, are expecting to prepare the harbour for dredging come September 2015, in lieu with the opening of the canal extension.

Obama’s budget is expected to further aid the project by injecting another $19 million for maintenance dredging and $1.5 million for surveying and environmental work.

A further $1.6 million will be provided to make improvements to the dredge disposal site along Clouter Creek, near Daniel Island.

However the funds go little further.

The Port of Georgetown is one of the many desperate to receive dredging work yet has not received the same fortune as the aforementioned.

Located 70 miles up the coast from Charleston, the small break-bulk facility has been in hot water the past few years. Channel waters have been steadily rising, reducing the ports ability to handle cargo.

The port is in urgent need of re-dredging in order to maintain normal operations. However in 2003, the terminal dropped below the annual one million tonnage rate needed to gain financial support.

The situation places Georgetown in between a rock and a hard place – they cannot gain the necessary tonnage needed for backing to complete the dredging operation, but can’t handle the tonnage needed with the current depth.

Similar disappointment came to the Port of Savannah, Georgia, which also plans on capitalising on the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Financial backing needed to complete the $652 million Savannah Harbour Deepening Project (SHEP) failed to materialise in 2015’s budget.

Nevertheless, Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal (left) was not deterred by the news, considering whether to invest state money to finance the project, an option that may gain favour after the restrictive nature of the new outline.

Many questions arise as to why several busy ports such as that of the Port of Savannah have missed out on the dredging opportunities. Some officials have placed the selectiveness of the new budget down to tactical planning.

Manatee Harbour is considered to be one of the closest deep-water seaports to the expanding Panama Canal, and therefore a sensible choice in regards to handling the influx of larger vessels. Similarly, the works at Charleston make sense to fund as they are already well underway.

Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, notes the almost utilitarian aim of the new budget, using the money for the greatest returns for the greatest number of people: “This is a performance based budget that funds the construction of projects that provide the greatest returns on the nation’s civil work investments for the economy, environment and public safety.”

“The budget continues to reflect the tough choices necessary to put the country on a fiscally sustainable path.”

With tough decisions, there are both winners and losers.

Still, after the enthusiasm shown from the Presidential tours and discussions in 2013, the budget comes as a shock not only to the AAPA, but to the many ports that weren’t so lucky.

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