Today, Congresswoman Lois Capps (CA-23) hailed the passage of a bipartisan measure based on legislation she helped introduce last year to keep our harbors dredged. The proposal came in the form of an amendment to H.R. 4348, legislation regarding federal highway, transit and other transportation programs, and would protect funding for regular maintenance and dredging of the nation's harbors by making sure that funds available in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) match revenue expended from it each fiscal year. The amendment is based the Realize America's Maritime Promise Act (RAMP) Act (H.R. 104) which Capps and a bipartisan group of other Representatives introduced. The RAMP Act is also supported by a large coalition of organizations, including maritime businesses and agricultural operators, as well as the California Marine Affairs and Navigation Conference, which represents Central Coast ports and harbors.
The amendment will now be a focus of debate in the upcoming conference committee of House and Senate members to negotiate a long-term transportation bill. Capps has been pushing for finalization of the transportation bill for months.
Our ports and harbors are a vital part of our local economy, but the growing backlog of dredging needs at these waterways continues to stand in the way of their full utilization," said Capps. "I've heard repeatedly from Central Coast port directors and harbor masters that their navigation channels aren't being maintained at their authorized depths. And while I've been able to work with both Republican and Democratic administrations to secure federal funds to conduct critical maintenance dredging on the Central Coast, I know that more can and must be done. That's why I supported this common sense amendment to ensure HMTF funds will be used for their intended purpose -- the dredging and maintenance of our coastal ports and harbors."
Across the country, silt accumulation and a growing backlog of maintenance dredging needs continues to stand in the way of the full utilization of our nation's ports and harbors. Today, an alarming two-thirds of our nation's navigation channels are not maintained at their authorized depths. And, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the backlog of needed maintenance dredging projects grew from $2.36 billion to $3.25 billion last year.
For too long, user fees deposited into the HMTF have not been fully utilized to maintain and support ports and harbors. For example, at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2012, the HMTF had a surplus of approximately $6.2 billion; yet, the funding was not being used to address the backlog of necessary maintenance dredging needed to sustain maritime infrastructure, but instead other federal programs. Similarly, the 2013 budget assumes a level of revenue $1.66 billion into the HMTF while utilizing $839 million, or 51 percent, of the fund's revenue. At the end of 2013, the budget projects a balance in the fund of about $7 billion.
Central Coast ports and harbors, including Morro Bay, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Channel Islands and Port Hueneme require annual or semi-annual dredging. Delays or decreases in federal funds to maintain these ports and harbors could negatively impact regional and national commerce, reduce economic competitiveness, and increase the risk of vessel groundings, collisions, and pollution incidents.
"Going forward, I'll be working to ensure that the language passed by the House today to protect port and harbor funding is included in the final transportation bill signed by the President," added Capps.