Governor Kitzhaber today applauded the inclusion of dedicated funding for dredging and maintaining small coastal ports in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. The move is the latest step to secure consistent funding for harbor maintenance in small ports nationwide, including commercial ports on the Oregon coast. Oregon's small ports will be able to compete for a share of the funds each year.
"This decision is a huge step to help stabilize the availability of dredging funds for Oregon's coastal communities," said Governor Kitzhaber. "Commercial and recreational boating and fishing and small businesses along Oregon's coast all rely on predictable dredging of these ports for their economic well-being. This bill will help create jobs while improving safety in communities up and down the Oregon coast."
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act, or WRRDA, authorizes how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) uses the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, the traditional source of federal funds for dredging and harbor maintenance. The language in the bill guarantees the nation's small ports will receive at least 10 percent of annual funding provided for dredging over the next eight years. Assuming funding levels stay consistent, this will generate at least $90 million annually for small port maintenance and represents an $11 million increase above funds made available for 2014. In recent years, funding for most of Oregon's small ports and harbors has not been included in administration budget requests to Congress.
The Governor has been working with Oregon's Congressional delegation to secure federal maintenance dredging funds this year and in the future. In anticipation of WRRDA, last December Governor Kitzhaber wrote WRRDA conferees, saying, "Oregon cannot go it alone in perpetuity to pay for this long-standing federal obligation." The Governor was referring to 2013, when federal funding for dredging was nonexistent. In response, Governor Kitzhaber partnered with the Oregon Legislature to secure approximately $5 million in state funds to pay the USACE to dredge several Oregon coastal harbors.
Oregon also successfully competed for dredging funds in the 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Act. Prior to the bill's passage, the Governor wrote USACE Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy outlining why Oregon's ports deserved funding.
The Governor praised the efforts of Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Representative Peter DeFazio, who have secured small ports language in each chamber's respective WRRDA bill. Representative DeFazio, a WRRDA conferee, helped negotiate the final language in the 2014 WRRDA conference report and kicked off the national campaign in support of funding for small port dredging early in 2013 at an event in Brookings. The Governor also thanked state legislators in the Oregon Coastal Caucus for their tireless advocacy for Oregon's ports.
The U.S. House and Senate will each vote on WRRDA, and if passed in both chambers, it will go to the president's desk for his signature.