ShareThis Page

River projects need funds, group says

| Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, 9:27 p.m.
Sewickley Herald
A barge passes under the Sewickley Bridge as it makes its way along a foggy Ohio River Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald

WASHINGTON — The threat to barge traffic posed by low water levels on the Mississippi River portends more disruptions if the federal government doesn't pay a bigger share of the cost of lock and dam projects, according to a lobbying group.

“This is just a foretaste of what would happen on a regular basis if we don't find a way to fund our infrastructure,” said Debra Colbert, senior vice president of the Waterways Council Inc., based in Arlington, Va.

“It's always roads, rails and runways, but never rivers,” she said. “We always get left out of the equation. We need to be at the table with the big boys.”

The council is backing legislation that, while authorizing a 6-cent-per-gallon increase in the 20-cent fuel tax paid by commercial river-boat operators, would have the Army Corps of Engineers pay the full cost of construction projects of less than $100 million on inland waterways. The legislation would make the corps fully responsible for cost overruns and all construction projects on dams, regardless of cost.

Barges carrying grain, soybeans, coal, oil and other commodities on the Mississippi River have started to reduce their loads to navigate waters shrunk by the worst drought in 50 years. By the end of this month, rock structures in the river near southern Illinois threaten to curtail traffic as the river recedes, according to a Dec. 5 forecast from the National Weather Service.

Most costs of inland waterways improvements, including overruns, are split between the corps and the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which is financed by the barge-operator fuel tax.

The Ohio River in Western Pennsylvania is not experiencing drought-related problems, said James McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.

“We have not had serious low-water problems,” McCarville said. “And with the current rain, it appears we are not headed that direction, at least on the upper Ohio River.”

On Monday, the Ohio River at the Emsworth Dam was at 16.06 feet, according to Army Corps of Engineers measurements.

The corps covers all costs of the inland system's operations and maintenance, which have averaged more than $500 million annually in recent years, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has announced plans to include similar measures in a broader waterworks bill that will include ocean port projects.

— Trib Total Media contributed.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.