Begich Increases Funding Opportunities for Alaska Ports, Jobs for Port Communities
WRRDA Bill Includes Key Begich Provisions, Paves the Way for Investment in Arctic Infrastructure
U.S. Senator Mark Begich hailed today’s passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), a key piece of legislation for the nation’s marine transportation infrastructure that includes a Begich provision changing guidelines that had made it very difficult for Alaska ports and harbors to get federal funding.
“This bill clears the way for federal investment in Alaska’s ports and harbors,” said Begich. “The investment will lead to better transportation infrastructure for the Arctic’s growing maritime traffic and will be a real economic boon for Alaska’s coastal communities that will lead to more family-wage jobs for Alaskans.”
This legislation is particularly important for Alaska, a state that relies on ports and marine transportation for nearly all sectors of the economy including consumer goods, fisheries, and natural resource extraction. Specific provisions include:
- Streamlining small harbor project approval and dedicating funds for Alaska: The provision included at Begich’s request represents a major overhaul of how port and harbor projects can be built in Alaska. The new language would allow small projects to avoid a cumbersome approval process in which they had to compete for funding with much bigger ports. Under the agreement small, remote and subsistence harbors in Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. territories can receive dedicated federal funding of up to $10 million per project.
- Arctic ports partnership: The provision, an amendment offered by the Alaska delegation, expands the authority of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to engage in partnerships with state, local and tribal governments to develop deepwater ports in the Arctic.
- Development of Seward harbor uplands: The provision, included at Senator Begich’s request, allows recently filled-in uplands from Seward’s harbor expansion to be developed by lifting the “navigational servitude” restriction and allowing for clear titles to the land to be issued.
- Continuation of Tribal partnerships: The provision authorizes the continuation of the Army Corps successful Tribal Partnership Program (TPP). The TPP allows the Army Corps to conduct studies to determine the feasibility of development projects that will substantially benefit Alaska Native villages.
The WRRDA Bill passed 412-4 in the House earlier this week and by a 91-7 vote in the Senate today. It is a strong showing of bipartisan support for the nation’s vital infrastructure. The last bill authorizing these projects passed Congress seven years ago, in 2007.
Nationwide, the WRRDA bill authorizes 34 water infrastructure projects while saving $18 billion by de-authorizing old, inactive projects. The bill also streamlines the environmental review process, ensures more money is available for local dredging operations, and sets aside the new funding stream for small ports outside of the Lower 48. Even with the additional new projects, the new WRRDA bill will cost the federal government half of its 2007 predecessor.
The WRRDA bill is supported by a wide array of trade and business associations, including the AFL-CIO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, Association of General Contractors of America, International Union of Operating Engineers and the National Governors Association.
Posted: May 22, 2014