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A publication of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association.
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February 2017 
 
 Waterways and their benefits explained 

     No matter how basic UMWA members think it is, many people don’t understand how a lock works, how important river commerce is to the economy and why water-borne transportation is the most environmentally friendly way to move things.
     To help, the Waterways Council has just published four new professionally produced videos on YouTube to explain those things.
     The four videos include “NESP Now!” which talks about how important waterways are to export and how badly the system needs investment.  “Waterways Deliver” demonstrates a direct connection between 500,000 American jobs and the system’s impact well beyond its banks.  “A Greener Way” shows viewers why barges are more efficient than other modes and also help relieve traffic congestion.  And, “How Locks Work” explains just that, but also points out that most locks and dams, especially those on the Mississippi/Illinois Waterway system are well beyond their expected service life.
     Workboat writer Pam Glass in her recent article is even more specific, pointing out that more than half of the country’s locks and dams are beyond 50 and a third are more than 70 years old.  Combine that with expected traffic increases, she says, and you have a recipe for trouble.
     For many, the question remains how to pay for this desperately needed infrastructure investment.  One commenter on the Wisconsin Public Radio web site thinks he has the answer.  “Caligula” says the government could, “Kill two birds with one stone” by legalizing cannabis.


 
Above: A harbor tow fleeting grain barges demonstrates that it doesn't require a lot of energy to efficiently move the large cargoes made possible by water transportation. 
 
From the Executive Director . . .
 
Two different trillion dollar infrastructure schemes
      President Trump’s draft list of 50 major infrastructure projects was put together by a Washington-based consulting firm, according to the Kansas City Star, a McClatchy paper.  McClatchy reported that the president's team, in December, gave the list to the National Governors Association in the form of two documents, a spreadsheet and a slide show.  But, according to the Star's article, the White House said that the documents were not "official" documents and Politico quoted a former member of Trump's transition team calling the slideshow document a fake.  Conversely, a congressional aide told McClatchy that both documents are working drafts that continue to be developed with input from the National Governors Association.  While counter charges continue and details remain foggy, the list of the initial 50 projects is nevertheless broad, ambitious and expensive.
 
Trump’s list of 50
     The Priority List of Emergency and National Security Projects from then President-elect Trump requires a total investment of $137.5 billion; would generate more than 193,000 direct job years with an additional 242,000 indirect job years over the “long term” with 50% funding from private investment. 
     Projects important to the efficient operation of the waterway industry include L&D 52-53 on the Ohio River; the Mississippi River Shipping Canal in Louisiana; Upper Mississippi River locks 20 – 25 (NESP); Illinois River LaGrange and Peoria (NESP); the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal in NOLA; the Tennessee River Chickamauga Lock; Upper Ohio River Navigation Improvements; the Monongahela River Locks and Dams; and reconstruction of the Soo Locks on the Great Lakes.
     In an apparent defensive measure to stay relevant, Senate Democrats recently announced their version of a “Trump-size” infrastructure plan to revamp the nation’s airports, roads, bridges and seaports.  Their plan, they say, would create 15 million jobs over 10 years and urged the President to back their proposal. 
     According to the Washington Post, unlike Trump’s plan, the Democrat’s infrastructure proposal would rely on direct federal spending and would span a range of projects including not only roads and bridges, but also the nation’s broadband network, Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, and schools.  Our nation’s infrastructure issues are vast, and go well beyond just road and bridge repair, stated Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). Senator Schumer, who observed during the presidential campaign that Trump “had a Democratic philosophy on trade, infrastructure and tax loopholes”, challenged him to work with us on these issues in a real way.
 
Senate Democrats list: a bid for common ground
     In “A Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure”, the Senate plan lays out 16 infrastructure categories ranging from surface transport modes to airports and waterways plus broadband and public lands; with a total expenditure over the next 10 years of $800 billion and the creation of 15 million new jobs.
     Ports and waterways improvements include $10 billion to support dredging, lock and dam maintenance and other coastal and inland waterway projects, including environmental infrastructure (think NESP).  In addressing the ports and waterways issue, the Blueprint recognized that every day, our ports and waterways handle millions of tons of domestic and international cargo which amounted to $1.7 trillion of U.S. goods in 2014 alone.  Additionally, the US Army Corps operates nearly 25,000 miles of commercial waterways, contributing to $18 billion of national revenues and over 500,000 jobs, annually.  Yet, despite their importance we have continued to under-invest in ports and waterways infrastructure. 

     Today, not a single U.S. container port is in the top 15 container ports globally.  The Army Corps of Engineers reports a total backlog of $56 billion in construction projects and $3.24 billion in Operation and Maintenance.  The Blueprint solution is to invest $10 billion to support dredging, maintenance of locks, dams, harbors and other water projects, including environmental infrastructure projects, shore protection and ecosystem restoration.
      Laying out arguments for public partnerships, Trump supporters argue that past Administrations allowed America’s infrastructure to crumble under the weight of endless studies, red-tape, and obstructionist lawsuits, and that tax credits would cost the government nothing because of increased tax revenue from new private spending, economic activity and employment.
     “Hogwash” say economists from across the political spectrum. “It is totally ill conceived,” said Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard University economist and former treasury secretary.
 
     The clash, over the plans, says the Washington Post, goes to the heart of one of Trump’s main campaign pledges — to boost infrastructure spending.  Unfortunately, however, neither the Senate Democrats nor Trump have come to grips with how they would pay for their respective plan without adding to the government’s budget deficit.
     Trump, continued the Post, given his background in commercial real estate and construction, has taken a personal interest in infrastructure projects, asking fellow real estate investors Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth to lead a new council devoted to giving him advice on infrastructure projects.
Referring to the word “trillion” LeFrak said of Trump:  “I think he’d like it to start with a “T”, but I think the number I’ve heard tossed around is around $550 billion.
      The Post also reported on a late January White House meeting between Trump and top congressional leaders including Senator Schumer:  “They thought that the [Senate Blueprint] was an area maybe to find common ground “when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the important point that [infrastructure improvements] need to be paid for because we’ve got a national debt of $20 trillion.
Schumer declined to elaborate on the White House visit: “We discussed some substantive issues, I’m not going to tell you what,” he told reporters.
 
      As The Waterways Journal pointed out in a recent issue, the Trump list of 50 calls for a 50 percent federal cost share with the other 50 percent provided by private financing of all infrastructure projects.  The Olmsted Locks and Dam already enjoys a 85/15 federal/waterway trust fund financing schedule due to recent reform legislation.
      All of which gives an updated meaning to an old proverb – be careful what you wish for.
 
Disclaimer:  Thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and not necessarily those of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association or its members.
 
Other items if interest...

* UMWA members can quickly tell you why waterborne transportation is important to the economy and the environment.  But perhaps even they didn’t realize that water movement provides a safe way to move whiskey barrels and improve the beverages flavor. Jonny Ver Planck, head distiller at Cane Land Distilling in Baton Rouge says the 150 barrels of product coming down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the distillery will benefit from the Ride. “The spirit should gain additional character from the rocking motion of the river on its journey south,” Ver Planck told one writer.  The company calls it OMFV (Original Mississippi Floated Whisky) and it will be aged and further mellowed in other barrels at the distillery.

*   Winter doesn’t halt river traffic on the Columbia/Snake system, but maintenance projects do.  Lt. Col. Damon Delaros, commander of the Walla Walla Corps of Engineers District says it’s done in the winter to minimize disruption, although one estimate says the Ice Harbor lock would have been used about 250 times during the December to February closure. 

*   River drawdowns aren’t limited to the navigable river.  St. Cloud, Minn., City Engineer Steven Foss says the two-foot drawdown at the St. Cloud Hydroelectric Facility is to replace manual trip gates with newer automated gates.

*   Missouri’s representatives in Congress are optimistic about legislation to allow the Delta Queen to resume overnight cruising.  The Senate Commerce Committee has approved S-89, that would exempt the Queen from current regulations if the new owners agree to replace at least 10% of the boat’s wooden structure each year with fire-retardant materials.

 
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