Posted on February 1, 2021
DredgeWire’s publisher Peter Bowe recently had the opportunity to interview Sen Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi about his personal engagement in the recent passage of WRDA and his overall commitment to adequate funding of Dredging.
Here are excerpts from that conversation:
DW: The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) was reformed not long ago to re-allocate more money to ports and to Dredging, as was originally intended by the law.
Can you describe your role in this process and why you supported it?
Decades of partial appropriations of HMTF collections have left many navigation channels across the country with depth and width restrictions. As a result, companies are forced to move freight inefficiently.
I supported a provision in the CARES Act to take expenditures from the HMTF off budget so that the trust fund could be used for its intended purpose. This unlocks an estimated $24 billion in HMTF revenue over the next decade for dredging and other harbor maintenance projects without unduly constraining annual appropriations.
I also supported passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020. This legislation included significant provisions to reconfigure the trust fund’s allocation of revenue to ports. Starting in two years, our nation’s commercial strategic seaports, energy transfer ports, donor ports, and emerging harbors are set to receive fixed percentages of revenue to support various improvement projects that meet the unique needs of such ports.
Overall, these actions are a major win for our nation’s ports and commerce. A stronger network of U.S. ports will depend on continued partnership with the dredging industry.
DW: One of the leading dredging companies in the US, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock, is now working on a project off of Mississippi to help restore coastal barriers. How and why is it important to your state?
Coastal barrier protection projects mitigate the risks of storm surges and flooding by rebuilding protective islands offshore. Mississippi has natural barrier islands that protect our coasts from taking the brunt of major storms, but they have suffered severe land erosion over the decades.
The recent $400 million restoration of Ship Island off our coast is a prime example of how dredging material projects can be great for our economy and ecology while protecting the coastline. After being split in half by erosion caused by Hurricanes Camille and Katrina, Ship Island is now whole again. The long barrier island now provides better protection from severe storms.
With the most active hurricane season on record now behind us, it is clear how valuable the dredging industry is in restoring and protecting our shoreline.
DW. There is record funding now for the Corps of Engineers. Can it be sustained?
I am pleased to see continued funding for our Army Corps of Engineers’ projects. The $7.4 billion for Civil Works in fiscal year 2021 is a testament to Congress’s commitment to these projects. Taking the HMTF off-budget provides the opportunity for Congress to deliver an additional boost. I am also glad Congress has recognized the benefit of funding the Army Corps as a portion of the disaster supplemental. I will continue supporting efforts to fund our Civil Works program and improve and protect our communities and waterways.
DW: You probably already realize this, but robust Corps investment in shore protection, navigation improvements and better maintenance has resulted in a building boom in the domestic dredging industry. Can you comment on that?
The Corps’s investment into our nation’s ports and harbors is a win for our economy and our many industries and organizations that support these projects, including dredging. These industries provide excellent jobs to our citizens that directly support commercial trade and our nation’s economy, not just in Mississippi. The dredging industry plays an integral role in the success of our maritime commerce, which generates nearly $4.6 trillion in total economic activity and supports 23 million American jobs.
DW: Thank you Sen Wicker for all you do and all you have done to strengthen the American economy through your support of dredging and our maritime infrastructure.
Thanks for your time as well.