New U.S. infrastructure funding will improve grain and energy shipments transported along the inland waterways thanks to improved port, lock, and dam upgrades, according to Paul Matthews, executive director of the Port of South Louisiana:
“We’re so grateful to Congress and President Biden for passing the Infrastructure Act. We all recognize the importance of infrastructure. Our port and the Mississippi River are connected to thirty-two states and two Canadian provinces.”
Tracy Zea, president, Waterways Council, Inc. based in Washington D.C. also hailed the impact of last year’s Infrastructure Act. He said new funding reduced the current $8 billion of backlogged lock and dam projects by $2.5 billion.
This leaves $5.5 billion in projects that still need funding.
Matthews and Zea were speaking to the Propeller Club of Northern California (PCNC) during National Maritime Day presentations held on May 18th.
The presenters were introduced by Joel Whitehead, executive vice president, International Propeller Club of the United States who cited the importance of the Inland Waterways and Great Lakes to the nation’s economy.
Importance of Port Infrastructure on Food Exports
Matthews said the war in Ukraine has created an emergency need for more U.S. food exports and said more infrastructure spending will be necessary:
“Our grain exporters that include ADM, Bunge, and Zen Noh Grain are looking to expand their exports because of food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine. The infrastructure grants that we are applying for will help these companies expand. They are feeling the pinch from demand for corn and wheat particularly in Europe and North Africa and in China … we are feeling the pinch even though we are 5,900 miles away from this conflict.”
Matthews said that in 2021: “229 million tons of cargo were handled at the Port of South Louisiana via over 3,160 oceangoing vessels and 55,284 barges.”
The Port is the embarkation point for “over 50% of all U.S. grain exports” including: 26.4 million tons of maize, nearly 18 million tons of soybeans, over 2 million tons of animal feed, 1.3 million tons of wheat and 390,000 tons of various other grains such as rice and sorghum.
Matthews noted that agricultural exporters have told him that inland waterway ports need to upgrade their facilities with more on-dock rail: “I met with these three exporters in January and what they were most interested in was on-dock rail. They need on-dock rail and new tracks to have the capacity to move this cargo. In particular Zen Noh has the largest grain terminal in the world in terms of throughput. This is why we are excited about the Infrastructure Act.”
On May 19th, Mayors of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative, the Soy Transportation Coalition, and the Port of South Louisiana held a press conference to urge that U.S. policymakers promote food security issues to a higher priority.
They said that the Ukraine War, climate stress, geopolitical shifts in energy production, and global supply chain disruptions are colluding to “amplify food security considerations.”
Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition said:
“It is imperative for the United States to ensure our food delivery system is as efficient and reliable as possible – particularly during such a period of global uncertainty. American farmers have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to produce safe, healthy, and affordable food for domestic and international customers, but we need to have a transportation system that can effectively connect supply with demand. Maintaining and improving our roads, bridges, railroads, inland waterways, and ports must continue to be one of our nation’s highest priorities,”
Infrastructure Funding Benefits
In his presentation Zea listed the states benefitting from infrastructure funding for lock and dam improvements:
“The projects that have been selected for funding include two projects in Arkansas and Oklahoma, Illinois received two, Missouri received one, Kentucky received one, and Pennsylvania received two. There is one new lock located down in Texas that is authorized on the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway.”
Zea also noted that the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) “… was established to set policy for the Army Corps of Engineers for the next two years. This authorizes the deepening of coastal ports new lock authorizations and flood control. One thing in the wording of the bill we will be advocating for is in the Senate Bill but not in the House Bill and that was for adjusting the cost share for the inland waterways projects which is currently 65% which comes from the general revenue and 35% comes from the inland waterways for new construction. The inland waterways trust fund … is funded by a 29-cent diesel fuel tax on the inland waterway operators. The Senate, recognizing the role of the supply chain and inflation, has proposed adding more money for construction by increasing the cost share to 75% out of the general revenue and 25% out of the inland waterway trust fund. What this does is provide an additional $1.3 billion toward construction on the inland waterways.”
Zea estimated the new bill would be enacted by September.
He explained that Waterways Council Inc is supported by a coalition of commodity shippers, waterways operators as well as labor unions and environmentalists: “Our members include the operators that are pushing the barges and all the different commodities that are shipped in bulk… we have a strong building trades presence with the carpenters and laborers of the AFL-CIO. Most of our locks are being built by our building trades. Then we have the Nature Conversancy and Ducks Unlimited on the ecosystem side where we support programs on the Upper Mississippi River…”
Matthews also emphasized the importance of federal funding for deepening the Mississippi River to help Louisiana ports accommodate bigger ships:
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with the State of Louisiana and our Congressional delegation have deepened the lower Mississippi River to 50 feet in draft all the way up to Baton Rouge. That is significant for us but also for the Ports of New Orleans, Plaquemines, and the Port of Baton Rouge to move more containerized cargo. At a time where we are talking about feeding the world, we have to make sure that this infrastructure is there.”
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