President Obama signed bipartisan legislation this week acknowledging that recreational boating is a significant contributor to the nation’s economy, according to BoatUS, which said it will work to implement the law.
Obama signed the $12.3 billion 2013 Water Resources Reform and Development Act, or WRRDA, which passed the House and Senate earlier this month. The bill passed the House by a 412-4 vote. The Senate approved it by 91-7.
BoatUS said the bill recognizes that the federal government needs to do more to help small harbors, address longstanding dredging issues and improve boating and navigation infrastructure.
“Maintenance dredging for small harbors and shallow-draft channels has been chronically underfunded,” BoatUS government affairs senior program coordinator David Kennedy said in a statement. “In addition, funding for infrastructure such as jetties and some inland navigation locks has been significantly curtailed.”
WRRDA directs the Army Corps of Engineers to consider factors beyond total tonnage shipped in making dredging funding decisions, requires that not less than 10 percent of the value of operation and maintenance funds be directed to “emerging harbors,” or those that have less than 1 million tons of cargo shipped annually, and directs the Corps of Engineers to report to Congress on the maintenance needs of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.
Also, WRRDA for the first time treats the Great Lakes as a single comprehensive navigation system, potentially allowing funding for dredging of smaller harbors. In addition, the Corps of Engineers is directed to study potential new revenue sources for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and is required to consult recreational users, among other stakeholders.
Larry Innis, legislative affairs representative in Washington for the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, called WRRDA one of the most important bills facing the industry. “Dredging and access to the water are very important for anglers and recreational boaters and sailors,” Innis told Trade Only.
“From small West Coast ports to Great Lakes harbors of refuge, inland locks and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, boat owners depend on federal waterway infrastructure projects to keep them safe and provide authorized waterways deep enough for us to navigate,” Kennedy said. “With 12 million registered boats in the U.S. and over 80 million persons participating in boating, we also need to remember that boating generates $121 billion in U.S. economic activity and over 950,000 jobs.”
A water resources bill was last enacted in 2007; the new measure contains many important legislative priorities for boaters, including funding for dredging and critical infrastructure projects, the National Marine Manufacturers Association said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., EPW Committee ranking member and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., Transportation Committee ranking member, issued the following statement on the bipartisan bicameral agreement:
“We are proud to deliver what the American public wants and needs. This conference report maintains ports and navigation routes for commerce and the movement of goods, provides flood control that protects lives and property and restores vital ecosystems to preserve our natural heritage. This important measure will strengthen our nation’s infrastructure and keep America competitive in the global marketplace.”