Dredging is getting the heave-ho from the White House and the ports are unhappy. Its woes have garnered the most attention, because of the lobbying power of the AAPA (American Association of Port Authorities), but it's not the only maritime activity that has suffered in the budget.
Far more concern should have been shown about the distinct lack of interest for short sea, with the funds for that sector being snatched away in the scavenging hunt to find money for job and export promotion, along with social services programs. From the pessimistic and doom-laden tone of reactions, one could be forgiven for assuming that short sea has been canceled altogether. "The Administration's budget request includes no funding for the America's Marine Highway Program, which Congress authorized last year and the Administration supported," says the AAPA.
In fact, the 2011 budget has given something of a ghostly nature to the program. Everyone is sure that it exists , but no one can identify it exactly, because funding mostly depends on the Recovery and Reinvestment Act—which politicians have inferred has $1.5 billion available, without making firm promises.
Boosting short sea goes to the heart of the drive to create jobs and revive business for small and medium companies, which have been the main victims of the Great Recession. By its very nature, short sea uses smaller vessels and smaller boat yards, many of which are struggling to stay alive.
As for dredging, there is rather more than most people realize. The Army Corps of Engineers is getting a haircut in the form of a 10 percent reduction in civil works appropriations, which includes deep-draft harbor maintenance. Also, $760 million is being taken from the euphemistically named Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (in effect a tax on foreign goods, which has long riled other nations), equal to 4 percent of the previously announced amount.
So, there is still a fair sum left.
Nonetheless, port authorities are again becoming painfully aware that federal money is getting scarcer every year for new ventures.
In contrast, security can rest assured that its needs are always looked after. (Some might say sometimes too well looked after -- just about every port that gets a new dollop of cash finds it essential to build a "command and control" station that can rival port head offices in size.)
And with this awareness comes the realization that public/private partnerships are the way to go (as San Francisco Bay ports have done with their barge proposals). Washington is increasingly being left out of strategic planning, to the point where federal help is seen as an unexpected bonus and not something to be counted on any more.