'With this fix, our ports and harbors will have the resources they so desperately need'

Port funding to increase once bill gains approval

Jan. 9, 2021 — The Port of Siuslaw received some unexpected good news this week in an announcement made by the office of U.S. House of Representative Peter DeFazio, who stated that the previously unavailable revenue stream, “The Harbor Trust Fund,” has been reclassified and — pending expected presidential approval — can be used by Oregon coastal communities with a need for additional financial support.

This funding became available in large part due to the efforts of DeFazio acting in his role as Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. DeFazio updated the Siuslaw News after passage of the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA), which includes important provisions to ensure that Harbor Maintenance Funds are used for harbor maintenance.

The measure now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

 “This is a tremendous victory for Oregon’s coastal communities. For decades, I have fought to unlock the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and ensure that funds already collected for harbor maintenance are fully utilized to keep our local ports dredged and jetties maintained,” DeFazio said. “Finally, WRDA 2020 fulfils that goal.”

The bill achieves a 50-percent increase in funding for small harbors, like the Port of Gold Beach and the Port of Siuslaw, and a provision that allows harbor maintenance funds to be seamlessly spent on the maintenance of adjacent marinas as well as jetties.

This funding will be put to immediate use paying for planned projects, such as the Coos Bay North Jetty rehabilitation and maintenance dredging along the coast.

It further directs the Secretary of the Interior to equitably allocate harbor maintenance expenditures to pay for U.S. harbor operation and maintenance needs.

The bill also addresses the ongoing needs of the nation’s largest donor and energy-transfer ports, Great Lakes harbors, emerging harbors and commercial strategic seaports.

Port of Siuslaw Manager Dave Huntington was pleased with the passage of the bill and believes it will be a clear benefit for the port.

“I think this is a big win for Oregon ports. This means the Army Corps will have more resources to dredge our harbors and repair jetties,” said Huntington. “This bill over the next 10 years will further increase available resources and secures authority for the Army Corps to use Federal funds to dredge marinas and boat basins adjacent to federal navigational channels. We also hope this will allow the Corps to assist us, where in the past we were responsible for our own boat basin dredging project.”

And while the first use of funds will be available for maintenance and equipment upgrades, there is the possibility as the program shifts from a trust to an actual source of revenue, funds might become available for a long-needed local upgrade.

“I think at some point now this may open the door for the possibility of some much-needed repairs to our deteriorating jetties,” Huntington added. “I know Rep. Defazio has fought for years to unlock the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Now we hope to be able to benefit from these resources.”

DeFazio was equally positive in his assessment of the new legislation, stating the change of rules governing the use of these new Harbor Funds.

“With this fix, our ports and harbors will have the resources they so desperately need — all without raising taxes or adding a penny to the deficit. This bi-partisan bill, approved by both the House and the Senate, will create and sustain jobs on the coast, make conditions safer for Oregon’s commercial fishing and recreation industries, and boost our state and national economic competitive.”

WRDA 2020 (H.R. 7575), received bi-partisan support in the form of sponsorship from Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO), Water Resources & Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), and Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-AR).