WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Rob Wittman (VA-01) testified at the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) Member Day hearing. Virginia’s economy depends on domestic and international commercial gateways like the Port of Virginia. During his testimony, Congressman Wittman, emphasized the importance of WRDA to the First District to improve inland waterways, flood protection procedures, and ecosystem restoration.
Video of his testimony can be found here.
Remarks as prepared for delivery below:
Chairwoman Napolitano and Ranking Member Westerman,
Thank you for allowing me to testify before you today. I am honored to highlight some of the needs facing Virginia as you consider the upcoming Water Resources Development package.
Water infrastructure is vital to moving goods throughout the country, from products we all use in our everyday lives, to crops and goods we produce domestically and send abroad. I hope that this committee and the House upholds its duty to authorize locally driven water infrastructure improvements.
I would like to thank the Army Corps of Engineers as they work hard to manage more than 1,500 water resources projects with many of them in Virginia. The Army Corps of Engineers is critical to our state, from the Norfolk Harbor Channel Deepening project, the Elizabeth River Southern Branch Navigation Improvements Project, and waterways restorations the Army Corps of Engineers are involved in many public works projects in Virginia.
As a proud representative of the Commonwealth of Virginia, home to the Port of Virginia – one of the largest and busiest ports on the eastern seaboard - advancing the Port of Virginia’s work to improve and expand its operations is critical. The Port manages cargo that is shipped to all 48 contiguous states.
The Port of Virginia is a national gateway for commerce, supporting businesses across the country. Moreover, in Virginia’s 1st District, 334 businesses utilize the services of the Port of Virginia.
As a catalyst for commerce, the Port is attracting growth, fostering development, and creating jobs. On the state level, cargo moving through the Port supports more than 530,000 jobs statewide and generates in excess of $90 billion in annual economic impact for Virginia.
Increased shipping traffic and larger vessels are straining the Port’s current capacity. As larger vessels continue to call on the Port of Virginia, increasing the depth of the channels at the Port is becoming progressively important. By deepening to 55 feet, the Port is positioned to allow larger ships visiting the Port to arrive and depart fully loaded and will make for safer and more timely passage through the channels. Additionally, one-way traffic has led to interruptions with operations of vessels at Naval Station Norfolk presenting possible national security concerns.
Widening to 1,400 ft. will make way for safe and efficient two-way passage between larger commercial vessels and other operators in the Harbor and Channels including the Navy.
I would like to take this time to highlight some WRDA priorities the subcommittee should look at while deliberating about provisions in the bill.
Full HMT funding solution: I seek a permanent solution to the full use of annual HMT revenues. The Port Industry has reached an agreement on an approach for mandatory full use of annual HMT revenues, tax collections, and interest on the trust fund surplus. Four legislative proposals are: Full use of HMT Fund, expanded use for Donor & Energy Transfer (D&ET) ports; regional funding floors, and emerging harbors funding. The dedicated use of HMT revenues for harbor maintenance as well as the Energy Transfer provisions will have direct benefits to The Port of Virginia. Unlocking the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is key to ensuring we’re not just adding to the $100 billion dollar backlog of projects at the Corps of Engineers, but are actually using existing funds to make real investments in our Nation’s ports, harbors and waterways.
Benefit-to-Cost Ratio (BCR) for Locally Preferred Plan: Calculate a navigation project’s BCR based on the National Economic Development (NED) plan benefits regardless of whether there is a Locally Preferred Plan (LPP), as the sponsor pays 100% of the additional cost between the NED and LPP. This prevents an LPP from reducing a project’s BCR which is used in the project authorization report and new construction start decisions. The BCR Calculation for LPPs may be applicable for Norfolk Harbor depending on how the widening is constructed.
Prioritizing funding for shallow draft navigation projects: Federal funding has historically been provided in the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget for shallow draft low use navigation projects. However, current budget metrics are not providing sufficient funding at levels to sustain maintenance dredging of low use navigation channels throughout the United States. It would benefit rural localities who rely on routine maintenance dredging of such low use channels to supply their economies, to prioritize funding for shallow draft low use navigation projects.
I want to thank the Chairwoman, Ranking Member, and Members of the committee for this opportunity to testify today. I look forward to working with the committee, the Corps of Engineers, and Virginians as we move towards implementing WRDA 2020.
Congressman Rob Wittman represents the 1st District of Virginia. He serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, where he serves as the ranking member of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.