Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Senator Isakson, and subcommittee members, I am Doug Marchand, Executive Director of the Georgia Ports Authority. I am very grateful for your invitation to appear today, and also for the determination of the subcommittee to move forward with enactment of the Water Resources Development Act.
First, if I may display a little home state bias, I also would like to thank you, Senator Isakson, for your tireless work and interest in behalf of our ports going back many, many years. That work began in your days with the Georgia General Assembly, then in the U.S. House of Representatives, and now in the U.S. Senate.
Although you represented an urban District in the Atlanta area in both the state legislature and the U.S. House, you have always looked beyond the borders of your District to help our ports time and time again. We very much appreciate your commitment, and I can attest to the fact that you and Senator Chambliss speak with the voice of authority in this and many other arenas of policy.
Mr. Chairman, the Georgia Ports Authority is one of the few public authorities in the nation in which we both own and operate our port property and facilities. This gives us a unique vantage point from which to survey the challenges and opportunities of modern ocean commerce.
Savannah is the second largest container port on the East Coast, and the fourth largest in the nation. In the five year period from 2001 to 2006, Savannah has experienced 100 percent growth, making it the fastest growing container port in the nation. Our Port of Brunswick is the sixth largest auto port in the nation. The Georgia Ports Authority directly employs 870 people, and Georgia maritime activities support more than 275,000 jobs in the state, contribute some $10.8 billion dollars in income, $35.4 billion dollars in revenue, and $1.4 billion dollars in state and local taxes each year.
As the subcommittee well knows, this is a complicated business with many moving parts: ocean commerce handles 99 percent of our nation’s overseas trade by volume, it operates within a complex web of local, state, and federal regulations, and it is on the front lines of homeland security in the post-9/11 world.
What distinguishes port operations in our economy is that how well we do our job has a direct and immediate impact on how well others can do theirs. If American businesses—large or small—are expected to stimulate new employment, and generate increased tax revenues through world trade—then our ports must be a leader in productivity and efficiency.
I must say, however, that the biggest barrier to increased efficiency in the maritime transportation system is the shortfall and uncertainty of federal resources. That includes the lack of assurance of adequate channel maintenance dredging, and the lack of sufficient authorization and funding for new projects to modernize our harbor channels. That is why the pending WRDA authorization, and full and fair appropriations for Fiscal Year 2008, are so important.
Here are my key points:
· Pass WRDA. It is the road map for the future of marine transportation, and the key to improving productivity and lowering transportation costs. When it moves in orderly fashion—every two years— it gives direction, commitment and accountability. So pass WRDA, even if it is not the perfect bill that we would all aspire to have.
· Do not think that by delaying WRDA—as has been done for more than six years now—you are simply putting off problems to another year. Delay actually causes new problems while not resolving the old. It sows the seeds of doubt, confusion, and inflation-driven higher costs. And it increases daily operating costs. For example, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, more than 30 percent of the 95,000 vessels that call at U.S. ports each year are light loaded. We need a system that protects the environment and assures the cost effectiveness of projects, but not a system that creates conflicting regulations and repetitive layers of review. A Reconnaissance Study for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project—our pending harbor deepening project—identified a federal interest for deepening in 1996. After 11 years and almost $30 million dollars in largely state-funded studies since then, the draft report is not slated to be out for public review until January 2008. Let me emphasize that most of the funding for this study has been advanced by the State of Georgia , so we have not been waiting on federal appropriations—we have been waiting to get every block checked in the study requirements. Mr. Chairman, it should not take a dozen years to do a careful study of deepening an existing channel.
· Either spend the money in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, or dissolve the fund. As you know, that fund currently contains more than $3 billion dollars. We have a documented Corps capability for Fiscal Year 2008 of as much as $1.3 billion, but the request for appropriations in FY 2008 for operations and maintenance is only $735 million. In the words of my colleague Warren D. McCrimmon of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, “we ought to put the trust back in the trust fund, or make the tax go away.”
· Modernize the Corps of Engineers. The American Association of Port Authorities has identified several proposals to do that: improve partnership relationships between the Corps and local sponsors; revise the WRDA 1986 definition of deep-draft harbor and cost sharing formula to reflect the changes that have taken place in the world cargo fleet, and thus make the federal-local cost share more equitable; provide credit for in-kind work during construction; give ports broad authority to levy fees for raising the local share of federal dredging; give the Corps direction to exercise its authority to direct that removal and/or relocation of utilities within navigation channels at 100 percent of the owner’s expense; and provide language to allow ports to purchase, as an allowable project cost, indemnification insurance for both the federal government and local sponsors. Finally, I also support the AAPA initiative to have greater freedom in the operation of the Corps dredge fleet to permit an accurate assessment of the fleet’s true costs and benefits.
· Pass the appropriations bills, and pass them at an adequate level to get the job done. I know that appropriations are not a matter under the direct control of this subcommittee and full committee, but without the orderly flow of funding, we tie our port system in knots, we unduly burden the Corps of Engineers and local sponsors, and we increase costs.
In this room I am preaching to the choir, but more of your colleagues need to recognize that river and harbor development is not a luxury in this new millennium-- it is the blood supply for the growth of our economy and all of the economic opportunities and benefits that come with international trade.
I applaud the subcommittee for moving out early in this session to bring the bill to a vote in committee and in the Senate. I urge the House to follow your lead in moving forward, and I urge both bodies to give your very best effort to resolving disagreements and move to enactment.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, with your permission, I ask that along with my statement, your record include a fact sheet from the American Association of Port Authorities on WRDA, as well as Warren McCrimmon’s recent testimony in the House on behalf of AAPA concerning port needs and dredging requirements. Thank you for your time and the honor of being with you this morning.