BILOXI — Former Gov. Haley Barbour, speaking to a regional gathering of Gulf states harbor pilots, called for a “bias for action and a sense of urgency…for increased U.S. investment in waterways infrastructure and a national strategic policy to prepare and equip U.S. ports in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Seaboard for increased cargo and container volume from ‘post-Panamax’ vessels after the Panama Canal opens in 2015.”
Barbour made his remarks to some 100 harbor pilots and harbor pilot leaders representing a dozen pilot associations from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama attending a joint meeting of Gulf States/Texas State Pilot Association (TSPA), said Captain Michael Morris, TSPA president.
As chairman of the National Maritime Policy Council, Barbour urged Congress and President Obama to focus on several goals:
• Declare port modernization and channel deepening a project of National Economic Significance, vital to U.S. global competitiveness and national security as well as set a goal to coincide with the opening of the expanded Panama Canal in 2015.
• Increase Federal investment in port infrastructure and expedited utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Funds for dredging.
• Utilize 100 percent of the HMTF annual revenue for required maintenance with no change in local match rules.
• Authorize a three-year program to use accrued HMTF for channel deepening as well as requiring a 35 percent local match, spend down fund to no less than $1B by 2015.
• Expedite permitting by requiring the U.S. Corps of Engineers to evaluate and issue maintenance and deepening permits within one year of application.
• Promote a strategic port modernization effort to: 1) Increase port access and productivity; 2) Increase capacity of ports for containers and other cargos; and 3) Improve logistics and movement of goods and people.
“It’s absolutely critical to our nation’s future to have our ports and waterways dredged. And we must be ready for the expected boom in business following the completion of the Panama Canal expansion project in 2015. This is good for America and Texas,” said Morris.