The FPC hosted a very productive visit to D.C. on September 25th and 26th. Along with FSTED Chairman Wayne Stubbs, we had representatives from Canaveral, Everglades, Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa. We met with several Florida delegation members (including Diaz-Balart, Dunn, Wasserman-Schultz, Frankel, Rutherford, Webster and Mast), committee staff, and Army Corps representatives, and discussed water, transportation, appropriations, and homeland security issues.
With respect to Army Corps and appropriations, we met with Bradd Schwichtenberg (South Atlantic Division Regional Integration Team Leader), on 2019 and 2020 Corps Work Plan needs. The President signed the “minibus” appropriation bill containing the Corps 2019 funding into law on September 21st. The Corps has 60 days to develop their 2019 Work Plan. Bradd suggested additional individuals at the Army Corps and the President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that ports could meet with during this 60-day period. We also discussed this issue with several of our delegation members –thanked them for passing the legislation and told them we would be working with the Army Corps and others on the Work Plan development.
With respect to additional transportation/seaport funding issues, we met with Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (Chair, of the House Appropriation Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies) on the 2019 transportation funding legislation. Chairman Diaz- Balart informed us that seaports would be very pleased with the final product. He noted that he had been working with us for years to include additional seaport infrastructure funding in the legislation. He added that final legislation should include nearly $300 million in discretionary funding for landside seaport mobility projects. Chairman Diaz-Balart expects Congress to pass this appropriations legislation soon.
Finally, we discussed homeland security, especially CBP staffing and infrastructure issues, with committee staff and several delegation members. As previously reported, directory language has been included in homeland security appropriation legislation. However, this legislation will likely not pass until after the November elections. It should be noted that some additional CBP officers have been allocated to South Florida areas, and while this is an excellent beginning, there was agreement that we need to continue to press for additional CBP staffing. We are hopeful for some type of hearing in both the House and Senate when the new Congress begins holding hearings next year.
As discussed during our FPC meetings in St. Petersburg, we will continue working with Congressional staff and others to hold a Florida Port Caucus briefing in February 2019. We will provide additional information when this becomes available.
As reported previously, the House has passed out the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2018. The Senate is expected to take up the bill and send it to the President. The Senate is expected to stay in D.C. for most of October to finish identified legislative business.
The bill contains a variety of legislation aimed at water projects like Herbert Hoover/South Florida dike issues around Lake Okeechobee. The legislation also continues to stress the need for the Army Corps to accelerate the process for moving projects forward more efficiently and at lower cost – including more authority for non-federal interests acting on behalf of the Corps. This authority includes the ability to pre-fund construction activity by the Corps, which may help with projects at areas like Port Everglades. There is some concern that this authority does not go far enough and we informed our delegation members that, if necessary, we may need additional language in the next WRDA bill. Additional information on the legislation is available at the House Transportation Committee webpage.
The Ports Council has signed on with Americans for Free Trade, a broad coalition of American businesses, trade organizations, and workers united against tariffs. Suggested by the AAPA, this is a group U.S. seaport organizations can join to express concerns over the impact of tariffs in the U.S. With respect to the impact of these tariffs, we report that cargo cranes have been excluded from these tariffs based on the input of several Florida seaports and the AAPA.
At the state level, Ares continues to roll-out the implementation of the CommandBridge Common Operating Picture System system. Final development of the implementation of this system is set for the beginning of October. We will continue to work with Ares on this system, and hope that we have another year before use of the system for hurricane-related responses.
Election Day will be here before we know it and it appears it will bring many changes at all levels of government. Soon after that, Organizational Session will occur, likely during the week of Thanksgiving, and then soon after that, December will bring interim Committee Meetings.