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Waterway Groups Blast Lock User Fees

by R.G. Edmonson
Journal of Commerce, May 18, 2010

Obama administration proposal to pay for construction meets resistance

Inland waterway groups are rallying to oppose an Obama administration proposal to replace fuel taxes with lock user fees as a way to pay for construction and maintenance on the river system.

The Waterways Council and the American Waterway Operators issued statements Thursday calling the lockage fee an inequitable way to spread the tax burden, since operators that never passed through a lock would never have to pay.

Excise taxes on fuel, right now set at $0.20 per gallon, go into the Inland Waters Trust Fund, and pay half of the costs of keeping the rivers navigable, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Cornel Martin, Waterways Council president, said that switching to a lockage fee could triple an operator's tax burden. It's an unpopular idea that Congress rejected last year.

Instead of proposing new taxation, Martin said that the industry is working with the Corps of Engineers to determine what the rivers need in the next 20 to 25 years.

"We're working with the Corps of Engineers on a long-term capital plan," Martin said. "The project is to identify the long-term needs of the entire inland waterway system, prioritize those needs, determine what the costs are going to be, then determine how you're going to pay for it."

He said the danger with the administration's proposal is that it might find its way into law before the working group comes up with its own plan.

"To come in and almost arbitrarily throw in a lockage fee which nobody likes circumvents the process we have already ongoing, and which we expect to complete by the end of this year," Martin said.

The group hopes to include the plan in the 2010 Water Resources Development Act.

R.G. Edmonson
Waterway Groups Blast Lock User Fees
Journal of Commerce, May 18, 2010

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