As will be reported in 1 April 2004 issue of Anchors Aweigh Magazine
(Go to http://www.anchorsaweighmagazine.com , for Jim Schmitt's April 2004 issue, to read what you see below, plus other good stuff!! This is Captain George's report on his foray to Washington to help the recreational boating cause!!!)
I was delegated to represent the River Navigation Coalition, Upper Monongahela River Association, and Boaters Are Voters, at the National Waterways Conference in Washington, DC, this past month where the key purpose of their Budget Summit was to make the U.S. Senate and Congress aware of the desperate need for better funding for the Corps of Engineers.
All of the organizations I represented, and their members, have a vital stake in this activity since, if the Corps doesn't get sufficient funding, we will suffer the loss in curtailment of operating hours and loss of service at the locks and dams on the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers.
I went to Washington with the express purpose of getting this point across to as many influential senators and members of Congress that I could lobby in the time I spent in our nation's capitol.
I accomplished this mission in three days of foot pounding through the halls of Congress and the Senate on Capitol Hill. (MEMO: Never wear military dress shoes to walk the marble halls of Congress. Oh, my aching feet.)
The response from the Senators, Members of Congress and their legislative aides was positive and cooperative. However, the money supply is short and they are scraping the bottom of the barrel to try to give the Corps of Engineers sufficient funding to sustain the vital operations that they must undertake in fiscal 2005. A concerted effort is still needed to convince the President's Office of Management and Budget to give the necessary funding to the Corps.
One of the most disturbing facts that I learned at the conference was that our local interests pale in comparison with the overall national emergency that the Corps faces with the deteriorating conditions of many of the locks and dams along our vital system of waterways that are essential to our national economy and Homeland Security. Many of these locks and dams were built in the 1920s and 1930s, and their life expectancy is reaching its limits. Maintenance and repairs are only Band-Aids to temporarily delay the ultimate need for modern replacements that are going to cost billions of dollars . . . money that is not presently budgeted by Congress.
Congressman David Hobson of Ohio, Chairman of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, was the keynote speaker at the conference. He said he is doing the best he can with the money appropriated, but his goal is to complete the projects already underway and he must deny any requests for new construction until old projects are completed.
This information was not met with favor by the conference attendees. A representative from the Corps said a disaster was barely avered last year when it dewatered the Greenup Lock downstream on the Ohio River and found deterioration above and beyond the limit of ordinary maintenance. The lock was closed much longer than had been anticipated and barge traffic on the Ohio was backed up for days. The power plants that rely on barge-delivered coal were depleting their supply and in danger of a shutdown that could have resulted in a blackout energy crisis throughout the Ohio Valley and beyond. We all know what the breakdown of the power grid system did to New York and much of the nation last year. We were close to an electric power disaster.
The situation at this lock demonstrates how vital are our waterways. They are an integral part of the economic engine that makes our country run. Any disruption in the flow of commerce along our waterways could be as damaging as any terrorist strike to our Homeland Security.
It all boils down to the need for money. My role in this trip to Washington was to advise our lawmakers that commerce created by the recreational boating industry is just as important to the economic welfare of our river communities as the commerce created by the commercial usage of our rivers.
The financial power that we generate from buying a boat; financing a boat; insuring a boat; fueling a boat; buying accessories; and spending money when we travel by boat, all results in state and federal tax revenues, thousands of jobs, and overall economic growth. This source of income can supplement the budget needs of the Corps. We need to keep open the incentives for owning a boat and not deter from these incentives by curtailment of navigational ability.
We realize that our nation is at war and that the war on terrorism will not be over in the foreseeable future. As a result of this war, the Corps of Engineers has over 600 personnel now deployed to Iraq and three times that number have rotated there since the war began. This deployment strains the economic resources of the Corps and places an added burden on their ability to perform their vital job at home.
This fact makes the struggle for funding even harder because no one wants to argue against the successful outcome of the war effort. Nevertheless, one of the important items that I learned from my participation in this conference was the overall consensus that we shouldn't be spending our tax money to repair the infrastructure of any foreign country until the infrastructure of our own country is vitally intact.
In addition to wearing my name tag and identification badge when I visited the senators and members of Congress, I also wore a large button that stated "$5.5 in 05". This means that the minimum budget appropriation needed by the Corps of Engineers for Fiscal 2005 is $5.5 Billion. They really need a lot more, but this is the bare bones minimum. The office of Management and Budget does not appear inclined to give the Corps this necessary amount, but, if they don't get it, the Corps may be forced to make the cuts that we have been dreading on the Upper Allegheny and Mon Rivers.
My lobbying efforts were only a beginning. You must write, phone, email our U.S. senators and members of Congress and express your concern and show your support for the Corps and its proper funding. My opinion is "If we lose it, we'll never get it back." Don't delay. Time is of the essence. Action is being taken in Washington as I write this column.
(If you have a boating or maritime question, write to "Ask Captain George," c/o Anchors Aweigh, 548 Juniper Court, Mars, PA 16046, or fax it to 724-779-7003, or Email it to: "mailto:email@example.com". Captain George W. Boyle is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain with a master's license for vessels up to 100 tons. He is a Flotilla Staff Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and has achieved the rank of Advanced Pilot in the United States Power Squadron. Captain George is also a Director of the Pennsylvania Boating Association; a member of the User's Committee of the Riverlife Task Force; Treasurer of the Pittsburgh Safe Boating Committee; Vice President of the Professional Marine Operators Association; Vice President of the Pittsburgh Scuba Divers Organization; Executive Director and founder of "http://groups.yahoo.com/group/askcaptaingeorge/" . He is a Certified Safe Boating Instructor for the PA Fish and Boat Commission.)