The TRVA 47th Annual Meeting noticed by CQ/Roll Call

The TRVA 47th Annual Meeting in Nashville yesterday, generated interest in Washington today:

CQ Roll Call Executive Transportation Briefing, October 9:
Roiling the Inland Waterways. There was a regional conference earlier this week in Nashville of various stakeholders along the inland rivers — barge operators and shippers, levee groups, etc. — and word is some industry officials there were concerned that as the government shutdown lengthens, the Corps of Engineers could soon start pulling lock operators off their jobs. The issue is whether they are “excepted” workers who stay on the job or whether their service is less than critical. Until now, the Corps has always considered lockages as well as river dredging to be essential to safety of navigation along the river system, and certainly critical to a number of industries whose cargoes need to move by barge. Corps officials did not participate in the Nashville conference, as administration officials are mostly avoiding public events during the shutdown, and did not respond to queries seeking clarification about their policies. The agency has already furloughed hundreds of civil works employees need to oversee Corps-managed parks and recreation areas along with waterways, but locking so far has continued as normal.
Amy Larson, president of the National Waterways Conference, is among those raising concerns about whether the Corps of Engineers will maintain lock and dam or perhaps hydropower operations if the government shutdown lasts much longer.
Larson on Friday alerted her membership – which deals with a broad range of waterway issues including flood control and recreation areas as well as hydropower and barge operations – that she had learned the Corps was rethinking how long it could keep running locks as now with only “skeletal crews,” and was considering whether it might have to pare back to keep only enough workers for life-safety needs. “As the shutdown continues, those [lock] operations are expected to be sharply curtailed,” she warned her members.
Larson repeated her concerns publicly this week in the Nashville meeting of waterway users. At about the same time, the barge industry’s Waterways Council issued a press release saluting the Corps for keeping locks open during the shutdown, but then arguing why it is important to keep them going.
Larson today told CQ Roll Call that “we’re hoping that cooler heads will prevail, and the powers that be will recognize the dire economic consequences that would result if the inland waterway system is not kept operating.”
She said it is her understanding the Corps in this first two weeks of shutdown has been drawing on carryover funds from fiscal 2013, but that money could soon run out. It has already closed Corps-managed recreation areas and furloughed hundreds of workers for those parks, but she said the supply chain impact would be considerable if the Administration decides to curtail other functions like navigation locks until appropriations resume.
Such an action would hit barge cargo shippers with “tremendous additional costs” to find freight-hauling alternatives, she said, “and at this time of fiscal uncertainty that would be devastating” for large swaths of the economy. It would disrupt shipments of grain at fall harvest time, coal for power plants, chemicals, and even road salt that is stockpiled now before icy weather hits highways across the upper Midwest. It could also push up a wide range of commodity prices, potentially losing U.S. exports as their shipment costs jump.