Senator Murray Named PNWA's "Legislator of the Year" - Calls for Investing in Washington's Infrastructure

Oct 13 2005

Senator Says Hurricane Katrina and Tight Budgets Make It More Difficult – And More Necessary -- to Fund Critical Investments

Murray Calls for Smarter Federal Approach to Jetty Repair, Hopper Dredges and Maintaining Small Ports


(Vancouver, Washington) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) was named "Legislator of the Year" by the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA ) at its annual conference in Vancouver.

In her remarks, Murray urged transportation advocates to press Congress to invest in America's infrastructure.

"To make America strong again, I believe we need to invest here at home – invest in our communities, in our schools, in our people, and in our infrastructure," Murray said.

Murray said that Hurricane Katrina and growing budget deficits are making it harder to fund transportation projects in Congress. She noted that all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects --- including critical waterway improvements in Washington state – may face increased scrutiny in Congress.

"Hurricane Katrina is going to have an affect on the entire country, but it's going to have a particularly strong impact on the projects that are handled by the Army Corps of Engineers," Murray said. "The climate has changed, so we have to change if we're going to be effective. You still need to pick one or two priorities and speak with one voice, but what you say needs to reflect this new emphasis on the Corps' traditional missions."

Murray called on regional leaders to help the federal government make smarter investments – such as repairing the jetties that protect the Columbia River, lifting restrictions on public hopper dredges, and maintaining Washington's shallow draft ports.

Founded in 1934, PNWA represents more than 100 ports, steamship and towboat operators, grain and forest products shippers and other economic development interests and local government interests in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and California.

In presenting Murray with the Association's first-ever "Legislator of the Year" award, Port of Vancouver Executive Director Larry Paulson praised the Senator for her work increasing transportation and port security funding and for her leadership on improving the Columbia River.

"She’s a national leader on port issues and transportation, and we’re proud to call her our own friend, advocate and Senator," Paulson said. "She knows our work, she fights for our priorities, and she has certainly earned this award."

The award recognized Senator Murray's commitment to improving Washington's waterways, railways and highways, including:

  • Securing $25 million (since 2001) to deepen the Columbia River to make Washington's agricultural exports less expensive

  • Securing $17 million in the Senate to repair the deteriorating Columbia River jetties

  • Getting the Ports of Ilwaco and Chinook dredged, which kept the port from closing and saved hundreds of local jobs

  • Leading the Senate effort to improve port security,

  • Increasing Coast Guard funding by 10 percent in 2001,

  • Increasing federal funding for Washington state's transportation projects

  • And improving opportunities for Washington's rural communities, supporting trade and working to strengthen the farm safety net.

Senator Murray's remarks follow:

Thank you Larry. This is an incredibly diverse group. But whether you're from Washington or Oregon, whether you're from a small town or a major city, whether you represent a port, a producer or a P.U.D., all of you share a commitment to building a stronger economy. And all of you have taken a position of leadership in your community to stand up for local families and businesses. I want to thank you for your service, and I am honored to be your partner in Washington, D.C.

To Make America Strong Again, Invest at Home

You know, today many people don't feel secure about their future. They feel like they're one slip away from losing their job. They're worried they won't be able to retire or to pay for a trip to the doctor if their child gets sick.

To make America strong again, I believe we need to invest here at home – invest in our communities, in our schools, in our people, and in our infrastructure.

For more than 70 years, the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association has been doing just that. You help bring people together to make critical investments in our waterways, our highways, our railways and our ports – and that makes Washington, Oregon and our entire region stronger.

Channel Deepening

Now when I think of PNWA, one of the first things that comes to mind is your work on Channel Deepening. It's an issue that affects so many communities -- from our port and barge operators, to our farmers and longshoremen, to our trade community. That's a lot of different voices.

But your association brought people together behind that one priority, and that's the only way to get things done in Washington, D.C. You built the consensus in Congress, and you helped turn the Administration around.

The Secret of Your Success

I think the secret of your success is bringing people together behind the same priorities – and then speaking with one voice. That's really made you a powerhouse in Washington, D.C. and given our region a strong voice – and a seat at the table. That's a credit to your members and especially to your leadership – Kristin and Glenn and your Executive Committee and Board of Directors.

And that focus is going to be more important than ever in the coming months because the landscape in Washington, D.C. has changed dramatically since many of you came to see me in Congress back in March.

A Different Environment

Things are different in Washington, D.C. for two reasons the budget and Hurricane Katrina.

The Budget

Back in 1992, when I first ran for the U.S. Senate, Ross Perot was running around the country with his charts screaming about the budget deficit. The deficit was certainly bad then, but it's even worse today. That reality is finally starting to sink-in in Washington, D.C. If it's not related to defense, it's probably going to be cut. Every non-defense program is competing for a slice of a pie that keeps shrinking. So the first challenge is this tight budget environment.

Hurricane Katrina

The second challenge deals with Hurricane Katrina. We all saw the horrible pictures of devastation that the hurricane caused. And then we all saw American citizens -- like you and I – going for days without food, water and medicine. It was something that I never thought I'd see in the United States of America in 2005.

The Gulf Coast Needs Help

So it is clear that the Gulf Coast will need our country's help – and a lot of it – for years to come. And we need to be able to provide it. Congress and others are now investigating what went wrong, and it's a critical exercise. No matter where we live -- we all need to know that if there's a disaster – our local, state and federal officials are going to be able to protect us. I've been meeting with our emergency planners throughout the state, and I want to make sure that we learn the lessons from Hurricane Katrina so that all of us will be safe.

More Scrutiny for Corps Projects

Hurricane Katrina is going to have an affect on the entire country, but it's going to have a particularly strong impact on the projects that are handled by the Army Corps of Engineers.

One of the things I'm seeing in Washington, D.C. is a higher level of scrutiny for Corps projects. And the priorities are shifting. They're moving down to the Gulf Coast, and they're moving back to the Corps' traditional missions – things like flood control and keeping navigation channels open. That new scrutiny means it's going to be harder to fund projects based on their economic benefits alone.

Let me say that again.

  • Because of Hurricane Katrina, all Corps projects are now facing much more scrutiny.

  • Projects that don’t meet the Corps traditional missions are going to have a harder time getting funded.

Here's what that means for us in the Pacific Northwest. Many of the projects we're working on support local economies, but that alone may not be enough in this new climate. I would suggest that as you talk about projects with Members of Congress you should acknowledge the tough budget environment and emphasize how your projects support the Corps' traditional work.

I would be remiss if I didn't thank the Army Corps of Engineers for all its hard work. We have many Corps leaders with us today, and we appreciate all you do.

The climate has changed, so we have to change if we're going to be effective. You still need to pick one or two priorities and speak with one voice, but what you say needs to reflect this new emphasis on the Corps' traditional missions.

We Need to Invest More in Our Infrastructure

Now let me just add that I don't buy into the desire in Washington, D.C. to cut investments in our critical infrastructure. I've been saying for a long time that if we want our country to be strong, we need to make investments here at home. It's what I've fought for and I'll continue to do it.

Our Priorities – Where They Stand

In that spirit, I want to update you on where some of our priorities stand in Congress. Right now, Congress is in a recess, but we'll be back in session on Monday, and we've got a lot of work to do in a short period of time.

I'm working to support your priorities in three bills -

  • the Transportation bill,

  • the Energy & Water bill,

  • and the Water Resources Development Act.

Transportation Bill

The Transportation bill will be the first one we debate when the Senate returns to session on Monday [October 17, 2005]. As the top Democrat on the transportation funding committee, I helped craft that bill, and I want to make sure that we help move our products to market safely and swiftly. So next week, I'll be down on the Senate floor, fighting for the investments we need to make in our transportation infrastructure.

Energy and Water Bill

I'm also using my position on the Senate Energy and Water Committee to address many of our other priorities. Right now the Energy and Water bill is in the early stages of negotiation between the House and Senate. Both chambers have passed their own versions, and we're just starting to try and reach agreement on a final version.

You'll be happy to know that both versions have funding for Channel Deepening. But only the Senate version has funding for repairing the jetties at the mouth of the Columbia River. I'll have more to say about that in a moment.


The other bill I'm working on is WRDA. Right now that bill is stalled in Congress so I've taken some of the key pieces and worked to offer them as free-standing bills. Last week, the Senate passed a stand alone extension of Section 214, which will help deal with the backlog on permits. I'm going to keep working on all of these bills to make sure we make the investments that our communities need.

Smarter Investments

Frankly, I see the federal government making some decisions that aren't too bright. Friends, we need to help the federal government make smarter decisions when it comes to our waterways. Let me share three examples –

  • jetties,

  • hopper dredges,

  • and shallow draft ports.

Smart Investment #1: Jetties

Making the Columbia River deeper -- so it can accommodate today's vessels and lower the cost of trade for our farmers -- is the right thing to do.

In August, I celebrated with many of you here in Vancouver as we marked the start of construction on the deepening project. It was a great day and a deeper channel is a smart investment. But making the channel deeper, and then ignoring the jetties at the mouth of the river, doesn't make much sense.

We know that thousands of feet of the north and south jetties have been lost to storms, and they could fail. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, there is a 20 percent chance of a jetty failing this year. Next year, the odds of failure double to 40 percent, and the year after that, they soar to 60 percent. That is a chance no one us can afford to take. Our investment in the channel will be lost if a jetty breaks, and the mouth of the river is closed.

You’re working on it, and I am too. Together, we’ve got to convince the Administration to support us. In the meantime, I worked to secure $17 million in the Senate bill for jetty repair. Now we need to protect that money as the House and Senate reconcile their different versions of the bill.

Smart Investment #2: Hopper Dredges

Here's another example of how the federal government needs to make smarter decisions. We should dredge our channels when they need to be dredged, not stop the work because of outdated federal limits.

Today, the two public Hopper dredges in our region can only be used less than 200 days a year. That's not smart. The public paid for these dredges. Their job is to keep public channels clear, and we should use them as they're needed. I'm working to lift the federal restriction on our region's public Hopper dredges. In the WRDA bill, we have a provision to lift that restriction.

I've taken the extra step of putting that language in the Senate's Energy and Water bill. The House bill just calls for a study. My proposal says, "Lift the restrictions."

Smart Investment #3: Smaller Ports

Finally, making smart investments means recognizing that all our ports have value. In Washington, D.C., they might not think that a small port is all that important in the scheme of things. But tell that to someone whose job is on the line in Ilwaco or Chinook. Making smart investments means standing up for all our ports – included our smallest. After all, they are often the biggest employers in their community. They need help with maintenance too. The president’s budget did not adequately request funding for these projects. I was able to add $1 million a piece to the Port of Ilwaco and Port of Chinook in the Senate bill, and I will work to maintain that funding.

State & Local Investments

Let me just say in closing that just as we have to make smart choices at the federal level, we have to make smart choices at the state level. One of those choices is on the ballot in November. And it poses that same question we're facing at the federal level: Will we invest in our infrastructure? Or will we fail?

Only one choice helps our economy. Only one choice creates jobs. Only one choice makes people safer, and only one choice makes our region stronger. I hope we make the right choice.

I know what type of Washington I want to live in. It's one where the roads, highways and bridges are safe, where our products can get to market quickly, and where we're helping local businesses and residents. I hope we in Washington state have the courage to make the right choice.

So again, I want to thank you for this honor. Let's recognize the new realities facing us in Washington, D.C. and update our message for Congress and the White House. And let's also help our country to do the smart things that will pay off both today and tomorrow. Together, we are fighting for the investments that make our region stronger, and I'm proud to be your partner.