AWO Spokesman Views User Tax Bill With Cautious Anticipation

James B. Potter Jr., president of The American Waterways Operators, Inc., viewed the October 21 signing of the waterway user tax bill into law with "cautious anticipation," and called it "an important first step leading toward the replacement of Locks and Dam 26." The bill, H.R. 8533, signed by President Carter in Minnesota on October 21, calls for the imposition, for the first time in the history of the country, of an excise tax on fuel used by commercial vessels plying 26 segments of the inland and intracoastal waterways of the United States, authorization to construct a replacement facility for Locks and Dam 26 on the Mississippi River near Alton, 111., and an interagency study on the effects of the tax. Additionally, the new law provides for the establishment of an Upper Mississippi River Management Plan to be prepared by the Upper Mississippi River Basin Commission and submitted to Congress by January 1, 1982.

Mr. Potter, a trade association executive, representing the domestic water carrier industry, said: "The historical implications of the President's actions should not be taken casually. Two hundred years of toll-free use of the nation's waterways, a policy fashioned by our founding fathers and r e a f f i r m e d annually until this year, has served the country well." He said: "The world's most sophisticated, multipurpose water resources system serving waterdependent plants, municipalities, industries, the all-important agribusiness, and a wide variety of others is tangible evidence of the success and wisdom of this policy.

"Because this policy has served the country well," Mr. Potter continued, "it is vital that the study provisions of the new law carefully examine the full spectrum of transportation-related energy, economic and social ramifications, particularly the delicate balance of trade implications." He noted that 80 percent of all grain products moving down the Mississippi River are destined for foreign markets. The AWO spokesman added that the important role performed by the water carrier i n d u s t r y must be fully documented and supported by detailed statistical analysis. He said his association would pursue every possible avenue and exhaust all resources to ensure that all accurate facts and figures unique to the water mode be made known to the proper agencies.

"There is too much at stake to simply sit back and allow the Federal Government, through its study agencies, to conduct this study in a vacuum; industry's input is essential," he said. "The outcome of this 8-million-dollar probe should be a blueprint for a well-designed, workable, equitable and productive transportation program a c c o m m o d a t i n g balanced growth for all modes," the Association executive said.

He said his association pledges its fullest cooperation with all Government agencies to work toward this end.

Mr. Potter warned that the future of Locks and Dam 26 on the Mississippi River near Alton, 111., is still questionable. He said: "The bill authorizes construction of this project, but does not direct that construction begin." In the normal course of events, authorization for a project of this nature would end the matter.

H o w e v e r , since August 1974, there has been pending in the U.S.

District Court for the District of Columbia an action brought by the Izaak Walton League, the Sierra Club, and a coalition of 21 Western railroads to prevent construction from going forward," the AWO president added.

"With the authorization behind us, the second element of the plaintiffs' case, their attack on the sufficiency of the Army's comprehensive environmental impact statement is still unresolved, and could go on indefinitely," Mr.

Potter added.

"If positive action were taken by President Carter, his Departments of Justice, Transportation and Army, this case could be expedited, thus allowing the construction of Locks and Dam 26 to begin," Mr. Potter concluded.

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