Highlighting Need for Action, Shaheen Receives Assurance From Army Corps on Portsmouth Harbor

March 11, 2020

Shaheen at E&W Appropriations Subcommittee hearing

Shaheen highlighting the importance of the projects at Rye and Portsmouth Harbors to Senior Army Corps of Engineers Leadership

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today questioned the senior leadership of the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) at a Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, requesting the prioritization and fulfillment of two critical water infrastructure projects – the Rye Harbor Maintenance Dredging Project and the Portsmouth Harbor and Piscataqua River Navigation Improvement Project. Last month, the Corps released their fiscal year 2020 work plan, which included $4 million to complete dredging work at Rye Harbor – a direct result of Shaheen’s legislative efforts to secure the funding and support needed for the project. During the hearing, Shaheen sought to secure – and received - assurances from Lt. General Todd Semonite, the Commanding General and Chief of Engineers for the Corps, that the dredging at Rye Harbor will be completed on schedule. 

In addition, Shaheen highlighted the importance of the turning basin expansion project at Portsmouth Harbor, which is integral to the safety, accessibility and economic vitality of the port and the surrounding communities. When Shaheen asked R.D. James, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, what more Congress can do “to ensure that mid-sized ports like Portsmouth are receiving their consideration and that limited Corps resources are being disbursed in a manner that benefits all communities across the country,” Assistant Secretary James replied by committing to do a better job of conveying the urgency of the project to the Trump administration and requested to meet with the Senator’s staff to “get the details on the project so that I can accurately describe the project to the administration and hopefully help the project through.” 

Lt. General Todd Semonite concurred, stating that, “from an engineering perspective… this continues to be an exceptionally important project that needs money to be able to dredge out.” 

Shaheen concluded her questioning by promising to contact the Secretary’s office “post-haste to make sure we set up that meeting and get you what you need.” 

A video of Shaheen’s questioning can be viewed HERE. 

Since last being dredged in 1990, Rye Harbor has experienced significant shoaling, threatening the local economy and public safety. Further delays to the dredging project could potentially cause the harbor to become nonfunctional. 

Senator Shaheen is a fierce advocate for New Hampshire fishermen and coastal communities. As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, she helped procure more than $7 billion for the Corps to complete necessary infrastructure projects in New Hampshire and across the country in fiscal year (FY) 2020 funding legislation that the President signed into law in December. This is $651 million above last year’s funding level and includes the funding necessary to dredge Rye Harbor. Shaheen also added language to the bill that urges the Corps to expedite scheduled maintenance at small and low-use ports that have experienced unexpected levels of deterioration since their last dredging. Shaheen has continuously pushed for dredging at Rye Harbor, writing a letter to the Corps in October 2018 – and again last month – urging them to prioritize the project. In August, Shaheen toured the harbor to see the shoaling up close and discuss the issue with Corps officials and local fishermen.  

Due to the narrow width of the uppermost turning basin on the Piscataqua River, vessels navigating the river, including liquefied petroleum gas tankers and other bulk shippers, face significant safety risks and transit restrictions, which adds additional cost to cargo shipped into the ports. The Portsmouth Harbor and Piscataqua River Navigation Improvement Project would widen the turning basin from 800 feet to 1,200 feet, which would improve navigation safety and have a beneficial effect to the economy of New Hampshire and the surrounding region. Shaheen first secured authorization for the Portsmouth Harbor and Piscataqua River Navigation Improvement Project as part of the 2016 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Since then, she has worked with the New Hampshire congressional delegation to prioritize the project, specifically including language in the 2018 WRDA urging the Corps to expedite the project. 

Shaheen previously helped procure funding for the Corps to complete necessary infrastructure projects in New Hampshire and across the country in fiscal year 2019 funding legislation that was signed into law. She specifically fought to include language in the legislation that addressed the need for emergency dredging at Hampton-Seabrook Harbor by directing the Corps to prioritize off-cycle, emergency dredging in its Work Plans. Shaheen historically led the New Hampshire delegation in calls to OMB and the Corps, repeatedly urging them to include emergency dredging in the annual Work Plan to see this project through. Last spring, Shaheen released an exclusive video showing how badly the shoaling was occurring in the harbor, underscoring the need for federal assistance to perform emergency dredging. Following her calls, the Corps included $4.6 million in their 2019 Work Plan to dredge the harbor, which has since been completed.