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A dredging vessel performs maintenance work on the shipping channel leading to the Port of Charleston in this file photo. Proposed legislation in Congress would let the Army Corps of Engineers use all of the money from a federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Congress typically siphons money from the fund for other purposes. File

The long-running battle to stop Congress from siphoning money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is back for another round.

Legislation introduced last week by Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democraft from Oregon, would let the Army Corps of Engineers use the full amount of the federal fund — roughly $9.3 billion — for harbor maintenance dredging projects nationwide, including the Port of Charleston.

The fund gets its money from shippers that pay a tax on the value of their imports. It equals $1.25 for every $1,000 in goods.

The money is passed on to the U.S. Treasury and appropriated by Congress, which typically gives the Army Corps far less than what is collected. Congress then spends the rest of the cash on unrelated projects.

The money that's currently sitting in the fund would be enough to meet the maintenance dredging needs of all federally authorized ports, according to the bill's executive summary.

In addition, the bill allows spending another $24.5 billion the fund will collect over the next decade.

"It is wrong that the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund has been raided for non-harbor purposes," Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., said in a statement. "This is the first step this  Congress will take in ensuring that shippers who pay (the tax) are receiving a benefit from their user fee."

The bill has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

This isn't the first time members of Congress have tried to steer trust fund spending toward its stated purpose. Similar legislation in 2016 failed to gain approval and Congress has repeatedly been criticized by maritime groups for diverting trust fund money toward non-maritime purposes. 

Ripple effect

The State Ports Authority's inland port in Dillon is having a wider economic benefit than simply moving more cargo from the I-95 corridor to the Charleston waterfront.

Moody's Investors Service recently upgraded the Marlboro County School District's credit rating to A2 from its previous A3 on previously issued general obligation debt.

Moody's cited "the steady annual growth in the district's moderately sized tax base benefiting from its proximity to the inland port in Dillon County" as a key reason for the upgrade.

The bond-rating agency also assigned an A2 underlying rating and a Aa1 enhanced rating on $10 million of new debt for the school district.

The inland port opened about a year ago along Interstate 95 on property near a Harbor Freight Tools distribution center. Cargo at the site is transferred between trucks and CSX Corp. trains that make regular runs to and from the Port of Charleston.

Volvo Cars s50 sedan

U.S. consumers have bought 5,285 of Volvo’s S60 sedans since the cars built at the automaker’s Berkeley County manufacturing campus started showing up at dealerships in November. Provided/Volvo Cars

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Sedan sales

U.S. consumers have purchased nearly 5,300 of the S60 sedans that Volvo Cars builds at its $1.1 billion manufacturing campus near Ridgeville in the six months since the redesigned vehicle started showing up at dealerships in November.

That includes 1,232 S60s sold in April, according to Volvo's latest U.S. sales figures. All told, Volvo sales are up 7.1 percent this yaer with 30,425 cars moving off dealers' lots.

The most popular vehicles remain Volvo's XC90 and XC60 SUVs. Combined with the XC40, Volvo's SUV sales are up 14 percent this year, according to Anders Gustafsson, president and CEO of the automaker's U.S. division.

Globally, Volvo Cars sales are up 8.9 percent for the January through April period.

Dock downtime

The workers who load and unload cargo at Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant had a rare day off along the waterfront Thursday when no container ships showed up at the wharves.

"It's just the way the vessel schedule fell into place," said Erin Dhand, spokeswoman for the State Ports Authority. "The calls originally scheduled at Wando Welch Terminal were delayed at their prior port of call."

The respite was short. Three ships capable of carrying a combined 21,500 containers showed up the next day.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_