Let's start with this simplified definition of a New Start: A study of a new or substantially modified water resource project is a "new start," as is the construction of a project that hasn't been built before. The House-passed Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act allows no study or construction New Starts. The Senate bill allows 10 new feasibility study starts and six new construction starts. Four of the latter slots are taken up by projects included in the President's budget. Think of the 34 new projects authorized for construction by the Water Resources Reform & Development Act (WWRDA) 2014 plus an equal number from the past authorizing legislation that are competing for those two open New Starts, and you can see how frustrated the non-Federal sponsors of those projects are. The restrictions are based on the waiting line for Federal funding that critics of the nation's water resource program call a "backlog." Rather than a rational prioritizing of needs and return on Federal investment, it's all-too-simple to set a New Start limit and let the Administration decide which projects get funded. Some non-Federal sponsors say they can't wait.
Take the Brownsville, TX ship channel deepening project, for example. It took seven years to get the approval of the Chief of Engineers, but that came too late to get into the WRRDA 2014. Without clearing that hurdle, the project is not eligible for Federal construction appropriations. Assuming they don't need any Pre-construction Engineering & Design Funding (which is another hurdle to overcome) it will be at least FY 2018 before there is a dollar of Federal money to deepen the channel. The port wants to use the public-private partnership provisions of WRRDA 2014 to get private funding to fill the Federal funding void. The Port expects that private investors will get reimbursed by the Federal government. That's not a P3, it's a loan based upon the unlikely event that the Port will get Federal money to pay it back.
The Port of Miami is on the verge of completing a similar deepening project using State and local money and no Federal funding because their project didn't make it into the President's budget. As the closest U.S. port to the Panama Canal, they need to be able to accommodate the bigger ships that will be coming through the expanded canal by 2017.
The folks at the White House Office of Management and Budget probably love all this talk of private financing and contributed/advanced/accelerated funding because it looks like it saves Federal money until the non-Federal interest realizes it can't pay the maintenance costs on the project without Federal help. The existing system (if you can call it that) is a totally uncoordinated and inefficient way to manage the nation's ports, inland waterways, coastal storm damage reduction program, and levees.