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WRDA House OK coincides with river lock construction

PEORIA, Ill. — After the third Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) crafted over the past six years passed the U.S. House on June 6, the body also quickly passed the fiscal year 2019 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill by a vote of 235-179.

The June 8 passage of the appropriations bill was followed by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announcement of how it would allocate $399 million from the federal fiscal 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, spurring construction on new or resuming lock and dam projects on the nation’s inland waterways system.

In Illinois, the LaGrange (Cass County) lock and dam improvement project is moving ahead, thanks in part to Illinois Republican Reps. Darin LaHood and Rodney Davis. The two have been pressuring the Corps to begin construction on the LaGrange lock and other vital waterways projects since before the House approved a 2018 WRDA.

On June 8, the two announced $10 million for funding LaGrange lock repairs, along with $1 million for the Corps to move forward with the long-stalled Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP), which allows for seven expansion projects on the Illinois and upper Mississippi rivers.

“Moving forward with updating LaGrange is long-awaited great news for Illinois corn farmers who have been advocating for such improvements for decades,” said Aron Carlson, president of the Illinois Corn Growers Assoc.

“Everyone knows that LaGrange is a ticking time bomb for some type of failure. More than a third of Illinois’ corn production is exported via the inland waterways, so to say any disruption or closure on the system is costly to producers is an understatement.”

Davis said the NESP is critical to updating Illinois’ crumbling lock and dam system, and credited the Trump administration for “getting the ball rolling” by making waterways infrastructure a priority.

“I will continue to put pressure on the Army Corps to begin construction on these important projects as soon as possible,” he said. LaHood added that by funding the lock and dam repairs, “we will be strengthening our economy for years to come.”

The St. Louis-based Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) applauded Davis and LaHood “for this monumental progress to realize NESP’s start.” Mike Toohey, president and CEO of the Waterways Council, said, “This action provides an opportunity to take an updated, more comprehensive look at the vast benefits of the construction and utilization of more efficient locks at the seven key locations.”

Boosted by the $399 million allocated in the omnibus, the Corps’ FY18 construction work plan, in addition to the LaGrange project, looks like this:

Olmsted Locks and Dam (Ohio River in Illinois and Kentucky), $175 million

Kentucky Lock (Tennessee and Ohio rivers, Kentucky), $39.5 million

Lower Mon Locks and Dams (Monogahela River, Pennsylvania), $98 million

Chickamauga Lock and Dam (Tennessee River, Tennessee), $76.5 million

“The FY18 omnibus appropriations and the Corps’ FY18 work plan represent another year of record funding for the Corps’ critical Civil Works mission,” Toohey noted. “When there was once just one navigation project funded in past fiscal year budgets (Olmsted), today there are four projects proceeding and one new start.

“WCI is extremely grateful for the dedication and steadfast commitment that House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) demonstrated to proceed with WRDA every two years. At the beginning of his House T-and-I chairmanship, Chairman Shuster committed to returning WRDA bills to that biannual process, and the 2018 bill marks the third WRDA bill in six years. Prior to that, there had been just two bills in 14 years.”

The House 2018 WRDA does not contain a controversial user fee of public-private partnership tolling proposal, which was strongly opposed by the WCI.