ISG says the Water Resource Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) just approved by Congress is a positive step toward helping the U.S. inland waterway system remain competitive for U.S. soybean and other ag exports. The legislation addresses increased funding for harbor maintenance, shifts in inland waterways trust fund spending, and streamlined practices for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Throughout this process, Illinois soybean farmers worked with legislators to make sure our views were included in crafting the WRRDA bill,” says Bill Raben, soybean farmer from Ridgway, Ill., and ISA chairman. “Now that we have the strategy for the inland waterway system in place, Congress needs to follow through with appropriations. We are hopeful that process will be consistent with recommendations prescribed in the WRRDA conference report.”
Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk and Representatives Cheri Bustos and Rodney Davis were instrumental in assuring key provisions to help speed up repairs and upgrades to the aging locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers were included in the conference report.
The Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act was introduced last year by the four lawmakers, and also was later cosponsored by Illinois Representatives Bill Enyart, John Shimkus and Mike Quigley. The act creates a pilot program that allows the Army Corps of Engineers to explore agreements with private entities as alternatives to traditional financing, planning, design and construction models. Previously authorized navigation, flood damage reduction and hurricane and storm damage reduction projects will be considered for participation in the pilot program.
Other highlights of the legislation include:
- Language to reassert congressional control over water infrastructure projects by requiring congressional approval for authorization of each project.
- Provisions streamlining environmental reviews.
- Money for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund restricted by stages to its original purpose. Funds often are diverted to other uses, but would reach 100 percent utilization for harbor maintenance by 2025. As a result, ports like the Mississippi Gulf region, which accounts for 58 percent of soybean exports, would have necessary funds to ensure the shipping channel is adequately dredged and able to handle larger ocean vessels.
- Money in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund freed up for projects by shifting 85 percent of the cost of the expensive, long-delayed Olmsted dam and locks to general revenues. The project has absorbed all available funds for other inland waterways uses.
ISG places a high priority on addressing transportation issues on behalf of its members. Soybean farmers have unique access to multiple modes of transportation in the state, which allows for a significant competitive advantage versus farmers in many other states. ISG believes preserving, repairing and upgrading transportation infrastructure can enhance farmer profitability.