The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) is thankful the U.S. House of Representatives today passed H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2013. The bill would speed up U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects and boost harbor maintenance funding.
“We are pleased that Congress is moving on this important legislation, which would help soybean farmers get product into the marketplace more efficiently and economically,” says Bill Raben, soybean farmer from Ridgway, Ill., and ISA chairman. “We hope the House and Senate can iron out any differences between their bills and approve final legislation in a timely manner.”
Included in the legislation is the Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act, introduced in March by Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, who teamed up with U.S. Representatives Cheri Bustos and Rodney Davis. The act would create a pilot program to explore agreements between the Army Corps of Engineers and private entities as alternatives to traditional financing, planning, design, and construction models. The pilot program is intended to help expedite projects, including lock and dam modernization along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The Army Corps of Engineers estimates a $60 billion backlog of outstanding projects that will take decades to complete without outside investment.
“We thank Senators Durbin and Kirk and Representatives Bustos and Davis for working on this bipartisan, bicameral legislation to improve the nation’s water infrastructure through public-private partnerships that would expedite projects and save taxpayers money,” says Raben. “This is a priority issue for ISA, and we appreciate their support and leadership.”
ISA supports provisions in H.R.3080 that streamline the review and permitting process for waterways projects to reduce costs and project completion times, increase funding provided from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for dredging and port maintenance, and reduce the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) share for the Olmsted Lock & Dam project from 50 percent to 25 percent. The reduction is designed to free up dollars to help address the $8 billion in backlog projects that has grown in part due to the cost overruns associated with the project.
H.R. 3080 and S. 601, which was passed in May, seek to increase funding for projects to deepen seaport harbors and for upgrades to river locks used by barges. Both would limit time spent on environmental impact reviews for proposed construction efforts and try to limit Army Corps authority over the project backlog to keep more project decisions in the hands of Congress. The House bill puts less new spending into lock upgrades than the Senate-passed bill, and the measures have different approaches to spending harbor cargo tax collections on channel projects.