The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA/S. 601) today, which is good news for Illinois soybean farmers and others who rely on the waterways infrastructure to move soybeans to market.
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.
“Improving and investing in our waterways infrastructure is vital to the Illinois soybean industry,” says Bill Wykes, soybean farmer from Yorkville, Ill., and Illinois Soybean Association chairman. “With more than half of our crop exported, Illinois soybean farmers depend on an efficient transportation system to remain competitive in global markets. We have access to many waterways in Illinois, and our ability to get our products quickly and efficiently to market is one of the aspects that sets us apart from competitors. We call on the House to pass the bill quickly.”
S. 601 includes provisions supported by Illinois Soybean Growers (ISG) to annually increase the amount of funding provided from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for port maintenance and dredging; to streamline the process for Corps of Engineers projects and reduce project completion times; and to free up money and increase capacity of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) by taking the Olmsted Lock and Dam project out of the trust fund account.
“While ISG supports other measures not included in S. 601 to increase revenues for the IWTF and establish alternative financing mechanisms in order to provide more money to address inland waterways infrastructure projects, we appreciate this significant progress and look forward to continuing work with Congress to achieve enactment of a final WRDA in 2013,” says Wykes.