Senate joins House in passing waterways bill
by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — The Senate passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) by a 91-7 vote. The House of Representatives passed the legislation on May 20 by a vote of 412 to 4. The measure was sent to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.
The act includes provisions that will free up significant funding within the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for additional waterways infrastructure projects, increase the level of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund dollars that will be spent on port maintenance and dredging, streamline the Army Corps of Engineers’ project review process, increase the Corps’ flexibility to maintain navigation during low water events, and promote the use of alternative financing and public-private partnerships to fund waterways infrastructure.
The National Grain and Feed Association called passage of the first WRRDA bill in seven years a major milestone.
“Enactment of this legislation provides the opportunity to authorize much-needed projects to renovate our nation’s aging inland waterway locks and dams, mandates reforms that offer the promise of improving the efficiency and timeliness with which such projects are completed, and enhances harbor dredging,” said Randy Gordon, president of the NGFA.
The NGFA noted that the inland waterways system is indispensable in providing US agriculture with an efficient and cost-effective means for transporting agricultural products, with roughly 60 percent of US grains and oilseed exports annually traversing the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System to export ports. As such, the NGFA said, WRRDA and the improvements it will bring will help maintain US agricultural competitiveness in world markets. Closer to home, it also will ensure US farmers receive needed crop inputs to produce grains, oilseeds and other agricultural commodities, the association noted.
Gordon said the NGFA looks forward to working with waterway and agricultural groups to pursue congressional enactment of an increase in the barge diesel user fee that will be essential to providing the funding necessary to pursue long-overdue inland waterway renovation projects.