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Army Corps Urged to Prioritize Upper Mississippi Water Infrastructure Projects

November 12, 2020 by Sean Trambley

WASHINGTON – Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and Jason Smith, R-Mo., and Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., are leading a bipartisan, bicameral call for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to include funding for Upper Mississippi water infrastructure projects in its Fiscal Year 2021 Work Plan.

In a letter, the lawmakers urged the Corps to prioritize lock upgrades and ecosystem restoration along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The inland waterway system is critical to the transportation of a number of American products and plays a key role in the agriculture economy.

The Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program, which was authorized in Title VIII of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, would modernize and expand seven outdated locks and restore ecosystems. Including construction funding for NESP would build on a $4.5 million investment in preconstruction engineering and design for the projects in FY20.

“NESP is a critically important multi-purpose program that allows the Corps to address both navigation and ecosystem restoration in an integrated approach that constructs new locks at seven existing sites, thereby opening the river up to two-way traffic,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter continued, “Our nation’s water infrastructure plays a critical role in maintaining our competitiveness in the global economy by ensuring the safest, least expensive, most environmentally-friendly, and most efficient movement of goods to market, but the current backlog of outstanding water infrastructure projects pending before the Corps is putting that competitiveness at risk.” 

The letter is supported by a number of industry and trade groups, including the Waterways Council, the National Grain and Feed Association, the National Corn Growers Association, and the American Soybean Association.

“This window in time, with a new construction start available, is the best opportunity to begin the long-awaited NESP program. Waterways Council, Inc. and its members greatly appreciate the leadership from Congresswoman Bustos, Congressman Smith, Senator Blunt, Senator Durbin and all who co-signed onto this letter, advocating for this critical program for the entire nation,” said Tracy Zea, president and CEO of Waterways Council, Inc. “America’s farmers, our manufacturing base, and our construction trades need NESP to begin now.”

“The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) commends Senator Roy Blunt, Senator Dick Durbin, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, and Congressman Jason Smith for this bipartisan letter which will continue to build momentum for the urgently needed Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP),” said Bobby Frederick, vice president of Legislative Affairs and Public Policy for the National Grain and Feed Association. “NESP will make American Agriculture more competitive through the construction of seven new 1,200-foot locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway. This additional capacity will reduce potential commercial barge traffic disruptions, help discipline rail rates and alleviate highway congestion, all while transporting commodities via the most environmentally friendly mode.”

“With over 50% of all corn for export being transported on the inland waterway system, corn farmers rely heavily on efficient and reliable infrastructure of locks and dams,” said John Linder, president of the National Corn Growers Association. “We’re thankful for Congresswoman Bustos, Congressman Smith, Senator Durbin, and Senator Blunt bringing attention to this important issue to ensure our growers are able to move their product efficiently and stay competitive.”

“As America’s #1 export crop with an average export value of more than $16 billion, we rely on U.S. inland waterways infrastructure to stay competitive in dynamic global markets,” said Bill Gordon, president of the American Soybean Association and soy farmer from Worthington, Minnesota. “The American Soybean Association appreciates the Corps’ previous allocation of funds through NESP to improve locks along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers, and we again look to the Corps to assure these vital improvements come to fruition through the FY2021 Work Plan. As America’s soybean farmers are harvesting the 2020 crop this fall, the timeliness of these water infrastructure projects is all the more evident—and pressing—for our continued economic success.”

Text of the letter can be found here.

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