The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has approved two major infrastructure bills, one authorizing dozens of Corps of Engineers water projects and the other providing aid for state funds for sewage treatment and drinking water facilities.
The bills, which the panel cleared on June 23, next go to the Senate floor, but lawmakers will be out of session the week of June 28, for the July 4 break.
Committee staffers said they couldn't immediately provide an estimate of how much money is authorized in the Corps bill, the 2004 Water Resources Development Act. But the total cost of the many projects it contains certainly is several billion dollars. If enacted this year, it would be the first WRDA bill to become law since 2000.
The largest item is a $2.3-billion package of expanded locks and dams and ecosystem restoration projects on the upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The measure authorizes $730 million from the general fund and the same amount from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to double the length of five locks on the Mississippi and two on the Illinois, to 1,200 feet. The plan also includes $200 million for environmental mitigation stemming from the expanded locks and non-structural improvements.
The bill also authorizes "such sums as are necessary" for a variety of environmental restoration projects for the "upper Miss" plan. The bill says the total construction cost of the environmental projects is $1.46 billion.
The "upper Miss" plan's main supporter, transportation and infrastructure subcommittee Chairman Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) said, "modernizing our lock and dam systems will produce economic benefits now, including providing 48 million man-hours of construction work."
In addition, the measure authorizes elements of a major environmental restoration plan for coastal Louisiana, including $85 million for unspecified demonstration projects; $91 million in federal money towards the $140-million Bayou LaFourche "river reintroduction" project and $100 million for demonstrating "beneficial use" of dredged material.
Other big projects in the bill include: Louisiana storm damage reduction, from Morganza to the Gulf of Mexico, $481 million in federal funds out of a total project cost of $740 million; Harbor dredging in the Iberia, La., with $132 million in federal funds towards a $165-million total project cost; dredging at Miami, Fla., with $64 million in federal funds out of a $157-million total cost; and environmental restoration in Jamaica Bay, N.Y., with $117 million in federal aid out of a $180-million total cost.
The WRDA measure also mandates outside "peer reviews" of Corps project studies, a concept that environmental groups have supported. But "green" groups are unhappy with the committee bill.
In a June 22 letter to leaders of the environment panel, the National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and four other environmental groups said the provisions "fail to provide the reforms that are needed to improve and modernize the Corps...