The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has approved a measure that would authorize construction, studies or changes for dozens of Corps of Engineers water projects and lower the matching share that local authorities have to put up to finance harbor dredging projects. The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which the panel cleared on Sept. 25 by a unanimous voice vote, now heads to the House floor. But getting a WRDA bill enacted this year looks like a long shot, because the legislation seems dead in the Senate.

(Photo courtesy of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee)

The House committee bill authorizes about $607 million in federal funds for four major Corps projects, whose total cost is $992 million. It also authorizes more than 20 smaller Corps projects and modifies 80 others that were authorized in earlier WRDA measures.

In a major policy change, the bill lowers the local cost share for harbor dredging projects to 35% from the current 60%, at depths between 45 and 53 feet. The American Association of Port Authorities has been seeking a change in the local matching share for some time.

The bill also would increase the federal share for follow-on "maintenance" dredging to 100% for the 45-53 foot depths, environmental groups say. The organizations contend the funding shifts could increase federal dredging costs by about $1 billion for new construction

WRDA bills traditionally are popular among lawmakers. Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) notes that the bill addresses the interests of more than 200 House members. Water resources and environment subcommittee Chairman John J. Duncan (R-Tenn) says the panel received requests from House members to have more than 400 projects, studies and modifications included.

Young and Duncan are hoping for quick floor action. But environmental groups are seeking to have amendments attached on the floor that would require changes in how the Corps does business. Among them is a proposal to have outsiders review Corps project studies.

All the House work may go for naught, however. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) hoped to have a WRDA bill ready for a vote by his panel on Sept. 26. But he was unable to craft a bill that was acceptable to committee Democrats and Republicans, a spokesman says.