A log jam that put off Senate floor action on a new Water Resources Development Act has been cleared, setting the stage for a vote as early as July 19 on a bill authorizing an estimated $13 billion for  Corps of Engineers work. At ENR press time, the most-anticipated votes were to come on amendments to require new priority-setting and reviews for Corps projects.

Industry officials expect the bill to pass. John Doyle, Waterways Council Inc. vice president for government relations, says it may win 90 votes.

The industry had hoped for a WRDA to be enacted every two years, but there hasn’t been one signed into law since December 2000.  That has made this bill a big one. “It’s got three WRDA’s worth of projects,” including dredging, environmental restoration and flood-control work, says Doyle. The largest item is a $3.8-billion package for the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers, with new locks and environmental work. 

Big Projects in Senate Bill
Project
($ MIL)
Federal Cost Total Cost
Upper Mississippi-Illinois River System    
- Seven new, 1,200-ft. locks 1,870 1,870
- Ecosystem restoration 1,650 *
- Mooring facilities, switchboats, traffic scheduling 246 246
Indian River Lagoon, Fla. (enviro. restoration) 683 1365
Morganza, La.-Gulf of Mexico (storm protection) 546 841
Craney Island, Va. (dredging)  26 607
Poplar Island, Md. (dredged material use) 192 256
Picayune Strand, Fla. (enviro. restoration) 181 362
Port of Iberia, La. (dredging) 130 205
Jamaica Bay, Marine Park,
Plumb Beach, N.Y. (ecological restoration)
133 204
East St. Louis, Ill. (eco.restor., recreation) 131 202
Corpus Christi, Texas, Ship Channel
(dredging, ecological restoration)
88 188
*some projects have 100% federal funding, others 65%
Sources: Draft of S. 728, American Waterways Conference, ENR
 

The key votes will be on riders proposed by Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), and backed by environmental and fiscal watchdog groups. Observers say wrangling over the proposals was one reason it took 15 months for a committee-passed WRDA to reach the floor. They would require non-Corps officials to review projects over $40 million and have a Cabinet-level panel and the Army Secretary issue an annual project ranking.

Taxpayers for Common Sense Vice President Steve Ellis says, “We need to make sure we spend our money wisely.” But Dave Sanford, American Association of Port Authorities’ director of navigation policy and legislation, says the proposals “would substantially alter the way the Corps...develops, reviews and implements projects.”

A Senate-passed bill would go to conference with a $12-billion bill the House approved last year. If the Feingold-McCain proposals are defeated on the Senate floor, “I don’t think it’s going to be a super-difficult conference,” says National Waterways Conference President Worth Hager.