U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Projects. Bill funds Mississippi River locks.

After more than six years of delays, House and Senate negotiators have reached a deal on a massive bill authorizing about $21 billion for more than 900 Corps of Engineers projects and requiring more outside reviews of work the Corps plans to do. House and Senate conferees filed the final, 828-page Water Resources Development Act package on July 31. A House floor vote was expected within two days, but it was unclear whether the Senate would act before the August recess.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D–Minn.) says the measure deals with "six and a half years of stored–up projects and policy issues." The 940 projects and studies include authorizations for some 400 new projects.

Rep. John Mica (Fla.), the transportation panel's top Republican, says the bill's price tag "is going to give the White House heartburn," but notes that the funding is for authorizations, not mandatory spending. Larry Bory, HDR vice president for federal government relations, predicts President Bush will sign the bill, maybe with an "expression of concern." Even if Bush vetoes it, Bory thinks a veto can be overturned. Lawmakers from both parties "really need something specific to take home" to constituents, he says.

Among the new WRDA's biggest items is a $3.9–billion program for the upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway, including $1.95 billion for seven 1,200–ft–long locks and $1.7 billion for environmental restoration work.

For Louisiana, it has about $1.9 billion for coastal restoration, authorizes the Corps to include in the overall plan projects strengthening New Orleans' flood protection and requires shutting the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.

The measure mandates independent reviews of Corps projects when a project's total cost exceeds $45 million, a governor of an affected state requests a study or the Army's chief of engineers determines a project is "controversial." The chief then is to ask the National Academy of Sciences or another group to do the study.

The package didn't include "technical corrections" to 2005's SAFETEA–LU highway and transit law because lawmakers did not want to hold up WRDA.