Eight senators and an industry-and-labor coalition are lobbying for 2017 funds for a long-delayed Army Corps of Engineers navigation and environmental program in the Midwest. In a March 11 letter, the senators—three Republicans and five Democrats—urged Appropriations Committee leaders to consider an unspecified sum for the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program in the fiscal 2017 spending bill, which they will draft in the coming weeks.
The plan is an unusual package deal that includes five new, 1,200-ft-long locks on the upper Mississippi River and two locks on the Illinois Waterway, plus ecosystem restoration projects in the region. The new locks would replace 600-ft-long locks built in the 1930s and 1940s, according to the Corps.
Congress authorized about $4 billion for the program in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act and followed up with about $60 million in appropriations—more than half of which has gone for the environmental projects, says John Doyle, special counsel with law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP. But the plan has received no further funds since fiscal 2011, and a construction start is not yet in sight.
The coalition, which includes construction, waterways, agriculture and organized-labor groups, wrote Senate and House appropriators on March 2 with a specific request: $10 million for preconstruction engineering design to “get this important program closer to construction-ready status in fiscal 2017.”
In all, 55 organizations signed the letter, including the Associated General Contractors of America, the North America’s Building Trades Unions, Waterways Council Inc., the American Farm Bureau Federation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The eight senators include four on the Appropriations Committee: Republicans Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Democrats Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.).
Michael Toohey, Waterways Council Inc. president and CEO, told reporters in a March 9 briefing on navigation issues, “This should be the poster child of the United States Army Corps of Engineers civil-works mission—environmental restoration paired with infrastructure modernization.”