OMAHA (DTN) -- Pointing to jobs and economic potential, a collection of Senate and House members wrote the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize $2.5 billion for inland waterways projects from the new infrastructure law toward Upper Mississippi River lock and dam projects.
Specifically, 11 senators -- six Democrats and five Republicans -- from states along the Mississippi River, as well as 41 House members -- 20 Democrats and 21 Republicans -- wrote the Corps' assistant secretary for Civil Works to implement the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provisions and prioritize the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) on the Upper Mississippi River.
President Joe Biden signed the infrastructure bill after it passed the House 228 to 206 with 215 Democrats and 13 Republicans backing the bill. None of the Republican House members who joined the letter to the Corps to prioritize the river projects voted for the infrastructure bill.
The letter to the Corps points to construction projects on the Mississippi River, including Lock and Dam 25, which was highlighted by agricultural groups late last month offering to provide $1 million to help pay for pre-engineering and design costs to upgrade the lock and dam near Winfield, Missouri. Agricultural groups pointed to the 82-year-old lock and dam, which slows down grain movement because its 600-foot barge tow capacity is half the standard barge size. That takes up more time to take apart and move barge tows in sections through Lock and Dam 25.
See "Ag Groups Offer Funds for River Project" at https://www.dtnpf.com/….
NESP was originally authorized in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act, but its projects have not been funded for construction -- until now. The lawmakers stated the NESP projects on the Upper Mississippi River have the potential for significant "regional and national economic benefits," which is why the Corps began developing an investment strategy to fund more inland waterway projects. A 2019 study by USDA pointed to a $72 billion potential increase in Gross Domestic Product by rebuilding the lock projects listed in the NESP.
Reconstruction and upgrading the locks and dams would create "50 million person-hours of living wage construction jobs," the lawmakers wrote.
The lawmakers also pointed to wildlife habitat and environmental projects under the NESP.
"NESP"s ecosystem restoration would benefit riverine and riparian habitats throughout the UMRS (Upper Mississippi River system). Specifically, NESP will modify dam operations to restore natural river level variability, backwater and island habitat," among other projects. The members of Congress added, "Collectively, these restoration activities will help ensure that birds, fish and other wildlife continue to thrive in their natural habitats in and along the UMRS."
The letter from lawmakers can be viewed at https://www.grassley.senate.gov/….
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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