Waterways bills await final action in Congress

The fate of several key bills for the inland waterways industry will be decided when Congress returns from summer recess in September.

On the agenda will be the final numbers on the appropriations bill for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the nation’s lock-and-dam system, and on the 2005 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which would authorize construction of seven modern locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

The House and Senate have approved different versions of a spending bill for the Corps. 

The Senate, for example, would provide $5.3 billion for the agency’s operations — $600 million more than the House and $800 million more than the Bush administration’s budget request. It provides funds for construction, operation and maintenance, and for priority projects identified by the Inland Waterways Users Board. 

Half of the funding for these projects will come from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. Both the House and Senate totals for this account represent the largest amount ever appropriated for Trust Fund projects. A conference committee must now reconcile the two versions.

WRDA will also head to a final vote after Labor Day. The House passed its version by a wide margin (406-14) on July 14, after defeating amendments that would have placed restrictions on modernization of the Upper Miss and Illinois rivers. Also rejected was an amendment that would have required U.S. ports to charge a user fee on incoming containers and use the funds for port security and infrastructure. 

As passed, the House version would authorize 700 water projects, studies and modifications, including $1.8 billion for the Upper Miss project. The Senate’s WRDA bill has been reported out of committee and is expected to reach the Senate floor this fall. 

                             — Pamela Glass 


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