A group of more than 100 organizations feel the FY 2004 federal budget for American's waterways is "inadequate to meet the growing needs in each of these vital civil works programs." This was part of a letter sent to House and Senate budget committees this week, calling on the lawmakers to increase fiscal year 2005 funding for water resource development projects.
The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) is among the members of the coalition. With more than 60% of the nation's grain exports shipped on inland waterways, the group sees the issue of funding key for corn growers success.
Ron Fitchhorn, chair of NCGAâ€™s Production and Stewardship Action Team, worries that without adequate funding to operate and maintain the locks and dams on the waterways, corn growers will face transportation unreliability and increased freight rates.
"If the system continues to be neglected, corn growers will be forced to rely on more expensive methods of transportation. Our hands are tied. We rely on the Corps of Engineers to operate, maintain and improve the waterways system, but it simply canâ€™t do its jobs without proper funding," Fitchhorn says.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent $4.905 billion on its civil works obligations in 2003, the letter states. But the Office of Management and Budget has requested just $4.215 billion for FY 2005. The letter says the budget cut "will not only delay or terminate projects, it will cost U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars in benefits foregone and higher transportation bills."
The FY 2005 Corps budget proposal will cause ongoing construction projects to be delayed or terminated, the letter states. The Corps would only be able to continue work on lock and dam projects, port improvements and flood control projects at approximately 60% of its capability, according to the letter.
"This is a serious problem. Most of our locks and dams are well past their life expectancy," Fitchhorn adds. "Theyâ€™re crumbling before our eyes because of the funding situation and nothing is being done about it. We urge our legislators to provide the funding necessary to keep Americaâ€™s water resources infrastructure operational."