It took nearly a decade for Congress to authorize legislation to replace and upgrade the lock and dam system on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. They managed to finally do it in 2007 with the Water Resources Development Act. However, there was only one problem; they didn't appropriate the money to actually begin working on the system. The National Corn Growers Association is leading a push for the funding.
"For continued success, the U.S. agricultural industry needs efficient transportation networks, which is why we have been long-time advocates for improvements to our inland waterway system," NCGA and other agriculture groups wrote in a coalition letter to Congress. "Funding lock and dam improvements and other waterway projects are crucial to farmers who depend on the inland waterway system to deliver their crops to the global marketplace and to businesses who rely on the system to move their raw materials and products."
With both the House and Senate taking up the Stimulus Package this week, the groups are urging their members to contact their legislators and ask them to include funding for improvements to internal waterway infrastructures. As it stands right now, the bill doesn't allow the use of stimulus dollars to renovate and construct locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi or Illinois Rivers under the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program.
"Congress should remove any language in the stimulus bill that would inhibit allocating funds for lock construction," says Rob Elliott, president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association. "ICGA is also asking they take steps to address the credit freeze that is currently threatening to drive more bankruptcies in the ethanol industry. There is currently nothing in the stimulus package to assist agriculture and these two steps would provide a boost to this core industry that is fundamental to the long term health of the U.S. economy."
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 35,000 jobs would be created for every $1 billion put into waterway infrastructure. Nearly 60% of all U.S. grain exports, which amounts to about $8.5 billion in export value, are moved each year along the inland waterway system.