The Midwest Area River Coalition (MARC 2000) and key senators from states along the Mississippi River came together today in a joint press conference touting the critical need for passage of S. 2470, a bill that would modernize locks on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
Sens. Kit Bond, R-Mo., Jim Talent, R-Mo., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., a bipartisan group representing the Mississippi River basin, introduced S. 2470 on May 20. The bill calls for navigation capacity improvements and a major ecosystem restoration program for the upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway.
The bill allocates $1.46 billion in funding, half of which will come from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, for construction of 1,200-foot locks at Locks 20, 21, 22, 24 and 25 on the upper Mississippi and at LaGrange and Peoria Locks on the Illinois Waterway. The legislation also provides for immediate implementation of small-scale measures, including mooring facilities at seven locks and switchboats at five locks. The bill also provides $1.46 billion for ecosystem restoration.
The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) has helped spearhead the call for modernization. Illinois corn grower and NCGA member Greg Guenther says, "Corn growers believe modernizing locks is imperative so growers can meet the ever-expanding opportunities presented by growing domestic and global demand for our crop. New locks will help ensure we can transport our product to our customers efficiently and effectively."
All senators in attendance echoed similar comments that modernization of locks along the nation's "Third Coast" is absolutely critical to the U.S. economy, and that their legislation means jobs for Americans, efficiency in our modes of transportation and greater protection and enhancement of the environment.
The future of the bill is uncertain. The senators hope the legislation will be included in the Corps reauthorization bill this year.
"We recognize this bill is going to be a challenge, given tight budgets, but failure to act would be penny wise and pound foolish," said Harkin. "We need to be thinking of the long-term economic vitality of our agricultural producers and shippers, in tandem with the long-term health of the diverse ecosystems in the river. I believe the legislation we are proposing strikes that careful balance."