Touting the critical need for passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2005, the National Corn Growers Association, the Midwest Area River Coalition 2000, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, the American Land Conservancy and key senators from states along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers came together Tuesday to urge Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to schedule a vote for the bill.
"Our transportation infrastructure on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers is working on borrowed time," says Ken McCauley, NCGA first vice president. "The infrastructure is almost 20 years past its life expectancy. If our trade goals are to be fully realized, we must have a modernized and efficient river transportation infrastructure to secure our global and competitive future."
WRDA authorizes the construction of seven 1,200-foot locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers and an expansive ecosystem restoration program for the Mississippi River basin area. The bill also includes immediate implementation of small-scale measures, such as guide-wall extensions and helper boats, to help alleviate congestion. Funds would also be approved for Florida's Everglades and coastal regions of Louisiana.
Eighty-one senators have signed onto a letter to Frist urging him to put the bill on the voting schedule. The bill, however, remains stalled. "With over eighty senators in support, there simply is no legitimate reason the WRDA bill remains blocked," says Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "I urge the Majority Leader bring this legislation up and pass it."
The House passed its WRDA bill last July by a 406-14 vote.
McCauley adds WRDA is important to other industries, not just agriculture. "Our affiliation with the carpenters union is important," he says. "It gives us a different perspective on the impacts of getting this bill passed. For the carpenters, it means jobs. And it's not just about commodities moving down the river; there are all sorts of products shipped up the river."
Sens. Jim Talent, R-Mo., Kit Bond, R-Mo., Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Harkin and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., spoke at the event, each echoing that lock modernization along the nation's "Third Coast" is critical to the U.S. economy.
"The modernization of our water infrastructure is critical to our economy," says Talent, a member of the Senate Waterways Caucus. "This legislation means jobs for Americans, and it will allow us to maintain our ability to efficiently move products and commodities on the Mississippi River while protecting the environment. We must pass this legislation now to make the necessary updates to our locks and dams on behalf of Missourians and others who depend on the rivers for their livelihood."
Bond, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee and key author of the bipartisan legislation, adds, "If we do not invest in infrastructure for the next generation, we will have a transportation straightjacket on our economy that will frustrate competitiveness, growth and job creation."