Barge Industry Seeks $10M Appropriationâ€¨to Begin Designing Inland River Lock Projects
ST. LOUIS, MO A coalition of barge operators, agricultural bulk cargo shippers, business, labor, and conservation groups have asked House and Senate appropriators to approve $10 million in fiscal 2017 for the Army Corps of Engineers to begin pre-construction design of lock replacement and expansion projects in five Midwestern states.
That funding, backers say, could be an early step toward developing major lock and dam projects and related construction to both improve barging capacity and restore wildlife habitat along the upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway.
The appropriation would effectively restart a long-dormant "Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program" at the Corps of Engineers, which Congress authorized in a 2007 water projects law but which the Corps has suspended since 2011 for lack of funding.
The NESP envisioned projects to balance wildlife ecosystem protection - in a region with a large bald eagle population along the riverbanks, for instance - with upgrades to a barge navigation system that was developed in the 1930s and 1940s. The projects would be in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Any expansion of barge cargo capacity could take some freight volume off the region's surface transportation system, with its network of private and sometimes state-supported freight railroads and roadways maintained by state departments of transportation.
However, a program description on a Corps of Engineers' website says: "No construction funds for any NESP project have ever been appropriated. If funded, construction of ecosystem restoration projects and small-scale navigation projects could start within the first year following receipt of construction funds."
The barge industry groups Waterways Council and American Waterways Operators are among 55 industry groups that signed a letter to leaders of the appropriations panels asking them to start funding the already authorized program.
They wrote that the NESP would build seven modern-sized navigation locks at the most congested areas of the two waterways, matched with a 15-year program of ecosystem restoration projects. It is a program, they said, that "facilitates both a healthier economy and river ecosystem."