Congress Comes Through Big Time For WRRDA

The Waterways Journal
4 November 2013


We at the WJ always go clad in armor as we strike blows against government in general and often against Congress for the deteriorated condition of the inland waterway system and its infrastructure. But today we shed that armor and applaud Congress for its overwhelming vote of 417–3 for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, H.R. 3080. We thought it would pass, but not by such an astounding vote. The new bill now heads for a conference with the Senate, which passed its water bill (S. 601) 83–14 in May.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) praised the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee for their effort, which was called “amazing” by Barry Holliday, executive director of the Dredging Contractors of America. Boxer said passage of the House bill “is a critical step to getting this job-creating legislation to the president’s desk.”

Lawmakers and industry leaders stepped forward to commend leaders of the aforementioned committees for their work. Matt Woodruff, chairman of Waterways Council Inc., (WCI) called passage of the bill “a milestone on our journey to efficient, reliable waterways that some said we would never reach.” But he cautioned, “…this job is not over until the president signs a final bill that contains the provisions we want (and does not contain provisions damaging to our industry) and we find a vehicle to provide the fuel tax increase necessary to help fund the execution of the plan.” He did, however, express optimism about “where we are today.”

There are no guarantees. The last Water Resources Development Act was passed in 2007, vetoed by President George Bush, and became law only after the House and Senate voted to override the veto. We haven’t heard an administration opinion of the current bill, but we wouldn’t be surprised if we had to crank up the override machinery again. Still, in this hyper-polarized political climate, for any bill to be approved by a 417–3 margin is truly breathtaking.

H.R. 3080 contains several provisions of H.R. 1149, WAVE 4 (Waterways are Vital for the Economy, Energy, Efficiency and the Environment). From the WJ October 28: “The provisions would reform the project delivery processes of the Army Corps of Engineers; prioritize authorized improvements; and adjust the Inland Waterways Trust Fund so that funds can be used for authorized projects by changing the cost-share formula for the Olmsted Lock and Dam project on the lower Ohio River.”

In another major action relating to Olmsted, on October 16 Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government. The resolution contains a provision to raise the 902(b) cap on the amount that can be spent on the Olmsted Lock and Dam project to $2.9 billion from the current $1.56 billion.

These votes show that the waterways message is getting through to Congress. Not only do we applaud Congress, we must pay tribute to WCI, the National Waterways Conference, the American Waterways Operators and a host of other groups and individuals who have worked tirelessly for this cause over the years. Writing in the American Shipper earlier this month, Walter Kemmsies reminded, “Neglect of the inland waterway system undermines the Midwest’s ability to import and export heavy cargo, especially grain and oilseeds.” He said that without navigable rivers, “most likely the population of North America would have been concentrated on the coasts and perhaps the country would not stretch from coast to coast.” It has been the cause of these supporting organizations to nurture those navigable rivers—to show that efficient waterways are crucial to the economic well being of the nation.

President Obama has expressed his interest in increasing our nation’s foreign trade. We hope he understands thoroughly how much incoming and outgoing cargo is accommodated by the inland waterways. A quick signature on the final bill would not only be most welcome and reassuring to the river industry, but would do much to boost America’s economy.