New study outlines options for fixing locks and dams

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



ST. LOUIS, Jan. 8, 2013 - Significant changes need to be made with respect to the level of funding and types of funding needed to improve the capacity and ensure the long-term viability of the U.S. inland waterway infrastructure. However, there is little consensus on the best approach to address these issues. 

A recent study includes input from several stakeholder groups and looks at several options for fixing locks and dams. The study, funded by the United Soybean Board's (USB's) Global Opportunities program in coordination with the Soy Transportation Coalition examined potential maintenance solutions and explores new funding mechanisms, such as using bonding authority or imposing new user fees.

The U.S. inland waterways serve as important and economical routes to transport U.S. soy to global markets, points out USB. Fifty-nine percent of total 2011 soybean exports passed through Mississippi River ports in southern Louisiana. Of those soybeans, 89 percent passed through the locks on U.S. inland waterways on the way to the ports.

“We're shipping more than half of our soybeans out of this country to foreign markets,” says Dale Profit, soybean farmer and USB farmer-leader from Van Wert, Ohio. “To get those beans to the end user as efficiently as we can and remain competitive in the world market, we need a properly maintained waterway system that meets our needs.”

One approach recommended in the study would be to place greater emphasis on maintenance, rather than new construction, of the current lock and dam system, except in certain circumstances. Such an approach could take several forms, including minimal routine and preventative maintenance (this is also called a “fix as fails” strategy) or some routine and preventative maintenance.

The ideal situation would include providing regular routine maintenance and major rehabilitation. Currently it is estimated that within the next 50 years, major rehabilitation will be needed at all 171 U.S. lock sites.

“The lock and dam system is the backbone for transporting soybeans and grain in this country,” adds Profit. “It's important that this infrastructure be properly maintained.”

 

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