Olmsted project continues after shutdown averted

By Derrick Cain

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2013 - The law to avoid a government shutdown and a debt default includes a provision to allow work to continue on the Olmsted Lock and Dam project.

The law raises the 902(b) cap on the amount that can be spent on the project in Illinois from $1.56 billion to $2.9 billion.

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The Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) said the law does not appropriate funds, but does avoid a possible shutdown of the project if Congress is unable to approve a new water resources development act by November. WCI said it raises the ceiling on the cost of the project set in 1986. 

Michael J. Toohey, WCI president and chief executive officer, said, “This important project in Illinois has a 7.4 to 1 benefit-cost ratio as determined by the Corps of Engineers' chief's report approved by Congress, and is estimated to return more than $410 million annually in transportation cost savings and benefits when it is completed.”

WCI said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the Inland Waterways Users Board in August that the Olmsted project, which is far behind schedule, would be shuttered in November and would displace 400 workers if Congress did not act the raise the cap. 

The Senate approved its Water Resources Development Act (S. 601) legislation in May. The House is poised to consider its Water Resources Reform and Development Act (H.R. 3080) next week.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, said the provision in the law is not an earmark, despite some criticism from conservative groups.

“This provision basically allows work on this project to continue.  No new funds are being allocated to Olmsted,” Steenhoek said. “The same sources of funding (the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and matching funds from the U.S. Treasury) are paying for the construction work.”

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