WASHINGTON, May 25, 2016 – Farm and waterways interest groups expressed support for the 2016 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that cleared the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Wednesday.
The House’s version of WRDA is less expensive and less complex than the Senate’s, which was voted out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last month. The House bill, H.R. 5303, would authorize about $5 billion in projects to maintain the nation’s aging locks, dams, ports and harbors; the Senate version, S. 2848, tips the scales at $9.3 billion.
“Water resources infrastructure is fundamental to a sound economy, and WRDA 2016 gets Congress back to basics and the business of regularly addressing the needs of our ports, waterways, lock and dam systems, flood protection, and other infrastructure,” House T&I Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said.
Included in the Senate bill is authority for $230 million in grants in fiscal 2017 for small community drinking water systems, and another $60 million for projects to reduce lead in drinking water. The House bill includes no such language, and Shuster opposed most amendments that would have increased the cost of the bill, including one offered by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, that would have allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to offer construction assistance to communities to address drinking water contamination.
Both bills authorize so-called “Chief’s Reports” – 28 in the House bill, 25 in the Senate’s – that constitute the Corps’ final recommendations for water resources infrastructure projects.
What was left out of the House bill was as important to waterways advocates as what was in it.
The Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) and the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) were both happy that the bill does not include tolling or lockage fees to pay for public-private partnerships.
“It’s a great bill,” said Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) President and CEO Mike Toohey. “It’s really heartening to see how the committee operates.” (WCI news release is here.)
NGFA said in a statement that the bill is “an important step toward more frequent and thorough oversight of the U.S. inland waterways system and U.S. harbors.” But NGFA also said it would continue to push for an increase in the threshold for major rehabilitation projects. Rep. John Duncan Jr, R-Tenn., offered but then withdrew an amendment to increase the threshold to $35 million, after Shuster said he opposed it.
Both the Waterways Council and NGFA support an increase in the current threshold of $20 million. WCI wants the level raised “as a way to more clearly differentiate between capital and O&M project work on the waterways.” NGFA said it wants the threshold raised “in an effort to ensure proper maintenance and protect (Inland Waterways Trust Fund) dollars.”
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