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Sens. Blunt & Durbin, Reps. Smith & Bustos Lead Bipartisan, Bicameral Call for Corps to Fund Upper Mississippi Water Infrastructure Projects

October 27, 2020

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Dick Durbin (Ill.), along with U.S. Representatives Jason Smith (Mo.) and Cheri Bustos (Ill.), led a bipartisan, bicameral call for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to include construction funding for the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) in the Fiscal Year 2021 Work Plan. In a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James and Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lieutenant General Scott A. Spellmon, the lawmakers urged the Corps to take this next step toward lock modernization and ecosystem restoration to strengthen water infrastructure along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.

The lawmakers wrote, “Our nation’s water infrastructure plays a critical role in maintaining our competitiveness in the global economy by ensuring the safest, least expensive, most environmentally-friendly, and most efficient movement of goods to market, but the current backlog of outstanding water infrastructure projects pending before the Corps is putting that competitiveness at risk.”

NESP, which was authorized in Title VIII of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, would modernize and expand seven outdated locks and restore ecosystems. Including construction funding for NESP in the FY 2021 Work Plan would build on the $4.5 million investment in preconstruction engineering and design for the projects in FY2020.

The lawmakers continued, “As this infrastructure continues to age (currently well past its intended lifetime) the risk of catastrophic failure grows. It is imperative that we address this issue before – not after – such a failure occurs.”

“This window in time, with a new construction start available, is the best opportunity to begin the long-awaited NESP program. Waterways Council, Inc. and its members greatly appreciate the leadership from Congresswoman Bustos, Congressman Smith, Senator Blunt, Senator Durbin and all who co-signed onto this letter, advocating for this critical program for the entire nation,” said Tracy Zea, President and CEO of Waterways Council, Inc. “America’s farmers, our manufacturing base, and our construction trades need NESP to begin now.”

“The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) commends Senator Roy Blunt, Senator Dick Durbin, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos and Congressman Jason Smith for this bipartisan letter which will continue to build momentum for the urgently needed Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP),” said Bobby Frederick, Vice President of Legislative Affairs and Public Policy for the National Grain and Feed Association. “NESP will make American Agriculture more competitive through the construction of seven new 1,200-foot locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway. This additional capacity will reduce potential commercial barge traffic disruptions, help discipline rail rates and alleviate highway congestion, all while transporting commodities via the most environmentally friendly mode.”

“With over fifty percent of all corn for export being transported on the inland waterway system, corn farmers rely heavily on efficient and reliable infrastructure of locks and dams,” said John Linder, President of the National Corn Growers Association. “We’re thankful for Congresswoman Bustos, Congressman Smith, Senator Durbin, and Senator Blunt bringing attention to this important issue to ensure our growers are able to move their product efficiently and stay competitive.”

“As America’s #1 export crop with an average export value of more than $16 billion, we rely on U.S. inland waterways infrastructure to stay competitive in dynamic global markets,” said Bill Gordon, President of the American Soybean Association and soy farmer from Worthington, Minnesota. “The American Soybean Association appreciates the Corps’ previous allocation of funds through NESP to improve locks along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers, and we again look to the Corps to assure these vital improvements come to fruition through the FY2021 Work Plan. As America’s soybean farmers are harvesting the 2020 crop this fall, the timeliness of these water infrastructure projects is all the more evident—and pressing—for our continued economic success.”

Text of the letter can be found here.

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