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Published May 19, 2014, 09:24 AM

Ag groups say water resources measure important during rail delays

WASHINGTON — The Water Resources Reform Development Act of 2014, which would improve locks and dams on the Mississippi River and ease farm product transportation, is finally heading toward floor consideration in Congress.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — The Water Resources Reform Development Act of 2014, which would improve locks and dams on the Mississippi River and ease farm product transportation, is finally heading toward floor consideration in Congress.

The leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee released the conference report on May 15.

The Waterways Council, the National Grain and Feed Association and the American Soybean Association immediately endorsed it.

Waterways Council President Michael Toohey said WCI’s members — towboat operators, shippers, labor, port, conservation and agriculture groups — are “deeply grateful” that the conference report has finished and thankful to the members of the conference committee for finalizing it.

The National Grain and Feed Association, which represents country elevators, said it looks forward to working with both houses of Congress to secure final passage and sending the legislation to the president to be signed into law.

“The waterways really are the gateway to how our nation helps feed the world,” said National Grain and Feed President Randy Gordon.

“And recent rail service disruptions have magnified and reinforced the importance of the United States having an all-of-the-above transportation infrastructure policy that focuses on all modes — truck, rail, barge and vessel.”

American Soybean Association President and Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser said, “This is a huge step forward to ensure the continued success of the soybean supply chain, and leaders in both the House and Senate deserve a great deal of credit for shepherding this bill through a challenging policymaking climate.”

The Waterways Council said the bill contains four major recommendations of the Capital Development Plan, a comprehensive consensus package of ways to improve the vitality of the inland waterways that was developed in concert with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and was unanimously endorsed by the Congressionally chartered Inland Waterways Users Board in 2010:

• The Olmsted lock-and-dam project on the Ohio River, at 85 percent from the general fund, 15 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (which comes from barge diesel fuel user fees), freeing up approximately $105 million per year for funding other Trust Fund priority projects with Olmsted funded at $150 million per year.

National Grain and Feed also praised the funding change for the “long-delayed and over-budget Olmstead lock-and-dam project.”

This change in the former 50:50 cost-share formula will free up approximately $56 million a year in industry- paid user fees to fund much-needed restoration to dilapidated locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System, NGFA noted.

• Definition of major rehabilitation projects eligible for Inland Waterways Trust Fund: Increased from current level of $14 million to $20 million, and adjusted annually for inflation.

• Prioritization of projects: Based upon risk of failure and economic benefit to the nation as proposed by the CDP.

• Project delivery: Based upon CDP-recommended reforms to achieve on-time and on-budget performance.

The conference agreement also establishes annual target appropriations levels for increased spending of funds from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund leading to full use of HMTF funds by 2025, the council noted.

NGFA also pointed to reforms to the HMTF that will make more money available for port-dredging activities, as well as many reforms to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operations designed to streamline its project-delivery process and promote fiscal responsibility.

NGFA said these improvements will help maintain U.S. agricultural competitiveness in world markets and ensure U.S. farmers receive needed crop inputs to produce grains, oilseeds and other agricultural commodities.

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