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Waterways Council backs river bills

Keywords: Tags  Waterways Council, Senate bills, Mississippi River, Dick Durbin, Mark Kirk, floods, droughts, navigation Water Resource Development Act

CHICAGO — Two bills aimed at keeping navigation along the Mississippi River and related waterways during droughts and severe weather conditions have been endorsed by the Waterways Council, which represents major shippers, as well as terminal operators and ship owners.

The Mississippi River Navigation Sustainment Act (S.B.565) and the Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act (S.B.566) were introduced by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.). Durbin was especially active last year in pressing the Obama administration to clear rock formations on the middle Mississippi River that were uncovered when drought conditions lowered the river’s water levels.

Citing flooding in 2011 and a drought in 2012 that nearly crippled the shipping industry this past winter, S.B.565 addresses "extreme weather events that pose challenges to navigation and life along the Mississippi River and are likely to become more severe and more frequent in the coming years."

The bill calls for a Mississippi River Basin study to improve coordinated management of water resource projects related to weather. The study would also identify federal actions needed to prevent and mitigate weather impacts, including changing channel dimensions, lock and dam operating procedures, and reservoir management.

The proposed legislation also calls for updating forecasting technology and a 10-year pilot program to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitats in the middle Mississippi River.

The second bill would establish a pilot program to explore public-private partnerships to plan, design and build models to expedite project delivery and save taxpayers money. S.B.566 would authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to accept up to 15 previously authorized navigation, flood damage reduction, and hurricane and storm damage reduction projects for the pilot program.

The Waterways Council "supports legislation that investigates public-private partnerships for waterways infrastructure, and legislation that injects flexibility into river system management during changing weather conditions," president and chief executive officer Michael J. Toohey said.

The House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment will hold a hearing April 16 on the Water Resources Development Act, another measure supported by the council. Peter Stephaich, who chairs Campbell Transportation Co. Inc. and serves as the council’s secretary, is scheduled to testify.

The Water Resources Development Act "focuses on developing, maintaining and supporting the nation’s port and waterway infrastructure, as addressing targeted flood protection and environmental restoration needs," subcommittee chairman Rep. Bob Gibbs (R., Ohio) said April 10.

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