By Bobby Frederick, Director of Legislative Affairs and Public Policy
The NGFA’s quest to jump start construction on the dilapidated locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River System under the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP) received some positive momentum this month, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) released its 2020 Work Plan.
The Work Plan revealed that NESP would receive $4.5 million to conduct additional pre-construction engineering and design (PED) work, which is a necessary step before a lock and dam project can be constructed (known as a “new start”). Significantly, this is the first time that NESP has received PED funding since 2012 and while additional PED funding will be needed next year, this $4.5 million in fiscal year 2020 funding keeps NESP on track to receive a new-start designation for construction potentially within the next three fiscal years.
What is NESP?
According to the Corps, the purpose of NESP is to “improve efficiency and capacity of this nationally significant Upper Mississippi River – Illinois Waterway (UMR-IWW) navigation system while protecting preserving and enhancing the structure, diversity and function of this nationally significant ecosystem.” Specifically, NESP will expand navigation capacity by constructing seven new 1,200-foot locks on the UMR (lock 20, 21, 22, 24 and 25) and IWW (LaGrange Lock and Peoria Lock), as well as undertake a number of environmental restoration projects, including island building and floodplain restoration.
Why is NESP Important to NGFA Members?
The majority of U.S. locks and dams were built in the 1930s and 1940s and have out-served their useful design life. In addition, most barge tows are 1,200 feet in length while the aforementioned locks are only 600 feet, necessitating the splitting of the tow and two lockages. Therefore, adding additional 1,200-foot lock capacity will boost efficiency of navigation by reducing costs and the amount of time it takes to lock through these portions of the UMR and IWW.
Where is NESP in the Corps Process?
The following outlines NESP’s timeline within the steps of a Corps construction project:
- Initiation of a study, which requires congressional authorization and appropriations. (1989-1990)
- Execute a feasibility study (1993-2004)
- Chief’s Report signed (2004)
- Congress authorized NESP (2007)
- Pre-Construction Engineering and Design (PED) (2005-present)
- Construction (TBD)
Which Corps Projects Currently Are Being Constructed?
According to information obtained at this week’s Inland Waterways Users Board Meeting in Arkansas, both the Olmsted Locks and Dam project and the Lower Monongahela River Locks and Dams project have been funded to completion. Currently, the Corps is constructing the Chickamauga Lock Replacement Project near Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Kentucky Lock Project near Paducah, Ky. Once completed, Inland Waterways Trust Fund dollars, which consists of barge fuel taxes collected from the commercial industry, will be freed up to go toward the next-available construction projects.
Who Should I Thank for Helping to Achieve PED Funding?
There is a long list of groups, policymakers and NGFA members who teamed up to achieve this outcome. First, NGFA’s Waterborne Commerce Committee and its chair, Scott Leininger of CGB Enterprises, consistently have advocated for NESP during in-person visits in Washington, D.C., and using NGFA’s advocacy tool. The staff of Waterways Council Inc. also has been a leading driver pushing for NESP funding. Several lawmakers were integral in securing NESP dollars, including: Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.; Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., as well as Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.; Betty McCollum, D-Minn.; Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa; Rodney Davis, R-Ill.; Mike Bost, R-Ill.; and Darin LaHood, R-Ill. Finally, a big “thank you” goes to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who has consistently promoted NESP, including at an August 2019 event at the Mel Price Locks and Dam in Alton, Ill., where he and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James unveiled a report highlighting the importance of inland waterways to U.S. agriculture, and through intervention with the White House.
How Can I Help Moving Forward?
Stay tuned for opportunities to weigh in with policymakers via NGFA’s advocacy tool as the fiscal year 2021 appropriations process kicks off next month. As always, please feel free to contact NGFA Vice President of Legislative Affairs and Public Policy Bobby Frederick at firstname.lastname@example.org. for more information.