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Senate Passes WRDA 2007 on September 24; Waterways Interests Urge President to Sign

Late on September 24, the Senate approved the 2007 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a $21 billion water projects bill, by an 81 to 12 vote, more than enough votes to override a threatened presidential veto.
The House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 381 to 40 on August 1, also more than enough votes to override a veto.

On August 1, Bush administration representatives informed the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that the President intended to veto the legislation if passed by Congress. On that day, the I-35 bridge spanning the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed, underlining ongoing contentions by engineers that ignoring maintenance of elements of the nation’s infrastructure would result in catastrophic failures, loss of life, and higher price tags to repair the damage.
The administration opposes WRDA, in part, because of a $38 billion backlog, according to a statement from the Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI), a national public policy organization advocating a modern and well-maintained national system of ports and inland waterways.

“This argument is no good,” Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma said, because “circumstances change” and priorities change.

“If there is a veto, I look forward to overriding it,” said Senator Kit Bond of Missouri.

Senator David Vitter of Louisiana promised to “work immediately in a bipartisan fashion to override” a presidential veto.

Representatives of public seaports in the United States lauded Congress for passing the legislation, designated HR 1495, citing it as long overdue legislation that addresses a seven-year backlog of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers programs, including navigation projects, policies and procedures that are necessary to keep pace with today’s burgeoning trade.

“The AAPA (American Association of Port Authorities) and our member ports have worked hard to get this crucial piece of legislation through Congress, and today we are extremely pleased that our efforts have been successful,” said Kurt Nagle, AAPA’s president and CEO. “America’s ports depend upon a regular, biennial cycle of new project authorizations to improve federal navigation channels to accommodate the modern world fleet of deep-draft ships, but it’s been seven years since the last WRDA bill was approved,” he said.

Although the WRDA legislation is supposed to be biennial, the last such bill was signed into law in 2000. In the intervening years, demand for critical water resources projects has accumulated, as have the costs to realize them.

Numerous projects and provisions in the WRDA 2007 bill will help address port waterside infrastructure needs. Included are projects for navigation channel deepening, dredged material disposal and storage facilities, and policy provisions to improve the Corps of Engineers project execution process.

Policy provisions supported by AAPA include expanding the use of Corps dredges in the Pacific Northwest and providing for joint federal/local legal liability for project cooperation agreements, or PCAs.

“AAPA and our member U.S. ports salute Congress for hammering out a final bill this session, which we strongly urge the President to sign due to its urgency and importance,” said Nagle. “This bill is vital to maintaining America’s position as a dominant world trading partner and to keep our ports working as engines of the nation’s economic growth,” he said.

Following the House passage of the legislation in August, WCI President R. Barry Palmer said “The action taken in the House to pass WRDA should be applauded by the nation as a whole. Modern and efficient locks and dams on our nation’s inland waterways support the transport of critical commodities such as grain for export, coal for electric power generation, petroleum and chemical products and aggregates. Simply put, our country cannot compete without a modern navigation system,” Palmer said. “We look forward to similar overwhelming bipartisan action in the Senate to pass the WRDA conference report there as well and to sending the bill to the President for what our more than 300 members throughout the nation sincerely hope will be his signature,” said Palmer.

A letter to the President, drafted by the late Worth Hager on August 3, said in part:
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has many mission areas. Lack of investment and planning for future needs, by your administration and those previous, have left our water resources infrastructure in dire straits. A Water Resources Development Act is vitally needed to accommodate the many important projects awaiting authorization that contribute mightily to America’s well-being. With adequate dredging, our ports and waterways are the backbone of our transportation system – ensuring domestic and international trade opportunities and a safe, cheap and eco-friendly transportation alternative for products such as steel, coal, fertilizer, energy products and byproducts, salt, sand and gravel, cement, petroleum, chemicals, etc. The U.S. maritime transportation system moves more than 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports. Our flood damage reduction program saves lives and prevents, on average, almost $8 in damages for each dollar spent. Corps hydropower facilities supply 24 percent of the hydropower generated in the United States. Projects for water supply, irrigation, recreation, beach nourishment and wildlife habitat provide innumerable benefits. In addition, the civil works of the Corps of Engineers translate directly into the technical skills that are needed to support a nation at war.

“Projects with a Chief of Engineers’ report have undergone years of study and analysis to determine if they are in the best interest of the federal government. In addition, stakeholders have already indicated their willingness to cost-share the price tags. These water-related assets have the potential to help grow our economy, help ease our nation’s growing congestion problem and provide a finer quality of life. It takes years to build that infrastructure, and further delaying the process that authorizes Congress to consider funding these projects in the future would be foolish – and has the potential to harm the well-being of all Americans.”

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