Washington, DC — During two Jan. 12 hearings on Capitol Hill, House and Senate lawmakers highlighted the critical need to fund the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP), starting with Lock and Dam 25.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law on Nov. 15 includes $2.5 billion for inland waterways constriction projects and specifically notes that projects included in the Army Corps of Engineer's (USACE) Capital Investment Strategy must be prioritized, with Lock 25 as the top priority project.
However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not yet signed off on funding Lock 25, which is located on the Upper Mississippi River near Winfield, MO.
“We want to make sure that when the administration makes its decision, we are absolutely ready to go to construction,” said Lt. General Scott Spellmon, Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the Army Corps, during the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing in reply to a question from Sen. Joni Ernst, R-IA.
Ernst had asked, “As we work to make American farm exports more abundant around the world, we also need to maintain a strong, efficient inland waterways navigation system.
"Of the 20 most recent new starts for the inland waterways system, only one was in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.
"Can you make any assurances today that NESP, specifically Lock 25 will be prioritized in the upcoming work plan?”
Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor noted Lock 25 is “being given strong consideration as part of the work plan process …
"We are following the Capital Investment Strategy, and it’s going to get strong consideration.”
According to the infrastructure bill, the Army Corps has until Jan. 15 to submit a plan to Congress with recommendations on how funding should be spent.
During the Senate hearing, Ernst also referenced a bipartisan congressional letter sent to the Army Corps in December, which notes that NESP “would modernize and expand seven outdated locks at the most congested lock locations along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers as well as fund more than $1 billion in ecosystem restoration.”
Rep. Mike Bost, R-IL, also voiced support for construction of Lock 25 during the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing.
The National Grain & Feed Association (NGFA) and 24 other members of the Agricultural Transportation Working Group urged Connor to prioritize and fund NESP in a letter sent on Dec. 16.
“The existing locks on the UMR-IW were built in the 1930’s with 600-foot chambers to accommodate the standard vessels used for commerce during that time,” the letter noted.
“However, today’s towboats can push a 1,200-foot-long tow of 15 barges which must ‘double-lock’ through, resulting in significant, costly delays.”
The groups noted that “modernizing these outdated locks will help discipline rail rates, reduce wear and tear on U.S. roads and bridges, and make American agriculture more competitive.”