Members of Congress from the Quad Cities region joined several dozen congressional leaders Thursday in urging the Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize funding for long-needed lock and dam improvements on the Upper Mississippi River.
The lawmakers want the corps to use the $2.5 billion set aside for inland waterways in the recently passed bipartisan federal infrastructure bill to fund the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP).
Among Quad Cities area members of the House to sign the letter were Representatives Cheri Bustos, D-Moline; Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois; Darin LaHood, R-Illinois; and Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa. Also co-signing were U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.; Dick Durbin, D-Illinois; Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
“The regional and national economic benefits of NESP are significant, which is why the project was included in the December 2020 Inland and Intracoastal Waterways 20-Year Capital Investment Strategy (CIS) developed by the Corps and the Inland Waterways User Board (IWUB),” the lawmakers wrote. “Following the 2020 CIS including NESP construction will bring immediate financial and environmental benefits throughout the system that will reverberate through the economy.”
Originally authorized as the Water Resources Development Act of 2006, “the NESP would modernize and expand seven outdated locks at the most congested lock locations along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers as well as fund more than $1 billion in ecosystem restoration,” the letter said. “NESP will create almost 50 million person-hours of living wage construction jobs. A 2019 study released by the U.S. The Department of Agriculture showed that rebuilding NESP locks would inject $72 billion additional dollars into the nation’s GDP.”
The lawmakers said the projects “have been vetted through a collaborative process between the Corps and the navigation industry, and there is strong support among both the navigation and agriculture industries for their construction. In fact, a number of farmer organizations have recently offered $1 million of their own funds to get NESP started, and the navigation industry voluntarily sought and achieved a 45 percent increase in their commercial diesel user fee several years ago in part to help advance NESP construction.”
The NSP addresses more than navigation needs, lawmakers wrote, it also incorporates ecosystem restoration. “NESP will modify dam operations to restore natural river level variability, backwater and island habitat, and side-channel reconnections, among other projects. Collectively, these restoration activities will help ensure that birds, fish, and other wildlife continue to thrive in their natural habitats in and along” the upper Mississippi River System.
Construction proposed projects at seven locations on the upper Mississippi will “create almost 50 million person-hours of living wage construction jobs,” the letter said. “A 2019 study released by the U.S. The Department of Agriculture showed that rebuilding NESP locks would inject $72 billion additional dollars into the nation’s GDP.”