Don’t look for major improvements in rail infrastructure either. The majority of the $8 billion appropriated for rail improvements are earmarked for passenger rail service, so the five Class I railroads that move most of the agricultural products will be responsible for funding major infrastructure improvements to rail corridors — which means, of course, customers will bankroll the lion’s share of the bill via rates and surcharges.
Kendell Keith, president, NGFA shares O’Neil’s chagrin over the omission of waterway projects in the stimulus package but vows to keep this issue and others in the forefront of their legislative mission.
“While the lock and dam provisions may have missed out because they weren’t ‘shovel ready’ in the eyes of the Corps of Engineers, we intend to work more closely with industry leaders like the grain grower associations, to help move the needle on these critical projects,” says Keith. “You must also remember that this administration is very new and still needs to fill some key positions. Many earmarks have not been articulated in the Recovery Act package and other legislation. As a result, action and dollars may take a while to trickle down to ground level.”
WATERWAYS IN TROUBLE
The locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers are among the most neglected segments of infrastructure in the United States, according to Garry Niemeyer, Auburn, IL grain producer and member of the board of directors for the National Corn Growers Association. The locks and dams were built in the 1930s and designed to withstand only 50 years of practical use.
For that reason, Niemeyer and the NCGA has lobbied for the past 15 years to pass legislature to update this vital system, specifically Mississippi River locks #20, 21, 22, 24 and 25, and the Illinois River’s Peoria and LaGrange locks. Yet, after more than a decade of campaigning, he describes the results of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as disappointing as attempts to appropriate these seven locks in the stimulus package failed.
A DISAPPOINTING OUTLOOK
Although nearly 20 percent of the $787 billion stimulus bill will be spent on infrastructure updates, the dams and locks are not eligible for funding because only projects that are “shovel ready” (meaning they must have already received the necessary approvals from the Army Corps of Engineers) will be appropriated.
Niemeyer thought he was on the right track when in 2007, after the first Water Resources Development Act to be passed in nearly seven years was signed; the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers projects received authorization from the Army Corps of Engineers. “After receiving authorization, many of us [lobbyists and congressmen] thought our job was done,” says Niemeyer. “We quickly learned, however, that authorization and appropriation are two very different terms.”
Now Niemeyer and others fighting to improve our waterways are back at square one. The $410 billion Omnibus bill, which the Senate approved on March 10, also failed to appropriate the locks and dams. Niemeyer is not exactly optimistic about the immediate outcome, but is hopeful for the future.
The NCGA is currently lobbying to secure funding for the locks and dams through the FY 2010 Appropriations Bill, which should be signed by the end of April.
“Unless we can change the ‘no new starts’ stipulation, it’s going to be difficult to get these projects off the ground,” he says. “One thing about our organization though is that new people always step up to the plate and accomplish the goals we’ve set the stage for, and we’re not giving up. “
Despite the fact the locks and dams did not receive their much needed makeover, Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI), who serves on both the House Committee on Agriculture and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, says the stimulus package gives the feed and grain industry plenty to look forward to. Kagen stands firmly behind the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“Investing in our transportation infrastructure is vital for us to build a better future and spur recovery,” he says. “It creates jobs and is important for businesses that rely on our rails and ports for commerce.”
Swift allocation of funds was a high priority for Kagen. The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act requires that half of the transportation infrastructure funds be allocated within 180 days after enactment of the legislation.