Two days after an overwhelming vote in the House for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, the Senate voted 91-7 to send the measure to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.
The water infrastructure bill was finalized after almost six months of negotiation by a special panel of lawmakers from both chambers, led by Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster. The measure had strong bipartisan support.
Included in the final WRRDA report
are provisions to increase the level of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund dollars that will be spent on port maintenance, free up funds within the Inland Waterways Trust Fund for backlogged lock and dam projects, set priorities for funding inland waterway improvements, streamline the Army Corps of Engineers' project review process, and promote the use of alternative financing by local sponsors and public-private partnerships to fund waterways infrastructure. The bill also increases the threshold for federal harbor maintenance funding from 45 to 50 feet and provides a way for smaller, emerging ports to receive more federal funding.
WRRDA authorizes the long-delayed deepening of the ports of Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla. The flexible financing language is a major victory for the ports of Charleston, S.C., and Port Everglades, Fla., because it allows them to pay some of the preparation and construction costs up front before Congress has an opportunity to authorize the projects. The Port of Charleston said it expects to be ready for dredging in late 2015 following the issuance of an Army Corps feasibility report, and Port Everglades expects the Chief's Report to be completed by the end of this year, which will allow the port to begin the project's planning, design and engineering phase.
Farmers, tow-boat operators, state departments of transportation, port authorities and others praised the vote after seven years without a reauthorization of water infrastructure programs.
waterways system helps take our soybeans from major growing regions to domestic
processors and major exporting terminals, then on to valuable trading partners
around the world, and is a big part of why soybeans lead the nation in
agricultural exports. For too long we have ignored our infrastructure and this
WRRDA is a strong step in the right direction," American Soybean Association President Ray Gaesser said in a statement.
The American Association of Port Authorities said that Boxer and Shuster can now claim their "Port Person of the Year" award, which they postponed accepting this spring until they delivered WRRDA across the finish line.