ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — From a distance, even standing close to
the dark-brick building on Arsenal Island that houses the visitor center for
Lock and Dam 15, the place doesn’t look like it’s in need of repair.
But when visitors get up close to the machinery that raises
and lowers lock gates to allow barges hauling freight moving up and down the
Mississippi River to move through, that’s when the reason for the Water
Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act, House Resolution 1153,
“What we were standing in front of today and toured, that’s
anywhere from 70 years old. The lock that was closest to us, the lock behind it
was built 80 years ago. It was constructed during the Roosevelt administration.
It was at the time of World War II when the most recent locks were put in,” said
Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.
Bustos, along with Iowa Democrats Reps. Bruce Braley and
Dave Loebsack, Lock and Dam 15 officials and other local and regional officials,
toured Lock and Dam 15 on the Mississippi River on April 30.
Earlier this year, she introduced the legislation that calls
for public-private partnerships to fund backlogged maintenance and repair and
update projects on the nation’s inland waterways.
“What prompted the news conference is that I’m back in my
district where we could tour the locks and dams and get an inside look and get a
better feel for the importance and the need for immediacy,” she said.
Bustos has gained bipartisan support for her legislation,
and a similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Bustos’ plan would allow for private funding from
stakeholders in the nation’s waterways along with public funds. She pointed to
the Water Resources Development Act as an example of waterway infrastructure
legislation that lacks adequate funds to accomplish its goals.
“We’ve had the bill out there since 2007, the WRDA bill, and
the appropriations funding has not accompanied that. It does no good to have an
idea without having the money behind it,” she said.
At the news conference, with two members of Congress from
across the river, Bustos said the thinking on funding projects needs to change.
“This is an innovative approach to funding. We can’t keep
going the same direction when we’ve got $60 billion in backlogged projects. We
have to look for different ways to fund these projects,” she said.
While the members of Congress gave credit to the Army Corps
of Engineers and the staffs at the lock and dam facilities for their skills in
maintaining nearly century-old equipment, they also noted that the costs of
keeping that equipment running are adding up.
“If the Mississippi River is going to remain the economic
engine we all rely on, serious upgrades are needed. For years, Congress has
neglected these needs, leaving the Army Corps of Engineers overwhelmed and years
behind schedule on updates,” Braley said.
“In order to keep the river open and commerce moving, we
must make the strategic investments necessary to modernize the locks and dams
that help control the flow of the river. A ‘fix as they fail’ approach won’t cut
it,” Loebsack added.
“We crossed over the river and walked back to the station
house. The generator is 80 years old and still functional. They have one
mechanic. They are doing the best they can with the resources they have. We’ve
got an infrastructure that is in need of repair and upkeep and, in some cases,
replacement,” Bustos said.
She said she has no self-imposed deadline to move her
legislation forward. She added she is concentrating on gathering bipartisan
support for the bill and encouraging those in the Senate to support that
“I don’t have a deadline other than to try to work through
the legislative process. I’ll continue to work on talking about this bill and
getting cosponsors. The more cosponsors you have, the more people you have
working in the same direction,” she said.
Bustos said that the pilot program that the bill would
create would authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to accept 15 pilot projects
already identified by the Corps as having priority into the program.
“The Corps and federal sponsors could enter into an
agreement that would decentralize the design and construction processes while
still maintaining proper oversight,” she said.
She said the bill also outlines oversight for the program
that would bring private-sector dollars into the upkeep, repair and updating of
public waterway infrastructure.
“There would be an outside third party, a disinterested
group, there would be no mechanism for them to lean one way or the other. They
would make sure that the public interest is always pursued foremost. We think
that is important. We have to make sure that taxpayer resources are looked
after,” she said.