Wicker, Cochran: Congress Reaches Deal on Water Resources Bill

Miss. Senators Say Bill Would ‘Benefit State’s Water Infrastructure, Ports’

May 14, 2014

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., today said that a House-Senate agreement on a new water resources bill would benefit Mississippi’s flood-control projects and modernize many of the state’s ports and waterways. The deal is likely to be voted on by the House and Senate as early as next week.

“Our waterways are critical to the health of our economy,” said Wicker, a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. “In today’s global market, modernized ports and commercial waterways are vital to maintaining competitiveness. This legislation would provide significant funding for new infrastructure projects, which will in turn boost trade and create jobs throughout Mississippi.”

“The WRDA bill is very important to Mississippi as a state that benefits from coastal and inland ports and relies on major flood control projects,” said Cochran, who serves on the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds the Army Corps of Engineers. “It’s been seven long years since the last WRDA bill, and it is my hope that this agreement will clear the path for much needed projects like the Mississippi Coastal Improvement Plan, and provide new policy direction to help improve the construction, operation and maintenance of waterway and flood protection projects in our state and the entire nation.”

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) agreement would increase the amount of funds drawn from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to assist ports that have not been properly dredged in recent years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that America’s busiest ports are operating at their full capacity less than 35 percent of the time. This is due, in part, because the funding for HMTF is being diverted to offset the costs of other unrelated government expenditures.

The legislation would also streamline waterway projects, expedite environmental review processes, allow for greater private contributions to infrastructure repairs, and complete storm protection projects in Mississippi developed after Hurricane Katrina.

Specifically, the WRDA conference agreement would:

• Reform the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to increase the funds available for maintenance dredging of federal navigation channels and to provide equity for ports nationwide. Includes a set-aside for underserved ports like the Port of Gulfport;

• Authorize $1.07 billion for the Mississippi Coastal Improvements Program, which would establish a system for hurricane and storm damage risk reduction and restoration measures in coastal Mississippi;

• Through a Cochran-sponsored amendment, allow a non-federal interest to receive bankable credit if it carries out operation and maintenance responsibilities for a federal navigation project. That credit could then be applied toward future construction costs associated with related projects. This provision would, for example, give the Port of Gulfport greater flexibility to deepen its channel;

• Restructure the inland waterways system to improve project delivery, lower costs, and improve project management.

The last time Congress passed WRDA legislation was 2007. The law authorizes Army Corps of Engineers participation in water conservation and development infrastructure projects throughout the country.