The Big River Coalition praised the efforts of the Chairman of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee and the entire Louisiana Congressional delegation for their efforts to have the U.S. Corps of Engineers maintain the Lower Mississippi River to its project dimension.
As the House of Representatives considers a Continuing Resolution to fund the Federal government through Sept. 30, U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of N.J., Chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, urged the Corps to direct funding to properly dredge and maintain the Lower Mississippi River.
“I want to assure my colleagues that I have provided sufficient flexibility within the $2.361,000,000 in the operation and maintenance account for the Corps to maintain the Lower Mississippi River deep draft navigation channel to adequately meet our transportation needs,” Chairman Frelinghuysen said. “It is our intent that the Corps recognizes the economic importance of navigation on the Lower Mississippi River when allocating these funds.”
The Big River Coalition, a group of nearly 50 businesses and organizations that rely on Mississippi River commerce has been sounding the alarm that restrictions to the Corps’ budget for dredging the Mississippi River would result in restrictions on ship traffic. Those warnings have come to pass. Currently ships entering and leaving the river are restricted to no more than 44 feet of draft, down from the 45-foot channel depth required by Congress. More stringent
restrictions have been placed on Mississippi River crossings between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, due to the silting and narrowing of channels. Each ship affected by these restrictions must reduce cargo, significantly increasing the cost of transportation of U.S. products and harming our international competitiveness.
This year, the Army Corps has $63 million budgeted for the deep-draft Mississippi, even though the actual cost of maintaining the River has averaged more than $100 million in recent years. Corps officials contend new policies do not allow them to temporarily shift funds within their budget to cover shortfalls and properly maintain the River as they have done in the past.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander of Jonesboro, La., a member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, stated that he was extremely concerned about the Corps’ failure to maintain the river. He cited its economic importance, as 60 percent of all grain exports and a quarter of all bulk ships entering the U.S. use the channel – resulting in $85 billion to $104 billion in annual foreign trade.
“Without immediate maintenance dredging of that channel, domestic transportation costs will significantly increase for a wide range of U.S. products and goods and many businesses will be placed at a competitive disadvantage for participation in the nation’s export trade,” Alexander said.
The Coalition’s efforts have received broad support for the issue in recent weeks. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans met personally with President Obama and explained the “vital importance” of the River.
“The 14,000-mile system of navigable waterways connected with the Mississippi River allows some 30 states to economically ship goods to foreign markets,” Richmond said. “This failure to maintain the Lower Mississippi River is preventing our farmers, industries and shippers throughout the U.S. from competing in the international marketplace.”
Every member of the Louisiana delegation, including Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter and Representatives Rodney Alexander, Charles Boustany, Steve Scalise, Bill Cassidy, John Fleming, Cedric Richmond and Jeff Landry, signed a joint letter to President Obama on January 31. In part, the letter stated, “Failure to properly maintain this vital instrument of domestic and international trade will undercut our Nation’s exports and other economic development initiatives.”
“We applaud the efforts and support of Chairman Frelinghuysen, and the entire Louisiana delegation,” said Ken Wells, Coordinator for the Big River Coalition. “With the support of these key lawmakers, we hope the Obama Administration and the Corps of Engineers recognize the immediate need to fund maintenance of the Mississippi River to its project dimensions. This is an issue of national importance, affecting more than two-thirds of the states in the nation.”