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A publication of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association.
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March 2018
So far it's all talk

     To paraphrase Mark Twain’s famous quote about the weather, it seems everybody talks about infrastructure, but nobody does anything about it.

     And there has been plenty of recent talk.  For example last week the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, took testimony from five cabinet secretaries, including Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
     “There is no dispute about the need for infrastructure – for America, and for job creation, and for others; and it’s up to all of us to deliver for the American people,” Perdue said.
     “The roads, the rail, the waterways of this country have contributed to our ability to deliver farmer-produced, rancher-produced products to the world in a very competitive fashion; and it’s very important that we continue to do that as well.”

Five to Six House Bills
     In the U.S. House, which originates spending bills, Speaker Paul Ryan recently said that infrastructure overhaul will likely be broken into 5 or 6 separate bills and will include the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2018.
     U.S. Senate Democrats are proposing paying for the overhaul by repealing the recently passed tax cuts.

White House Comments
     And The White House said in a recent blog posting, “Throughout American history, the United States has been recognized as a global leader in many areas, but we are in distinct danger of losing that position over other countries, as America no longer has the best infrastructure in the world. This is particularly damaging to rural America, whose farmers, foresters, and communities depend on this nation’s waterways, rails, and roads to ship their agricultural goods.
     “Did you know? More than half of the locks and dams operated by the Army Corps of Engineers are nearing or are more than 50 years old; they are unable to handle the 565 million tons of freight, including agricultural products, now flowing on our inland waterways.”

     Pam Glass of Workboat Magazine thinks it’s time for the waterway industry to unite and, “get rowdy.”
     Writing in a recent blog post, Glass says, “But the industry has to unite in the months ahead if it wants to convince policymakers that an underutilized system deserves investment not rejection, and that without waterways, other elements of the nation’s noisier and more visible transportation system cannot function properly;;
     “So let the big guys know that you can pump above your weight and size in this town. It’s time to get rowdy.”

 
(Above)  Both physically and fiscally, the Corps of Engineers faces a huge task in maintaining or upgrading the nation's lock and dam system.   Here two Corps employees in a dewatered lock check a temporary bulkhead. 
 
From the Executive Director...

Least of Rule
     The Inland Waterways Users Board’s recent report to Congress was instructional on many levels.

      As a start, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, U.S. inland waterways deliver more than 575 million tons of cargo valued at $229 billion; the U.S. Department of Transportation noted that inland waterways support more than 270,000 jobs and $30.9 billion in economic activity. In addition, 60 percent of the grains meant for export use the inland waterways to reach the Gulf of Mexico, American Steel production is entirely dependent on the inland waterways system and up to 25 percent of the country’s energy cargo, including coal and petroleum are moved on inland waterways.
 
     Another important element of the report is that in it the President draws America’s attention to what is too often an out-of-sight-out-of-mind reality of the many non-commercial-navigation beneficiaries the system serves. In reality, commercial and recreational boat building, commercial and recreational fishing, boating and tourism, air quality, transportation safety, congestion mitigation, municipal water supply, irrigation and hydropower, and more benefit from inland waterways. Military use of waterways in today’s unstable world insures the overall transportation system is able to withstand disruption.
In brief, the entire nation benefits from our inland waterways system.
 
Impacts coverage most telling 
   While the report to Congress is detailed and many-faceted, it’s coverage of “The Impacts of Unscheduled Lock Outages” is arguably the most telling. This jointly sponsored analysis of the nationwide importance of the nation’s inland waterways system is the work of the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the non-profit National Waterways Foundation (NWF).
 
     This study examined four representative and geographically dispersed lock and dam projects: Markland Lock and dam on the Ohio River; Lock and Dam 25 on the Mississippi River; Calcasieu Lock on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and LaGrange Lock and Dam on the Illinois Waterway.
 
     The study found that each of the four locks helps shippers avoid more than $1 billion in additional transportation costs each year.
     Each lock span a broad range of geographic and economic purposes and in some cases provided freight mobility that could not be easily replaced by other transport modes. While every state served by the four locks benefits from the presence of water transport, 18 states reflect the commercial value of water locations, especially Louisiana, Texas and Illinois.
     In the case of LaGrange Lock and Dam and Mississippi River Lock and Dam 25, trucking to alternative waterway terminals would mean an additional 500,000 loaded truck trips per year and an additional 150 million truck miles in the affected states.
Clearly, said the report, this is not tenable.
 
Impact on all system states 
   The study’s conclusion is that “if an unscheduled and extended outage were to occur at any of the four locks analyzed, the impact would reach across all the states served by the system and cause billions of dollars in economic harm to shippers, the commerce that depends on those shippers, and the communities that rely on this substantial business activity.”  Stated another way, the economic and environmental resources would get hosed.
 
     For example, the estimated direct unplanned closure costs at Markland would impact 66 million tons of freight(2014) with a direct cost $1.3 billion.  The numbers for LaGrange would be 29 million tons/$1.7 billion.  For Calcasieu Lock 42 million tons/$1.1 billion.  For Mississippi River L&D 25 22 million tons/$1.6 billion.
     These are only direct economic costs that intentionally ignore higher costs that would customarily rise to take advantage of the changed competitive environment.
 
     As to the meaning of the obscure title of this column, during a period of time an agency’s funding is being funded by a Continuing Resolution (CR) the Corps is bound by the least of: 1)the President’s Budget; 2)the House appropriations; and 3)the Senate appropriation bill. Take the ‘least of’ amount in each bill to determine how much funding can be used on a project during the CR.
 
Users Board appalled
     The Users Board is appalled by this situation which, it appears, is little more than intentional and institutionalized waste and inefficiency.  According to the report Congress should rectify the problem for FY 2018 and beyond.
     We couldn’t agree more.
 
Disclaimer:  Thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and not necessarily those of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association or its members.
 
 
Other Items of Interest...

*   St. Paul District Corps of Engineers employees have been deployed to help in several recent disaster recovery efforts.  The latest issue of Crosscurrents has details.

*   MNDOT wants your input on the recently completed St. Croix Crossing projects and the communication about it.  An anonymous online survey is available through the 25th, asking for your thoughts. 

*  The Corps says the next Lake Pepin ice survey will be March 21, “If necessary.”   March 13 measurements showed 30 inches of total ice at the thickest point and much of the head of the lake open.  Minnesota’s DNR watches for ice out on other lakes and says, definition of the term varies. “For some, ice out occurs only when the lake is completely free of ice. For others, ice out is defined as the moment when navigation is possible from point A to point B. And yet for others, ice out is when 90 percent of the lake is ice free.”

* The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Duluth Section, says the Twin Ports Area's Infrastructure is above average.  Overall area infrastructure received a “C” and Ports a “C+”
 
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