Congressmen Rodney Davis and Bill Enyart today met with officials at America's Central Port to share concerns over how Mississippi River water levels can impact local industry and pledged to work together to protect good jobs. Responding to Southern Illinois' extreme weather conditions - from this past year's record drought to potential flooding this spring- the two freshmen Congressmen outlined their bipartisan proposal to improve Mississippi River navigation.
During today's discussion, Davis and Enyart highlighted how their legislation, The Mississippi River Navigation Sustainment Act would bolster efforts to maintain commercial river traffic during droughts and floods. They are committed to continuing efforts to protect and expand Mississippi River commerce and expand Southern Illinois preparedness to deal with extreme water levels.
"The Mississippi River is a jewel of the Midwest and a true economic engine for the entire country," said Davis. "Through the years we've seen what happens when we are faced with natural disasters and commerce stops on the river, it costs this area billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. I'm pleased to work with Congressman Enyart to pursue bipartisan solutions that will ensure we are better prepared in the future to minimize the impacts of droughts and floods and keep the Mississippi River open for business."
"Commerce on the Mississippi is imperative to the health and economic security of Southern Illinois," said Enyart. "When I led response efforts as Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard to the 2011 floods, I witnessed the destruction of Southern Illinois' families' homes and livelihoods, and I know the challenges we face responding to extreme weather conditions. In this new role, I'm glad to be working with Congressman Davis and Senator Durbin on common-sense steps we can take to ensure that we invest in the Mississippi River and protect good jobs."
"Any legislation to provide consistency and surety in the navigation system is welcome news---it's time to take a comprehensive look, including the introduction of new technologies, at the management of the Mississippi River navigation system in light of the changing weather extremes we have been experiencing," said Dennis Wilmsmeyer, Business and Economic Development Manager at America's Central Port. "Much of the management of the system now is based upon what we knew when the locks and dams were built in the 30's and 40's. This is a great step in improving that system."
America's Central Port supports more than 1,300 jobs in Madison County and $208 million annually. Officials at the Port support broader efforts to protect industry and commerce on the Mississippi River. Davis and Enyart are working on developing solutions to ensure that Southern Illinois industry, America's Central Port, and the Army Corps of Engineers can respond quickly to extreme weather events. Senator Durbin introduced the Senate version of the bill. The Mississippi River Navigation Sustainment Act would:
Authorize a Greater Mississippi River Basin Extreme Weather Management Study -- The legislation would authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study of how to better coordinate management of the entire Mississippi River Basin -- the third largest watershed in the world -- during periods of extreme weather. The study would include recommendations on how to improve the management of the Basin for navigation and flood risk management, taking into account the effect the management of the entire Basin has on the Mississippi River.
Improve Tools Used for Mississippi River Forecasting -- In the recent low water levels, some manual river gauges (often painted lines on bridges) were rendered useless making surveying and dredging more difficult. This bill would add additional automated gauges and increase the use of other forecasting tools. Through better and more reliable information, industry in Southern Illinois and all up and down the Mississippi River will be able to make more informed business decisions;
Expand Flexibility for Army Corps of Engineers: Current law prevents the Corps from responding to traffic and navigation issues outside of the authorized channel in low water situations. The legislation would grant greater authority to the Corps to provide sufficient depths in fleeting areas and maintain access to docks, loading facilities, and other critical infrastructure; and
Create an Environmental Pilot Program: This bill will create a pilot program to enable the Corps to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat in the middle Mississippi River as they conduct navigation projects.