The U.S. Senate today approved major national water projects legislation with the support of U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, who won approval to include provisions that will benefit waterway development and flood protection in Mississippi.
The Senate on Wednesday approved the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 (S.601 or WRDA), an authorization bill for Army Corps of Engineers water conservation and development projects throughout the country. The bill was passed on an 83-14 vote.
"For Mississippi, this legislation is important for improving and managing our ports and flood control infrastructure. Public safety and economic growth are closely linked to the Army Corps of Engineers' ability to construct, operate and maintain these projects in our state," said Cochran, who serves on the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds the Army Corps of Engineers.
"I'm pleased the Senate has approved this bill and hope that it can be approved by the House and sent to the President for his consideration," he said.
During consideration of the bill, Cochran won approval for two amendments he authored that would:
* Authorize a state or local entity, such as a coastal port authority, to receive credit for costs incurred for authorized dredging, an activity that is normally the responsibility of the federal government, but is not always performed in a timely manner. The Port of Gulfport, for example, has not been dredged to its full width and depth since 2009, preventing large cargo ships from doing business there. Under the Cochran amendment, the state or local entity could apply such credit toward the up to 20 percent of the nonfederal cost requirements for future construction projects. This nonfederal operation and maintenance work must adhere to the same standards under which the Corps operates.
* Clarify a section of WRDA related to Louisiana flood protection to ensure that it does not authorize construction or program assistance for a flood control barrier across the Lake Pontchartrain land bridge, and that any study to advance such a project must include the consultation and approval of the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana. This amendment provides certainty that the Governor of Mississippi will play a role in ensuring the safety of Mississippi residents from unmitigated flood risk posed by a flood control project in Louisiana.
Cochran worked with Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee, to develop and support these provisions in S.601 that will benefit Mississippi:
* Section 1002 of the bill includes language authorizing projects that have a completed Office of the Chief Engineer report since the 2007 WRDA. S.601 authorizes approximately $1.4 billion for 13 subprojects under the Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program (MsCIP). Cochran has been working to get this portion of MsCIP projects authorized since the Chief's report was completed in 2009.
* Language is included under Harbor Maintenance (Title 8) that would give priority to dredging at ports that have not been dredged recently and that have recently invested significant resources in port infrastructure. This language could improve funding prioritization for operation and maintenance dredging at the Port of Gulfport.
* Authorization of $25 million under Operations and Maintenance of Inland Mississippi River Ports (Section 5015) for shallow draft ports along the Mississippi River from points north of the Red River (just south of Natchez). Of the eligible ports on the Mississippi River, five are in Mississippi (Natchez, Port Gibson, Vicksburg Greenville, and Rosedale).
* Provision included authorizing the renaming of the Jesse Brent Lower Mississippi River Museum and Riverfront Interpretive Site after Jesse Brent, a Mississippian known as the "Granddaddy of the Towboat Industry" who passed away in 1982. Brent was posthumously named "River Person of the Century" in 2000 by the Waterways Journal.