U.S. Reps. Dan Lipinski (IL-3) and Peter Roskam (IL-6) are leading a bipartisan effort to stop legislation that threatens to have a devastating impact on a vital economic engine in the Midwest, the Illinois waterways system, which currently moves 100 million tons of goods worth nearly $28 billion each year within the state and region. In a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Leader Nancy Pelosi, Lipinski and Roskam, along with 15 other members, seek to halt the last-minute secret passage of infrastructure projects that have received no debate or consideration, will ignore numerous environmental laws, and will have a negative impact on the local and regional economy by providing for the installation of physical barriers that would restrict barge traffic on the Chicago Area Waterways System.
"I have learned that some of my colleagues may be seeking to include construction authorization for infrastructure projects at the Brandon Road Lock & Dam near Joliet and along the Chicago Area WaterwaysSystem in "must-pass' legislation during the upcoming lame duck session," said Rep. Lipinski in the letter. "Given that this legislation has the effect of potentially restricting commercial barge traffic while upending the environmental and project review processes mandated by law, it is only appropriate that it receive full and proper review. I am asking that any proposal or authorization of such a project be excluded from any "must-pass' legislation."
If approved, the bill would damage the economic competitiveness of the state of Illinois, while also harming the economies of Louisiana, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, and West Virginia by delaying shipments of coal, chemicals, and agricultural products from and to these states. Such an outcome would upend a key part of the nation's freight network and have far reaching effects in the region, resulting in unnecessary job losses, shipping delays, and increased congestion.
In addition to upending environmental reviews, skirting Congressional review, and impacting the economy of the region, the draft legislation would also modify agency jurisdictions by delegating projects on the Chicago Area Waterways System to other entities instead of directly to the Corps of Engineers. Such an action would transfer authority from an expert agency to an agency whose technical capacity to carry out a construction project of this scope is unclear, raising concern as to the quality of the completed project.
"It raises serious questions as to which agencies and stakeholders will be responsible for operations and maintenance costs after the project is completed," stated Rep. Lipinski. "In light of the recent process reforms codified by the overwhelmingly bipartisan Water Resources Reform and Development Act with the intent of streamlining and improving Corps of Engineers project processes, a proposal such as this would unnecessarily interfere with and undermine these new processes designed to move economically and environmentally beneficial projects forward on an expedited basis by switching agency jurisdictions and ignoring the proper course of project approvals."