A new President and administration bring challenges and opportunities in equal amounts. But IL Corn, other farm organizations, and other users of the Upper Mississippi River transportation system are cautiously optimistic about soon-to-be President Trump’s plans to spend money on infrastructure.
Upgrading locks and dams on the Illinois, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers has been a priority for at least the last 20 years, but funding shortfalls and other politics have made them almost impossible to achieve.
Maybe a new President and new priorities present an opportunity in this regard?
Please enjoy the following article summarizing a recent Waterways Council Inc meeting and their thoughts on the opportunity:
Paducah Sun, December 11, 2016
BY DAVID ZOELLER
While they aren’t sure how President-elect Donald Trump plans to fulfill his campaign promise to spend money on the nation’s infrastructure, inland waterway system advocates are optimistic. Representatives of the Waterways Council Inc., a national public policy organization, were in Paducah this week for a meeting of the organization’s executive committee and to attend river-related functions like the Seaman’s Church Institute’s River Bell award, which recognizes individuals making a difference in the industry. “We’ve had a pretty good year and we see some opportunities ahead now with the new administration in terms of infrastructure,” said Debra Calhoun, WCI senior vice president.
“As far as the industry’s perception, with a new president, I think, comes new optimism,” said Tracy Zea, WCI’s director of government relations. “With him not being too familiar with waterways, we feel like we have a chance to educate him and bring him up to speed.”
Matt Ricketts, president of Paducah-based Crounse Corporation, is also a WCI member. “He talks a lot about infrastructure, Trump does, and the dollars he’s trying to put behind that,” Ricketts said. “If we can get a small share of that then we can use those dollars in the most efficient way. When you talk about spending dollars on infrastructure, the waterways are the most efficient way to do that … and that’s what we’re hoping for.”
During its lame-duck session, which ended late Friday night with a Continuing Resolution to fund the government through April 2017, Congress approved the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which includes the Water Resources Development Act and authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers’ work on locks and dams, dredging and other water resources projects.
However, WCI representatives applauded something that was not included in WIIN, a public-private partnership provision that could have allowed for the collection of tolls or lockage fees on waterways.
“As an industry, we believe it will drive traffic off the river, so that was our biggest win … no authorizing language in the bill,” Zea said.
According to Rick Calhoun, president of Cargill Marine and Terminal in Minneapolis and a WCI member, an ongoing mission of the organization is to raise awareness about the importance of the river industry. “We’re trying to educate the public about the issues we’re facing, and I think we’ve raised the public’s awareness,” Calhoun said. “I think we’ve raised awareness in Congress when you see the WRDA bill’s passing.
“People who live in river states seem to get it, but the further away from the river you are, the harder it is, because you don’t see it in action,” he said. “But we think the level of knowledge has gone up, and so again, I think we’re optimistic.”
Another reason for optimism, according to WCI’s senior vice president, is what might be ahead for the river industry regarding coal. “Trump has been very supportive of the coal industry,” she said. “There’s already been a lot of damage done and we can’t get that back. If he keeps his campaign promise some of these states, particularly Kentucky, would be affected by that.”
Ricketts acknowledges that changes regarding coal would not happen overnight. “I think with the new administration we might have a level playing field,” Ricketts. “We know what the river industry means for this community and all the things it entails. With the new administration, there’s support for all the commodities that move on the river. “Our company carries a lot of coal, but it’s bigger than that,” he said. “It’s more about spending the money in the most efficient way, and the most efficient way to spend it for capacity to move commodities, to move our nation … is on the waterways.”