RIETF: Dredge Fund Crisis Delayed, Action Still Required

While the threat of an immediate shutdown of vital Upper Mississippi River dredging was temporarily averted over the weekend by an emergency transfer of funds from the St. Louis Engineer District to the Rock Island Engineer District, river interests say the need remains acute and that emergency dredging funds voted by Congress are not being released to the Corps of Engineers.

Last week, officials from the Rock Island District told members of the River Industry Executive Task Force (RIETF), a committee of the river industry advocacy group The American Waterways Operators, that dredging money was running out and that vital dredging operations near the Quad Cities could be shut down as early as August 17. RIETF members said that at least 20 reaches of the river heavily silted by this year’s unprecedented flooding are still in dire need of immediate dredging to restore authorized river channels ahead of the harvest season.

RIETF and other river industry groups sent out urgent appeals for stakeholders to contact their representatives in Congress.

On August 16, RIETF sent a letter from RIETF co-chair Daren Adrian to its members confirming that $2 million was being transferred from the St. Louis District to the Rock Island District, in a move called reprogramming of funds. That should be enough to keep all seven dredges currently working in the Rock Island District on the job through August 25, according to the letter.

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But the $100 million in emergency dredging funds voted by Congress in a bill signed by President Trump June 6 have still not been released by the Office and Management and Budget to the Corps of Engineers, the letter said. “[R]eprogramming funds does not solve the fundamental problem.  It is only a matter of time before additional dredging funds are needed in the Rock Island District or elsewhere on the Mississippi River–from St. Paul to New Orleans.  And funding for dredging is needed on almost every other river system.  It is critical that we continue to communicate the current urgency:  Additional funding is necessary to remove the unprecedented amount of shoaling throughout the Western Rivers.”

Adrian is urging AWO members and other river industry stakeholders not to let up in their efforts to contact their members of Congress to resolve the funding issue.