On January 19, the Corps of Engineers released its FY21 Work Plan for allocating funds provided in the FY21 Energy & Water Development appropriations bill that was part of the FY21 omnibus appropriations bill signed into law on December 27, 2020. The Energy and Water bill funds the Corps’ civil works mission in addition to U.S. Department of Energy programs.
While welcome to waterways interests, the Work Plan contained one disappointment to advocates of the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP). Many in the inland waterways community, and many farmers in the Upper Mississippi River region, were hoping that significantly increased funding for NESP would be the navigation “new start” called for in the omnibus appropriations bill. Instead, the new construction start is to be Montgomery Lock and Dam on the Ohio River, at a level of $22 million. Other Work Plan allocations include Chickamauga Lock at $191 million and Kentucky Lock and Dam at $110.1 million.
Instead, the investigations account got $5 million for the NESP program to continue preconstruction engineering and design (PED) phase of investigation. The NESP program would provide new chambers and needed redundancy to five locks on the Upper Mississippi River and two on the Illinois Waterway and also provides ecosystem restoration funding.
The FY21 Work Plan will also fund these projects of particular importance to waterways interests:
• GIWW– Brazos River Floodgates & Colorado River Locks, Texas: $250,000 to perform an economic update and $16.19 million to initiate the PED phase for the Brazos River Floodgates.
• Arkansas River Navigation Study, Arkansas and Oklahoma: $559,000 to complete an economic update, including an update of costs and benefits, and to initiate and complete the PED phase that will deepen the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System from 9 feet to 12 feet.
• Three Rivers, Ark.: $3.29 million to complete the PED phase.
While all of these projects, including Montgomery, are worthy and deserve to go forward, the work plan left many wondering why NESP was relatively shortchanged, despite some high-level support from many in Congress and within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including former Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who deems adding 1,200-foot lock chambers to those remaining locks critical to farm exports.
At least the NESP program remains in the pipeline and isn’t completely orphaned, as it has sometimes seemed to be since 2012. In the next couple of years, there will be other opportunities for the Biden administration to show support both for farmers and for inland navigation by further supporting NESP in the administration’s budget or in an infrastructure bill.
There could certainly be no better signal that the administration is committed to ecosystem restoration, to reducing carbon emissions by supporting green waterways transportation and to our economic recovery from COVID-19.