Cochran questions river maintenance budget

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Published: April 18,2011

Tags: federal government, maritime traffic, river, river traffic

MISSISSIPPI RIVER — U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is seeking insight into how the Army Corps of Engineers will set priorities for maintaining Mississippi river shipping lanes and harbors in light of reduced federal funding.

Cochran serves on the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee that conducted a hearing April 13 on the FY2012 budget requests for the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation.

Cochran cited the President’s budget request for the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project (MR&T) that recommends $210 million in FY2012, which is $100 million below the FY2010 discretionary budget authority for this Corps of Engineers mission.

“I can’t help but wonder how we reconcile the economic requirements of being a robust exporter of goods, services and commodities in the international marketplace while reducing the capacity to handle cargo on the Mississippi River and its ports,” Cochran said. “Insufficient dredging and an inadequacy of funding for these activities will inevitably result in restrictions on shipping traffic and cargo.”

Cochran questioned how the Army Corps of Engineers will meet the objective of the MR&T to uphold, maintain and improve the Mississippi River system and associated levee system. More than $100 billion in exports traverse this 12,000-mile river system annually.

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers, responded that his agency would be forced to prioritize the use of federal funding based on commercial impact and safety risks. He acknowledged that utilizing limited funding to maintain river depths often results in narrower shipping lanes.

Cochran also addressed the future of the Yazoo Backwater Project, a project authorized by Congress in 1941 to provide flood protection to the lower Mississippi Delta. It is currently the subject of a federal court suit and the President’s FY2012 budget recommends canceling all un-obligated balances for continued construction. (The FY2011 budget agreement, which was approved by Congress April 14, rescinds $22 million from this project.)

“The future of this project still remains a very troublesome issue,” Cochran said.

Source: Sen. Thad Cochran

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