Illinois Waterway locks reopen for barge traffic
All locks on the Illinois Waterway have reopened for commercial navigation after extended closures this year for “significant” repairs, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in late October.
The Illinois Waterway, which provides a navigable connection between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, includes eight lock and dam sites. To facilitate repairs, the Corps developed a consolidated schedule that included a short closure to locks in 2019, with extended closures in 2020 and 2023.
LaGrange Lock and Dam, Peoria Lock and Dam, Starved Rock Lock and Dam, Marseilles Lock and Dam, and Dresden Island Lock and Dam were all open for barge traffic as of Oct. 29. Two 12-hour closures are anticipated at the Lockport Lock the week of Nov. 30.
Senate details proposed FY21 funding for Lakes projects
The Senate Appropriations Committee released details on Nov. 10 of funding bills for fiscal year 2021, including provisions of interest to Great Lakes ports. The process, typically finalized by Sept. 30, was delayed this year due to the pandemic, the election and “partisan bickering,” according to the American Great Lakes Ports Association (AGLPA).
The federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution that provides stopgap funding for all agencies until Dec. 11. Congress will need to finalize appropriations bills by then or enact another stopgap measure.
Proposed funding for fiscal 2021 includes the following:
• $123.22 million for the ongoing construction of a new Poe-sized lock at the Soo Locks complex in Michigan. This is consistent with the amount requested by the Trump administration for the project, according to the AGLPA.
• $1.67 billion for Army Corps of Engineers’ operations and maintenance (O&M). Final totals for specific Great Lakes projects will be decided in the Corps’ FY21 work plan to be released in late February or early March.
• $220 million for Port Infrastructure Development Grants. This is $200 million more than was requested by the administration and $25 million less than the amount provided last year.
• $30.7 million for the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. This is the amount requested by the administration and $7.3 million below last year’s funding level of $38 million.
• $4 million for Great Lakes icebreaking. The provision includes funds within the Coast Guard’s budget to continue pre-acquisition activities for a new icebreaker with capability equal to USCGC Mackinaw.
“In coming weeks, the Senate and House will work to hammer out final funding levels for each of these priorities,” the AGLPA said.
AWO opposes extension of VIDA comment period
The American Waterways Operators (AWO) has submitted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opposing any extension of the public comment period for national standards proposed under the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA).
In the letter, the AWO stated that the EPA needs to adhere to its Dec. 4 deadline to declare its final standards to ensure that vessel operators have timely relief from the “overlapping patchwork” of federal and state regulations that make VIDA compliance “impracticable and costly.”
“These current regulations will remain in place until EPA’s and the Coast Guard’s implementing regulations under VIDA are promulgated, effective and enforceable,” the AWO said. “Any extension of the deadline for public comments, and resulting delays in the finalization of the performance standards, protracts the amount of time that the regulated community must comply with the current burdensome system of duplicative and contradictory federal and state requirements, and is therefore contrary to the goals of VIDA.”
The public comment period is set to end on Nov. 25. The AWO stated in a letter to members on Nov. 12 that it is working to develop comprehensive comments on the EPA’s proposal.
Army Corps seeks nominees for Inland Waterways Users Board
The Army Corps of Engineers has issued a request for nominations to the Inland Waterways Users Board, an independent federal advisory panel whose role includes monitoring the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and advising the Corps on investment priorities.
Five nominees will be appointed for terms that begin May 28, 2021. Nominations received in response to notices published in the Federal Register in prior years will not be retained for consideration.
Individuals, companies or associations may nominate organizations to serve on the board by Dec. 1. Nominations should be addressed to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ATTN: Mark R. Pointon, 7701 Telegraph Road, Casey Building, Alexandria, VA 22315-3868. They can also be sent via email to Mark.Pointon@usace.army.mil.
Additional nomination criteria and instructions can be found in the Federal Register.