North Country Rep. Owens says St. Lawrence Seaway, Great Lakes would be considered one entity under bill passed by House
Thursday, October 24, 2013 - 9:31 am

North Country Rep. Bill Owens says a bill passed by the House of Representatives allows the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway to apply for grants as single entity.

The distinction was included as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 (WRRDA), which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 417-3.

The bill is supported by a coalition of businesses and labor groups and will directly benefit New York water infrastructure. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the state’s waterways and ports support 152,025 New York jobs and directly contribute $32 billion to the state economy.

“This legislation directly supports thousands of New York jobs and speeds long overdue infrastructure rehabilitation projects that will help grow our economy.” Owens said. “I am pleased the House has come together in a bipartisan manner to advance legislation that invests in our nation’s aging infrastructure.”

A bill Congressman Owens cosponsored (H.R. 2273) was included in WRRDA. Its incorporation means that for the first time, the Great Lakes waterways, including the Saint Lawrence Seaway will be designated as a single, unified navigation system.

That designation will directly benefit New York by allowing the system’s ports and waterways to bid on government funds for infrastructure projects as a single entity, instead of competing against each other for the same funds.

Through WRRDA, Congress authorizes the key missions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Those missions include flood and environmental protection projects and the development, maintenance and support of the nation’s waterway infrastructure.

WRRDA also reauthorizes the National Dam Safety Program, which funds dam repairs, safety research and training, and the development of emergency action plans. The North Country region alone has 180 aging dams that are deemed high-hazard or significant-hazard, because their failure would significantly threaten life and property.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee estimates the nationwide benefits-to-costs ratio of flood protection projects is 7 to 1. The USACE’s flood damage prevention mission saves the nation an estimated $22.3 billion each year.

To save taxpayer money and cut red tape, WRRDA reclaims $12 billion in federal funds from inactive projects that were authorized by Congress before 2007. It requires an assessment and inventory of all properties under control of the USACE and creates a system for non-federal entities to take over properties deemed nonessential. WRRDA contains no earmarks and creates a new, transparent review process that will be used to fund future infrastructure projects.

For the first time, the WRRDA will set a hard, three-year deadline for the completion of USACE feasibility studies. Current law allows the USACE to continue these studies indefinitely. According to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, these studies currently take 10 to 15 years to complete. The bill also allows the USACE to accept non-federal public funds to expedite the regulatory permit process.