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Amid Crowded, Confusing Agenda, What might President’s Infrastructure Plan Hold for Inland Rivers?

January 31, 2017Patrick NunnallyRiversComments Off on Amid Crowded, Confusing Agenda, What might President’s Infrastructure Plan Hold for Inland Rivers?

Among the many many plans and priorities offered by the incoming Presidential administration, it’s been easy to overlook the promise for a massive infrastructure program that would create jobs and facilitate economic growth. This post won’t enter into speculation about what structure of investment the President has in mind, such as tax credits for private investment or direct public spending.  Nor will it engage in the tempting but pernicious process of guessing what the President really means by his various communications.  Instead the post reports on two recent news stories, and invites readers to pursue the matter further if they so desire.

One of several industry trade publications pertaining to commercial shipping, navigation, and the management of ports reports that at least some investment in the Mississippi River is part of the administration’s plan.  Port Technology reports that dredging on the Mississippi River in and around the Port of South Louisiana ranks #7 on the list of 50 critical projects. The Port of South Louisiana is a 54-mile port district on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that ranks among the busiest ports in the world.  The river has not been fully dredged to the depth of 50 feet required for full access of all oceangoing vessels, despite that depth having been authorized decades ago.

The DC office of McClatchy news service offers a broader look at the full list of 50 critical projects.  A quick scan of the list shows that almost 40% of those listed–18 of the 50 on the list–directly involve water management.  Ports get a lot of attention, as already noted in the case of the Port of South Louisiana, but lock and dam refurbishment is also in line for major investment, should this plan become reality.  Of particular note in the Mississippi River basin are plans for locks/dams on the Illinois, Ohio, and Monongahela Rivers, as well as Locks and Dams 20-25 on the Mississippi’s main stem.

The Upper Mississippi River, that stretch from St. Paul, MN to St. Louis, MO, has been declared by federal law to be a nationally significant ecosystem as well as a nationally significant transportation system.  Here’s hoping that in the planning for transportation improvements, the ecosystem part of the balance is not left short.

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