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A Publication of WTVP

Throughout my congressional career, I've been a strong advocate for restoring and preserving the Illinois River, our state's greatest natural resource. I've also long been a supporter of the efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to modernize America's lock and dam system, particularly those on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Many of these structures were built in the 1930s and are in dire need of replacement.

The Corps has undertaken a decade-long study to determine the viability of rebuilding these locks. At several public meetings recently, I expressed my support for the recommended plan, which seeks an initial 15-year plan for $1.9 billion to build seven new 1,200-foot locks while also providing $1.46 billion for environmental restoration. This well balanced, two-prong approach will provide necessary improvements to our national navigation system while ensuring environmental sustainability. The plan will be implemented in a phased manner with future congressional checkpoints.

More than 360 businesses in Illinois use the river to ship more than 190 million tons of products annually, including 60 percent of our agricultural goods. River transportation provides one of the safest, most efficient, and environmentally friendly modes of transportation. One barge can transport as much grain as 58 large trucks or 15 rail cars. If producers begin to abandon our waterways because of their cost and inefficiency, we can expect thousands of additional trucks on our already congested highways.

Illinois exports half of its corn and soybean crops to foreign markets. Delays in transporting their crops cost American farmers millions of dollars annually and increase the cost to consumers. In a competitive global marketplace, efficient transportation is vital to U.S. farmers. Brazil is poised to pass the United States in soybean exports and has invested heavily in upgrading its transportation systems, most specifically the country's water system through modern locks and dams. Other competitors, such as China and Argentina, have also recently spent millions of dollars upgrading their transportation systems. The United States risks falling behind these competitors if low cost and efficient transportation isn't available to our agriculture industry.

I believe the Army Corps of Engineers' preferred alternative for ecosystem restoration is balanced and based on sound science. Since 1993, the Navigation and Environmental Coordination Committee has met 45 times to discuss environmental restoration alternatives. The National Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, Mississippi River Basin Alliance, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, along with many other environmental and agricultural organizations, have participated in this process. Ecosystem restoration projects specified in the preferred plan include backwater restoration, floodplain restoration, shoreline protection, and island building. These projects would help restore the habitats of migratory birds, aquatic plants, fish species, and other animals that live in wetlands and floodplain habitats.

Additionally, the modernization of the locks and dams in the Upper Mississippi Basin will create thousands of jobs for our construction trades. Just as we spend money to repair our highways and roads, we need to spend the necessary public resources to repair the potholes on our rivers.

Finally, it should be noted that private money through the Inland Waterway Trust Fund can be tapped to assist with these infrastructure improvements. Barge companies pay 20 cents per gallon of fuel to the Trust Fund, and currently the Trust Fund has $400 million.

Agriculture is the number one industry in Illinois, and Illinois agricultural commodities generate more than $9 billion annually. If we fail to invest now, the future of our agriculture industry will be in doubt. As a member of the House of Representatives, I'll continue to do all I can to support the work of the Army Corps of Engineers to modernize America's Inland Waterway System. IBI

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