Journal Star: Durbin, Bustos pitch bill to update lock and dam systems

CREVE COEUR — Standing in front of a nearly 80-year-old dam aging past its life span, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos promoted legislation Thursday that seeks to improve the nation's water infrastructure.

As they toured the facility, Durbin, D-Ill., and Bustos, D-East Moline, pointed out how the Senate-passed Water Resources Development Act would help structures such as the Peoria Lock and Dam. The bill will appear in the House of Representatives in the coming weeks.

“The system is getting old. This lock and dam that we toured is almost 80 years old,” Durbin said. “Literally, with each passing day, there is a chance of failure. Failure, of course, would stack the boats up upriver waiting for the opportunity to pass through here, losing money every minute of every single day.”
The Peoria Lock and Dam was built in 1939 with a 50-year life span. From 1987 to 1990, it underwent rehabilitation to last another 25 years. With the end of that update nearing – 2014 – a renovation to modernize the lock and dam system is urgent, officials said. However, the Army Corps of Engineers, which was represented at the news conference Thursday, estimates it's currently backlogged by $60 billion worth of outstanding projects.

“We project that this lock and dam is scheduled for its work about 90 years from now,” Durbin said.

A new approach to modernizing not just the Peoria Lock and Dam, but locks and dams up and down the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, will exist if the act passes and private funding takes the lead. Passing the bill now falls on Bustos and her fellow representatives, who will try to emulate the Senate in passing the bipartisan resolution.

“If this (bill) gets out of committee and goes on to the full House, we should be voting on that some time in October,” Bustos said. “That's the timeline.”

Local lawmakers were on hand for the news conference as well as representatives from the Illinois Soybean Association, which primarily moves its commerce on rivers. Rob Shaffer, District 6 director of the Illinois Soybean Association, said the overwhelming advantage U.S. soybean organizations have over global competitors is the efficient transport of goods through locks and dams. Not upgrading U.S. water infrastructures could weaken this competitive edge.

“It takes (South America) a dollar a bushel to transport their beans to the ports,” Shaffer said. “It takes us about 20 cents. As long as we have the waterways, we're sitting pretty good.”