U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   03/31/2004
 
Statement of Ray Poupore
Executive Director
National Heavy & Highway Alliance
Washington, DC
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers role in the nation’s water resource needs in the 21st century

Mr. Chairman, thank you and ranking member, Senator Reid, for the opportunity to testify. I am testifying today as Executive Director of the National Heavy & Highway Alliance, in support of Water Resource Development Legislation. The National Heavy & Highway Alliance is comprised of the key building and construction trade unions which represent over one million highly skilled construction workers who build America’s infrastructure. On behalf of our constituent organizations: The Laborers, Carpenters, Operating Engineers, Iron Workers, Cement Masons, Bricklayers, and the Teamsters, we urge this committee and the United States Senate to authorize the programs and projects necessary to meet America’s inland and coastal water needs, and to reaffirm the critical role which the Corps of Engineers plays in that process.

Mr. Chairman before I get into the specifics of my testimony today, I want to digress for a minute to commend this entire committee for the tremendous job which you recently performed in passing a robust and strong highway reauthorization bill. Given the anemic numbers in the legislation which the House is likely to pass today, we strongly urge this committee to maintain its investment levels in any conference with the House. America needs the Senate’s higher investment levels in order to meet the tremendous backlog of surface transportation projects.

Turning to the topic at hand, the construction unions which I represent today want to go on record in strong support of the authorization for the Corps of Engineer’s Upper Mississippi River, and Illinois River waterway construction program.

Other panels today will give detailed testimony concerning the various economic and other reasons to upgrade the current 600 ft. locks to more modern and efficient 1200 ft. locks which would allow barge tows to more efficiently utilize the Illinois and Upper Mississippi lock and dam system. We associate ourselves with those remarks. A number of these locks and dams are sixty to seventy years old and simply cannot support the needs of a modern inland waterway transportation system.

River transportation has a long and proud history as a key component of America’s economic growth. At critical junctures in that history, however, forces of nature have been tamed in order to provide for a more efficient and more productive use of our country’s inland water resources. The Corps of Engineers has played a crucial role in this economic development. As much of the testimony from other panelists today will demonstrate, now is the appropriate time for Congress to authorize the Corps of Engineers to begin the planning and construction process for at least seven (7) new 1200 feet locks at Dam #’s: 20, 21, 22, 24 and 25 on the Upper Mississippi River, and at the La Grange and Peoria locks on the Illinois River. Additional capacity may be needed on other locks and dams in future years. Given the necessary planning process, we urge Congress to begin the authorization process at this time. While the Inland Waterway Trust Fund is available to pay a significant part of the projected construction costs, Congress will need to appropriate other funds to complete this multi-billion dollar program. Beginning the authorization process at this time will, in our view, enhance overall prospects for completion in a more cost-effective manner.

Almost every school child in America recognizes that the area served by the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers is the breadbasket of the Nation. In a global economy, American farmers need a modern lock and dam system to effectively compete in world markets. We share their concern that unnecessary bottlenecks exist at this critical junction in our inland waterway system.

As construction craft unions, however, we will largely defer to the expertise of others in respect to the agricultural, environmental, and social benefits of an improved lock and dam system. Our institutional bias is to build America’s many infrastructure projects in conjunction with our contractors. We constantly train our members in order to improve their skill levels which, in turn, provides the most cost effective and productive workforce in America. But without paychecks, this highly skilled workforce simply won’t be fulfilling its productive potential. Our members feed their families, pay their mortgages and support the overall economy with their paychecks earned from actual project activity. That is how the construction industry works. In light of the continuing jobless economic recovery, we support an Upper Mississippi river lock and dam construction program which will provide thousands of good-paying jobs for our members throughout that region. While this lock modernization program will likely extend over the next 15-20 years, thousands of jobs would be created each year during the construction phase of this effort.

Based on our projections, over 45 million man-hours of labor could reasonably be anticipated in the construction of the 1200 ft locks. These are jobs that are American jobs and cannot be outsourced to foreign countries. Because of Davis-Bacon prevailing wage protections, these will also be good-paying jobs which will clearly maintain the living standards for construction workers and their families, whether carpenters, pile drivers, heavy equipment operators, laborers or iron workers throughout the region. Clearly these are the types of jobs which will provide economic growth for the entire regional economy. In short, this lock and dam reconstruction program is a significant job-creation effort which, hopefully, should be an important consideration for the Committee as it assesses the authorization of our country’s water resource priorities.

We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Midwest Area River Coalition (MARC 2000) in advocating congressional authorization of this vital section of our inland waterway transportation network. In addition, we also recognize the beneficial environmental aspects of these proposed lock expansions. On a per capita basis, our trade unions probably have a higher percentage of hunters and fishermen than most other groups in society. We work outdoors and constantly work with “Mother Nature” in her various aspects. We respect clean air and clean water issues in our various communities. Accordingly, we are strong advocates of sensible environmental approaches when it comes to major construction projects. We believe that the new 1200 ft locks will improve the river ecosystem by allowing additional backwater restoration, riverbank stabilization and island reconstruction. It is important to note that this proposal is not a rebuilding of the entire system of locks and dams. Rather, a targeted approach to build additional lock capacity is at the heart of this proposal, which includes over $150 million in beneficial environmental mitigation. The Corps of Engineers approach to developing additional 1200 ft locks, in our judgment, strikes the appropriate balance between more efficient commercial enterprise and prudent environmental stewardship.

In closing, I reiterate that we as the key building trade construction unions strongly support the modernization of the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River lock system. These proposed upgrades will help ensure a more competitive economy, a sounder environment, and the creation of many skilled, good-paying jobs.

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today, Mr. Chairman, and I’ll be glad to answer any questions that the committee may have now.