Cochran, Wicker water infrastructure bill signed into law - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Cochran, Wicker water infrastructure bill signed into law

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WASHINGTON, D. C (Mississippi News Now) -

U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker announced today that a major water infrastructure bill that they helped shape has been signed into law.

The "Water Resources Reform & Development Act", H.R.3080, authorizes federal resources for improving ports, waterways and flood control in Mississippi, in addition to streamlining the review and construction of waterway projects.

"This new law will allow work to improve our ports and strengthen flood protections," Cochran said.  "Our goal has been to ensure that Mississippi's needs are met, whether on the coast or along our river systems.  I believe we've achieved that goal in a responsible way.  In the years to come, I look forward to working to provide funding for the important programs and projects authorized in this law."

"Many Mississippi industries rely on a navigable and cost-effective transportation network to do business," Wicker said. "This law will provide these businesses and our state with long-term certainty for job growth and economic competitiveness. Modernizing and improving our ports in Gulfport and Pascagoula, as well as upgrading many of our commercial waterways, ensures Mississippians will continue to have access to affordable products that they use every day, such as corn, grain, and petroleum."

The law includes provisions championed by Cochran and Wicker during Senate consideration and passage of the legislation in May 2013. This includes hurricane and storm damage risk reduction, as well as harbor maintenance reforms.

Cochran serves on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and programs authorized in WRRDA. Wicker serves on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that crafted the Senate WRRDA bill, S.601.

In May, the Senate gave the bill final Senate approval. This cleared the way for the first WRRDA bill since 2007 to become law.

The law authorizes Army Corps of Engineers activities, including port dredging, inland locks and dams, and flood control projects nationwide.

IT also streamlines waterway projects, expedites environmental review processes, allows for greater private contributions to infrastructure repairs, and completes storm protection projects in Mississippi developed after Hurricane Katrina.

Cochran and Wicker said the following provisions are particularly important to Mississippi:

 

  • Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF):  Reforms the HMTF to increase the funds available for maintenance dredging of federal navigation channels and to provide equity for ports nationwide.  The law increases the amount of funds drawn from the HMTF to assist ports that have not been properly dredged in recent years. Further, the law creates a set-aside for growing ports like the Port of Gulfport.

 

  • Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program (MsCIP):  Section 7002 authorizes $1.07 billion for the MsCIP, which would establish a system for hurricane and storm damage risk reduction and restoration measures in coastal Mississippi counties. This section culminates efforts by Cochran and Wicker since 2009 to authorize MsCIP subprojects included in the Chief's report.

 

  • Crediting Authority for Navigation Projects:  Through a Cochran-sponsored provision, the law authorizes a non-federal interest to receive bankable credit if it carries out operation and maintenance responsibilities for a federal navigation project.  That credit could then be applied toward future construction costs associated with related projects.  This innovative provision would, for example, give the Port of Gulfport greater flexibility to deepen its channel without having to wait on the federal government.

 

  • Inland Waterways: The law restructures the inland waterways system to improve project delivery, lower costs, and improve project management for river ports like Natchez, Port Gibson and Vicksburg.

 

  • Flood Risk Reduction:  The law establishes a levee safety initiative authorizing the Corps to provide technical assistance and training to promote levee safety, as well as levee rehabilitation assistance activities.  The Mississippi Levee Board and the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board is responsible for maintenance activities on hundreds of miles on mainline and backwater protection levees.  This new initiative improves cooperation between local authorities and the Corps to ensure levees are maintained to their required standards and deficient portions receive necessary repairs.

 

  • Expediting Studies, Environmental Reviews, and Permits: The law expedites Corps studies and compliance with applicable environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It raises the project cost trigger for independent peer review of feasibility studies from $45 million to $200 million.  This provision will help advance the "Metropolitan Jackson, Mississippi Pearl River Flood Control Project," which was authorized in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 to develop a comprehensive flood control project for Rankin-Hinds metropolitan area.

 

  • Lower Mississippi River Interpretive Site:  The law includes a provision authorizing the renaming of the Lower Mississippi River Museum and Riverfront Interpretive Site after Jesse Brent, a Mississippian known as the "Granddaddy of the Towboat Industry" who passed away in 1982. Brent was posthumously named "River Person of the Century" in 2000 by the Waterways Journal.

 

  • EPA Regulations for Farm Oil Storage Tanks:  The law includes a provision based on legislation sponsored by Cochran (S.496) to exempt small farms with above-ground oil storage tanks with less than a 10,000 gallon aggregate storage capacity from the EPA Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure rule (SPCC). The EPA promulgated a SPCC rule that changed the requirement to include tanks at 1,320 gallons or more of above-ground storage capacity, which would have required farmers to purchase new capital equipment to comply with the regulation.
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