The decades-old lock-and-dam system on the Mississippi River would get a much needed upgrade under a bill that passed the U.S. Senate on Wednesday. It would spend nearly two-billion dollars to double the size of the existing locks and would add five new locks downriver from Iowa.
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says it will speed the process of delivering the grain Iowa farmers produce to markets around the globe. Harkin says “This bill is not just for locks and dams. We have an equal amount of money in there for environmental protection. Quite frankly, the new locks and dams, because they’re going to be bigger and more modern and more efficient, will actually cut the time. There’ll actually be less time for a barge to get from, say, eastern Iowa down to the terminals in Louisiana.”
The bill now heads to a conference committee as a similar version has already passed the U.S. House. Harkin says the bill is “at least ten years overdue.” Harkin says “One of the reasons we could never pass it was because of the environmental aspects and because a lot of people who were concerned about floods and about environment and about wildlife kept pressuring and so, finally, we got a bill that basically divides it up, equal amount of money for locks and dams, equal amount of money for environmental protection and that’s the way it oughta’ be.”
An official from the Iowa Corn Growers Association says the bill is a “major breakthrough” in efforts to upgrade Mississippi River shipping. The group’s director, Warren Kemper, a grower from Wapello, says “For years we’ve seen other nations upgrading their transportation systems while we chugged along with locks from the 1930s. This Senate vote moves us a big step toward finally improving our transportation system.”