A Congress not always known for bringing joy to Arkansas last week passed a bill likely to have a significant positive economic impact on the state.
The Senate by a vote of 91-7 and the House by a vote of 412-4 passed a water resources bill expected to create jobs and improve waterways in the state, according to a report in Friday’s edition. The Water Resources Development Act, following six months of negotiations to reconcile differing House and Senate bills, received the rarest of reactions: bipartisan, bicameral support.
The bill is good news for Arkansas in several ways.
The Arkansas Farm Bureau supports the improved potential for moving goods the bill offers.
"The ports, channels, locks, dams and other infrastructure that support our waterways transportation are vital to America’s ability to provide affordable agriculture products at home and abroad," Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said.
The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas Navigation System travels across Arkansas, allowing goods from as far northwest as Tulsa to make their way to the Mississippi River, and from there to the Gulf of Mexico and the rest of the world. The freight transportation route relies on a series of locks and dams, serviced by the Army Corps of Engineers. Local and regional leaders are hoping to see the river dredged to a uniform depth of 12 feet to allow larger, heavier barges to make their way up and down river.
Local leaders also hope the Army Corps will find funding to build a slackwater harbor in western Arkansas to take advantage of the intermodal opportunities provided where major north-south and east-west trucking and rail routes converge near the Arkansas River. Funding for other Army Corps projects increases the chances of money becoming available for that project.
The new legislation establishes an advisory committee to make recommendations to the Army Corps to make the M-KARNS more efficient and reliable.
The bill attends to other agricultural concerns as well. It allows rural water projects, like the Grand Prairie and Bayou Meto agricultural irrigation projects, to qualify for long-term, low-interest loans. It also exempts on-farm oil storage facilities of 6,000 gallons or less from new EPA regulations.
To the north, the legislation grants Beaver Lake and the Arkansas Waterways Commission to seek detailed accounting of all federal expenses related to a water resource project.
The water resources bill also strengthens the abilities of smaller communities and local groups to take action to protect valuable assets as well. It takes the brakes off local and state authorities wishing to conduct studies and carry out projects using their own funds; it allows the Corps to enter into partnerships with groups like the Friends of Lake Ouachita to maintain recreational sites; and it gives small communities more flexibility to develop water management strategies.
On the whole, it’s good news for the Arkansas River, for jobs and for shipping, and that means good news for Arkansas.
— Times Record