Capitol Currents Newsletter

Wake Me Up in November

October 1, 2020

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Wake Me Up in November

By Tracy Zea, WCI President/CEO


As Congress breaks and turns its attention to the upcoming November elections, the future of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020 hangs in the balance. There are still many unknowns for WRDA, and its chances of being signed into law, but efforts continue in support of a Lame Duck session enactment of the bill.


With a few exceptions (e.g., 1999 and 2007), WRDA bills traditionally have become law during an even-number year, often a couple of months before the election, giving Members of Congress a victory to tout back home to their constituents. Since the first WRDA bill was enacted into law in 1974, six of 13 WRDA bills have been signed into law just prior to elections. That number should actually be eight vs. six, with Congress passing WRDAs in 1986 and 1988 prior to the elections but, for certain political reasons, those bills weren’t signed into law until post-election. With that said, five of 13 WRDA bills have been enacted into law after the November contests in Lame Duck sessions, so the path WRDA 2020 is currently on is not unfamiliar.


A major difference between WRDA and other transportation bills is that WRDA bills are not “reauthorization” bills. Each WRDA is its own stand-alone bill and does not have a set date in which it must be passed. This flexibility allows Congress to avoid program-halting deadlines when considering a WRDA. However, it has worked against WRDA in recent years, with big gaps between WRDAs from 2000 to 2007, and 2007 to 2014, as examples. Congress does try to enact a WRDA bill every two years, and this biennial cycle remains an important priority for stakeholders. It provides reasonable reliability that their project will be authorized for construction, or a policy change can be made in order to have the Corps operate more efficiently, as in WRDAs in 2014, 2016, and 2018.


WRDA bills traditionally have been bipartisan legislation that unites both sides of the aisle, and WRDA 2020, up to this point, has been that way as well. On the House side, WRDA passed unanimously out of committee, and then was unanimously approved by voice vote on the House floor. On the Senate side, it passed 21-0 out of the Environment and Public Works Committee. As occurred with WRDA 2018, the Senate is proceeding to pre-conference with the House consensus bill without the need for a Senate floor vote on the committee bill.


With a looming tough 2020 election for both parties, it is currently difficult to predict what a potential Lame Duck session might look like, and if there will be any willingness to act in a bipartisan manner to finish WRDA 2020. There are several pieces of legislation that require further Congressional action, such as appropriations bills that expire on December 11th. Other bills, such as WRDA, do not have that kind of ticking clock dictating a perception of urgency, but still could be completed quickly by a willing Congress.


If we look back to history and the actions taken on WRDA bills during Lame Duck sessions, it’s reasonable to think that WRDA 2020 will be enacted into law if a post-election Congress returns to a spirit of bipartisanship for the benefit of the Nation.


From A to Zea: Q&A with WCI’s New President/CEO

On July 8, Tracy Zea, WCI’s former Vice President of Government Relations, was named President and CEO of the organization. Before joining WCI in 2015, Zea served on the House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) for five years.


During his time on the Committee, he assisted in legislation related to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, Map-21 highway reauthorization, and played an integral part in the enactment of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014. Prior to joining the T&I Committee, he worked for Senator John Thune (R-SD). He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from South Dakota State University.


Capitol Currents spent some time with Mr. Zea and learned more about him and his outlook for WCI during this Q&A.


Q: What are your immediate goals as President/CEO?

A: My goal is to create value for WCI’s members through legislative achievements that can impact their businesses such as passage of WRDA 2020, with WCI’s top request to adjust the construction and major rehabilitation cost-share for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF). If the adjustment to 65% General Treasury Revenues /35% IWTF is achieved and enacted into law, billions of additional dollars could go toward construction and major rehabilitation of inland waterways modernization projects. Currently, there are 18 modernization projects that are valued at just over $8 billion, and by adjusting the cost-share, these projects will significantly be expedited to completion.


Q: What do you think about an infrastructure package advancing ahead?

A: While infrastructure has been talked about by President Trump and leaders in Congress, no plan has been realized and prospects remain dim in an election year. I think that infrastructure could be addressed in 2021, but in the meantime, WCI will continue to educate Congress, stakeholders, the media and the general public on the benefits of the inland waterways transportation system.


Q: So what do you like to do for fun?

A: When I’m away from the office and not working, I enjoy being active and outside. I still play in a pick-up basketball league twice a week, enjoy fishing, and have recently gotten back into hunting. I also love to play golf on the weekends, but contemplate quitting golf several times each year.


Q: What’s the greatest hope you have for the inland waterways transportation system in five years? 20 years?

A: In the next five years, my goal for WCI is to have all the legacy lock construction projects completed (Lower Mon, Kentucky, and Chickamauga), with three new lock modernization projects started from the current portfolio of authorized projects. In 20 years, the goal for the inland waterways transportation system is to have all 18 projects currently authorized at $8 billion funded to completion. I would like to get to a point where new, modern locks are the norm, and not uncommon.


Q: What are you most proud of in your career?

A: I would say playing an integral part of WRRDA 2014. That was a transformative bill that set up new processes and procedures for the Corps, but it also got WRDAs back on a biennial schedule, which is very important to all stakeholders.


Q: Who is your favorite historical figure and why?

A: Theodore Roosevelt, who was one of the youngest Presidents this country ever had, but more for what he did on the conservation side. President Roosevelt was an avid outdoorsman and established more than 230 million acres of public land that all Americans can enjoy today while hiking, camping, and hunting.


Corps Retirements of Note

On September 10, General Todd T. Semonite retired as the Army’s Chief of Engineers and Corps of Engineers Commanding General. General Semonite was to retire May 19, but due to COVID-19 and the important work of the Corps to build out hospital capacity, the President extended his tour until the Senate approved his successor, Lieutenant General Scott Spellmon. General Spellmon assumed duties as the 55th Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on September 10, 2020.


Major General Donald E. (Ed) Jackson, Jr., Deputy The Inspector General and former Deputy Commanding General, Civil and Emergency Operations, retired via a virtual ceremony on September 25.


WCI Annual Meeting & Fall Waterways Symposium to Go Virtual

As a result of travel bans and concerns, WCI moved its 2020 Annual Meeting and Waterways Symposium from an in-person event to be held in Las Vegas to a virtual event to be held over two separate days, November 10 (Annual Meeting/Board of Directors meeting) and November 12 (Waterways Symposium). The current schedule for the Symposium is as follows:


Thursday, November 12:

9:00 a.m. Eastern/8:00 a.m. Central

Opening/welcome remarks by WCI Chairman of the Board


9:15 a.m. Eastern/8:15 a.m. Central

Address by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Chief of Engineers LTG Scott Spellmon


10:00 a.m. Eastern/9:00 a.m. Central

Message by Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette (invited)


10:30 a.m. Eastern/9:30 a.m. Central

Panel with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, moderated by Jeff Webb, President, Cargo Carriers/Cargill, Inc.

  • Lessons learned on the closure of the Illinois Waterway 2020 by Tom Heinold, Project Manager, Rock Island District
  • Review of the Capital Investment Strategy 2020 by Tom Smith, Chief of Operations and Regulatory Division
  • Dredging through 2020 and beyond by Eddie Belk, SES, Programs Director for the Mississippi Valley Division


11:30 a.m. Eastern/10:30 a.m. Central

Keynote Speech, “Macro-Economic View of World Trade and Politics 2020” by Jim Wiesemeyer


12:30 p.m. Eastern/11:30 a.m. Central

Closing Remarks by Tracy Zea, WCI President/CEO


12:45 p.m. Eastern/11:45 a.m. Central



Illinois Waterway 2020 Consolidated Closures Projects on Track Despite Many Challenges

By Tom Heinold, Chief of Operations, Rock Island District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers


It was a dark and stormy… day! The mid-afternoon hours on the 10th of August presented yet another challenge to the team tackling the already difficult task of performing major rehabilitation and maintenance work on five locks at once on the Illinois Waterway this summer. A rare derecho storm came seemingly out of nowhere, snapping limbs, blowing down entire trees, and causing a brief cessation of work for the sake of safety at several of the lock sites under construction. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the damage was relatively minor. Lock crews and contractors were able to clean up debris and get back to work in short order, redoubling the effort to get this critical waterway back open to barge traffic as soon as possible.


It’s been a trying spring and summer. The project delivery team anticipated flooding as a risk early on, but the level and extent of flooding caused problems right off the bat at LaGrange Lock, where the walls remained underwater until just a couple of days before the scheduled July 1st closure date. The navigation industry enjoyed a “wickets-down” open pass condition at both LaGrange and Peoria right up until that date. Tow traffic was right where it needed to be in a timely manner, due to careful and deliberate planning by the navigation industry, but the flooding conditions impeded a timely mobilization to the lock walls at LaGrange, and the Corps negotiated a 13-day time extension to its contract with Shimmick construction company, thereby using 13 of the 30 float days in the schedule. The contract for LaGrange was awarded in fall 2018 to AECOM, of which Shimmick is a subsidiary. This was necessary because much pre-work needed to be done in the summer of 2019, and long-lead-time items (some required as much as 18 months for manufacturing/fabrication) needed to be procured to prepare for installation in the summer of 2020.


As of this writing, the effort at LaGrange Lock is still well within the 90- to 120-day window the Corps has been promising during more than three years of planning, and amazing progress is being made every day.


The bulkhead slots at Brandon Road Lock are not being installed this summer. The amount and timing of funding was insufficient, as was USACE and construction contractor capability, so this work will be done immediately ahead of the planned 2023 closures instead (as coordinated with the navigation industry).


Then there’s that virus. What do you do when there’s an outbreak at a lock site? You quarantine those who are sick, you get a lot of tests done and even quarantine some who were directly exposed to those who contracted the disease, you clean and disinfect the site, you borrow people from other locations, and you press on with the work. That’s exactly what happened at Starved Rock and Marseilles Locks, where both Corps of Engineers and Alberici construction company employees experienced symptoms. COVID-19 also caused an unexpected turn of events for Peoria Lock’s hydraulic cylinder rehabilitation: the facility in Houston where they were scheduled to go was closed due to the virus, and with the cylinders already removed and loaded onto trucks, those trucks were redirected at the last minute to a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania facility instead.


Another unexpected issue arose when some damage was found on the greaseless pintles (the large hemispherical steel balls that act as the bottom hinge for the locks’ miter gates) that were installed at Peoria and LaGrange Locks just two years ago. It turns out that the flooding and sand and silt at those sites was too much for the greaseless pintles, so the team had to react quickly to procure new pintles and bushings. Heavy lift assets were flexed to change out two pairs of upper miter gates’ pintles to the old tried-and-true greased designs that had served those locks for about 80 years.


We hadn’t expected Asian Carp to get in our way, but the lock chamber at Starved Rock was so full of them that once bulkheads were installed and sealed, crews couldn’t pump down the chamber because of the sheer number of fish clogging the pumps! The team had to act fast to get a commercial fishing company on site to remove the fish from the chamber so the dewatering could continue.

By some miracle (and of course by the hard work and skills of Brennan Marine), the bulkhead recess installation project at Dresden Island lock is going relatively smoothly following a record-setting flood there this past spring.


What will Mother Nature throw at us next? We sure hope she’s running out of ideas. Aren’t floods, a contagious virus, hot weather, schools of fish and a derecho storm enough? Whatever comes our way, Rock Island District and its contractors stand ready to deliver a safe and reliable inland navigation system in the shortest possible time.


The District will continue to post the most up-to-date status of the closures at our website:


Long-Awaited Mississippi River Deepening Project Begins

The deepening of the Mississippi River Ship Channel to 50 feet began on September 11, 2020, as Weeks Marine’s cutterhead dredge Captain Frank began dredging five miles above the Head of Passes.


Col. Stephen Murphy, Commander of the Corps’ New Orleans District, said, “By deepening the Mississippi River Ship Channel even by just five feet (to 50 feet) the National economy will see benefits to the tune of approximately $127 million annually. With a benefit-to-cost ratio of 7.2-to-1, the project will pay for itself in two years. This is a really great deal for Louisiana and America.”

The overall project will provide a draft of 50 feet from the Port of Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico, more than 256 miles of the Mississippi River.


In addition, material dredged from the first 30 miles of the project near the mouth of the Mississippi River will restore an estimated 1,462 acres of critical marsh habitat. Phase 1 of the project will provide a 50-foot channel from the Gulf of Mexico through Southwest Pass to Belmont Crossing and will open up approximately 175 miles of the ship channel to the deeper draft. Phase 1 encompasses the entire jurisdiction of the Port of New Orleans, St. Bernard Port, Harbor and Terminal District, the Plaquemines Port, Harbor and Terminal District and the majority of the Port of South Louisiana.


Dewatering at Inner Harbor Lock Means Alternate Route for Mariners

As a result of the leaking lock chamber at the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) Lock, on September 4, the Corps closed the lock for dewatering 60 days. To allow mariners to continue to travel to and from the East Canal, the Chandeleur Sound – Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) Alternate Route was again activated after a series of Corps of Engineers’/NOAA surveys were conducted, the U.S. Coast Guard marked the Route, and navigation charts were updated.


To help assure safe passage in the generally open waters of the Sound, the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association (GICA) worked with industry experts to develop best practices for operating on the Route. The West to East route generally follows the Mississippi River to Bayou Baptiste Collette then turns northward in the Chandeleur Sound to the Gulfport Ship Channel and the GIWW East. Barring weather that could delay the project, the work is expected to be complete around the beginning of November.


 GICA has been leading efforts to disseminate information about the Alternate Route and maintenance disruptions at Lock. Key information is available on GICA’s website:; and through an interactive Facebook page designed to encourage sharing of tow operators’ experiences and recommendations for sailing the Route:


WCI Spotlight: Illinois Corn Growers Association Creates a Future for Illinois Farmers

Agriculture is the number one industry in Illinois in terms of economic impact, contributing more than $8.85 billion to the state’s economy annually. This makes the work of the Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA) crucial to both the farmers and the citizens that live in Illinois.


ICGA is a membership organization that uses grassroots advocacy to create a future for Illinois farmers in which they can operate freely, responsibly, and successfully. Members of the association are often Illinois farmers, but might also be non-operating landowners, ag professionals, or agribusinesses that rely on a vibrant agriculture industry for the success of their own business.

“We are trying to explore opportunities and remove roadblocks to give everyone that wants to build a future in our industry the chance to do so,” said Bill Leigh, a Minonk, IL farmer and ICGA President. “Our priorities and activities revolve around preserving the opportunity to make a living as a farmer in Illinois.”


At times, preserving the opportunity to farm in Illinois can be difficult. While it seems simple to protect the right of a landowner to plant a seed on his or her own land, there are a myriad of issues that impact this right. Seed, chemical, and fertilizer availability might be one example of ICGA’s work, as the association regularly submits public comments to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulatory processes to ensure registration and availability of all possible tools for farmers.


Market access is another important area of ICGA’s work. Farmers might have the opportunity to farm, but not be able to support their families if market opportunities aren’t available to sell corn. ICGA is involved in policy and regulatory issues in support of corn’s largest markets: global exports, ethanol, and livestock feed.


Infrastructure is a key, if often a lesser considered, area of ICGA’s work. Illinois is a very large corn and ethanol export state because of the competitive advantage of the Illinois, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers. This makes lock and dam modernization a priority. In fact, ICGA’s highest legislative priority in 2020 was to secure funding for pre-engineering and design work on one lock and dam project.


“If transporting goods via our inland waterway system becomes more expensive or cumbersome, grain elevators are passing those costs on to Illinois farmers. Ultimately, farmers pay the price for an inefficient system. That is why ICGA has taken a lead, advocating to renovate and expand the locks and dams on our rivers to build efficiencies in the system and leave more cash with our farmer members,” said Leigh.


In the future, ICGA will continue to focus in several key areas of work. Building market opportunity will be important in the face of the significantly low profitability Illinois corn farmers are experiencing. Experts predict that low profitability will plague Illinois farmers for the next several years, barring a weather or disease calamity that decreases yield.


The goal to build market opportunities places ICGA in the center of many U.S. ethanol policy debates, as ethanol is one of the only growing market opportunities for Illinois corn. Certainly, export policies are also vital. Ethanol exports represent a very clear opportunity for Illinois corn usage in the future.


Supporting livestock farmers and the export of meat and poultry products is also very important. Citizens of developed countries – like the U.S. – are not increasing their consumption of meat and poultry products. Other countries are.


“The opportunity lies in the ability for the global marketplace to get food from the places that are great at producing food – like the U.S. – to the places that have thousands or millions of mouths to feed. Whether we are exporting corn to feed international livestock or growing the livestock here and exporting meat products overseas, ICGA has a tremendous opportunity to serve Illinois farmers by growing export markets,” said Leigh.


All those market gains rely on a functioning and efficient river transportation system.


“Farmers are optimists. Our goal every year is to plant a seed and pray that the soil, weather, insects, and disease pressures all work to grow a plant. We’ll also pray that the policy and regulatory challenges that make farming difficult some days will work for us to grow our small businesses. ICGA will help,” said Leigh.


USDA Report: Exports, Imports Expected to Rise

U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal year 2021 are projected at $140.5 billion, up $5.5 billion from the revised forecast for fiscal year 2020, primarily driven by higher exports of soybeans and corn, the Agriculture Department said in an outlook report.


U.S. agricultural imports are forecast at $136 billion, $4.3 billion higher than revised fiscal year 2020 estimate, due largely to a $3.9 billion increase in horticultural products, and a $700 million increase in grain and feed imports, USDA said. 


Source: USDA Economic Research Service — Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade: Exports Forecast Up $5.5 Billion to $140.5 Billion; Imports at $136.0 Billion


National Waterways Foundation Commissions New Inland Waterways State Profiles

The states of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin are getting some new attention after the August 11 release of state waterways profiles commissioned by the National Waterways Foundation (NWF).


After the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had created port and inland waterways profiles in 2013 that proved to be an effective, but now outdated resource, NWF worked with Cambridge Systematics, Inc. (CSI) to create these new inland waterways-focused profiles using the National IMPLAN economic model. The analysis evaluates current economic and commodity flow information and provides details on inland waterways and waterways-dependent industries, top commodities, and the industries that most benefit from the inland waterways in each state. The profiles also include high-level, national benefits of and general statistics for the inland waterways.


CSI’s methodology leveraged analysis from reports and research published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Agriculture, NWF, state agencies, Federal Highway Administration, and Bureau of Labor Statistics, among other sources.

In an effort to broadly share this resource, WCI developed a social media campaign with the hashtag #WaterwaysImpactUS that featured two states’ profiles each week on WCI’s Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. Thanks to WCI members for your help sharing the profiles on your social media platforms.


The state inland waterways profiles can be found at, “CLICK YOUR STATE TO LEARN MORE.”

CSI’s data methodology document can be found here:


Dredging Up Success: Corps Works to Remediate Hot Spots at Victoria Bend

A history of groundings at Victoria Bend on the lower Mississippi River made this year’s similar problems no surprise, but still a great worry, for operators and shippers. On July 18, the Corps’ Dredge Hurley departed from Red Eye near Baton Rouge, LA and arrived on July 21 to begin securing fleets safely away from traffic, re-attaching pipelines, setting anchors and conducting surveys to begin dredging operations. The dredging began the evening of July 21, and the navigation channel was closed to all traffic through the morning of July 24, when traffic was able to safely pass while the operation continued. Dredging continued through the afternoon of July 30 until a final survey was conducted, the area re-buoyed, and the river fully re-opened for all north- and south-bound traffic.


In all, more than 600,000 Cubic Yards of material was removed at Victoria Bend, with more than 100 vessels affected during the dredging operations. The current at that spot on the river was swift and assist boats were mandatory. In fact, currents at the lower end of the bend impacted two loaded rock barges which broke away from a tow and sank.


“We did our best to make one of the trouble spots on the river easier to navigate and just hope industry is happy with our work,” said Kyle Collins, 3rd Mate/Dredge Hurley.


WCI Member Marquette Transportation Company Makes Executive Transition

After serving 30 years with WCI member company Marquette Transportation Company, John Eckstein has assumed the role of Executive Chairman of Marquette and transitioned his duties as CEO to the company’s President (and WCI Board member) Damon Judd. Mr. Judd has worked with Marquette for nearly 14 years, including serving on the company’s Board of Directors from 2007-2013 as a representative of Marquette’s prior financial partner.


As Executive Chairman, Mr. Eckstein will continue to work actively with Marquette’s leadership team and Board of Directors to set the company’s strategy and to engage with core customers and key stakeholders. He was an early member of WCI and served on its Board for many years.


“The last 30 years have been an incredible journey for me and the Marquette team,” Mr. Eckstein said. “I’m extremely proud of what we’ve built and appreciate the friendships I’ve been able to establish across our industry. This does not mark my retirement from Marquette – the future of our company and our employees remains very important to me and my family.”


Industry Calendar (subject to change)