CREVE COEUR (MCT) — The Peoria Lock and Dam is becoming a popular place for federal legislators to conduct news conferences.
It was U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock's turn Thursday to use the Illinois River installation as a backdrop to discuss legislation intended to make water-infrastructure projects more efficient and less prone to bureaucracy.
By a 417-3 vote Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. According to Schock, it cuts from as many as 15 years to three the time for project review and preparation. It also shifts about $10 billion from dormant projects to ones of greater significance.
"This is much-needed legislation for our nation's waterways and those who use them," Schock said as he was surrounded by local public officials and business and labor leaders who gathered beside the lock.
In praising passage of the bill, Schock alluded to the recent government shutdown and political squabbling that surrounded it.
"This is something constructive that Congress can do, something bipartisan that Congress can do, and I think after the last three weeks, that's something, hopefully, we can all embrace and get behind," Schock said.
The Peoria Republican's appearance at the lock and dam came seven weeks after a news conference held there by two Illinois Democrats, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos. They touted the Senate version of the bill, which that body approved lopsidedly.
The Peoria Lock and Dam is located in Bustos' district. But Schock said that facility and one in his district, the LaGrange Lock and Dam near Beardstown, are in most-urgent need of rehabilitation.
The Peoria facility is more than 70 years old. Lock-gate replacement might be the first priority, according to Col. Mark Deschenes, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District. But it's far from the only issue.
"There's not really one thing you can point to, other than the fact that maybe you could point to everything," Deschenes said.
Schock also said he is co-sponsoring a bill that would raise fees on barge traffic. The money would go into a trust fund targeted for infrastructure improvements. Most barge operators support the hike, according to the congressman.
"Sometimes fee increases or tax increases aren't popular, but this is one where people are willing to pay more if the dollars are going to go into the trust fund," Schock said.
House and Senate versions of the bill are to be reconciled sometime in the next few weeks, according to Schock. Given the overwhelming and bipartisan support, Schock said he expects President Barack Obama won't hesitate signing into law the final result.
(c)2013 the Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)
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