House Passes the Water Resources Development Act with Crucial Provisions Championed by Congressman Don Young
Today, Alaska Congressman Don Young helped the U.S. House of Representatives pass S. 1811, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2020. This WRDA bill reauthorizes the activities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and sets Congressional priorities to improve our nation's ports, inland waterways, dams, levees, aids to navigation, flood control, and the operational functions the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertake in support of national, state and local water resources development needs. The bill will now head to the Senate for passage before heading to the President's desk. Following House passage of the bill, Congressman Don Young released the following statement:
"Today is a great day for the State of Alaska, our coastline, waterways, and ports. This bill's passage is the single most significant step forward for the development of Arctic port infrastructure in the state of Alaska in its history and a huge step forward for the future of our state's economy and national security. Alaska's 33,904 miles of shoreline dwarf the Lower 48, and with fewer miles of paved road than Rhode Island, Alaska's rivers, highways, and ports are the lifeblood of our state's communities. These simple facts make WRDA especially important for Alaska. The Army Corps Alaska District is an integral partner to Alaska's communities, managing significant project demand with limited resources. In Alaska, where infrastructure needs continue to outpace demand, I am encouraged by the progress we made in this WRDA bill with provisions that recognize Alaska's uniqueness. I want to thank my House and Senate colleagues for both recognizing the needs of Alaska, and understanding that the investments in this bill will benefit the nation as a whole.
For the Nome and Dutch Harbor communities, this bill is an essential milestone in the Army Corps project development process. I am very pleased that the Port of Nome, the Unalaska Dutch Harbor, and the St. George Harbor project authorizations are included in this bill. I will continue to support these projects as they seek federal funding.
In the case of the Port of Nome improvement project, this step was made possible through years of work hard work by the people of Nome and the Delegation. The Nome project will create a strategic transportation hub to meet the needs of U.S. Arctic Policy by strengthening the U.S. presence in the region, in what will hopefully become the first in a 'system of U.S. Arctic Ports.'
The Port of Nome expansion will ensure more effective search and rescue and environmental response activities as vessel traffic increases throughout the Arctic. The port will serve the country's national interests and support Coast Guard and Navy operations. It will also expand an existing logistics hub for more than 50 Alaskan coastal communities to help reduce the cost of living and create economic opportunities throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
This is a WRDA bill that recognizes how monumental our nation's water infrastructure and planning needs are, and I am proud to have helped ensure that Alaska is a direct recipient of that investment. The bill improves the Corps Tribal Partnership Program to help Alaska Natives pursue water infrastructure projects on their lands. Additionally, it includes an extension of Corps responsibility to maintain the damaged Lowell Creek Flood Diversion System in Seward and rectifies a contracting dispute injustice that will save the Aleutians East Borough $4 million.
As many know, one of my mottos is 'Alaska to the future.' Looking ahead, as the only Arctic state in the Union, Alaska will play the central role in hosting future Arctic infrastructure projects, including the construction of ports to strengthen our national security as government and commercial activities increase in the years ahead. I want to thank my colleagues, Chairman DeFazio, and Ranking Member Graves, for their leadership in these unusually challenging times. I eagerly look forward to the President signing this bill into law, so that our nation's ports, harbors, levees, and dams are strong, safe, and reliable for decades to come."
Alaska Specific Provisions Secured by Congressman Young:
Port of Nome Improvements: The bill will authorize $505 million for the Arctic Deep Draft Port project in Nome.
Unalaska Dutch Harbor Dredging: The bill will authorize $35 million for a dredging project for Unalaska Dutch Harbor. The project will dredge the entrance channel of the harbor to 58 feet, improving the ability of commercial, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy, and additional U.S. military assets and ships from allied nations to utilize the harbor.
St. George Harbor: The bill will authorize $164 million for St. George's navigation improvements. The project will provide for the operability, safety, and reliability of the St. George Harbor, as promised by the federal government, to aid the economic transition from fur seals to commercial fishing on the Pribilof Islands.
Policy and Programs:
Seward's Lowell Creek Flood Diversion System: The system has been severely damaged as a result of frequent flooding over the last 15 years. The Corps is currently working on a study to develop a new flood control system. In the 2007 WRDA, Congress transferred responsibility for maintaining the tunnel to the Corps for 15 years. This bill will extend that period by five years so that the Corps must maintain the tunnel through 2027, saving potential maintenance costs to Seward.
Aleutians East Borough: The bill includes a provision to hold harmless nonfederal project sponsors that have been impacted by a judgement against the Army Corps of Engineers in favor of a project contractor. This provision will save the Aleutians East Borough approximately $4 million.
Sense of Congress on Arctic Deep Draft Port Development: The bill includes some of the strongest language in law on the importance of the Arctic to national security and maritime transportation interests of the United States. It calls for the development and enhancement of Arctic maritime transportation infrastructure and the deep draft strategic seaport in Nome, AK for the USCG and Navy.
Coastal Mapping: The Secretary of the Army for Public Works will be required to develop a plan for the reoccurring mapping of coastlines that are experiencing rapid changes, specifically, Alaska which is essential to navigational safety and waterborne commerce in Alaska.
Aquatic and Invasive Species: The scope of the Corps Engineering Research and Development Center's research into invasive species will be expanded to include the Arctic recognizing a growing challenge for the state's fisheries and ecosystems.
Tribal Partnership Program: The bill will expand the per-project federal cost-share cap for the Tribal Partnership Program (TPP) to $15 million from $12.5 million. The TPP provides authority for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to perform water-related planning activities. Activities related to the study, design, and construction of water resources development projects are located primarily on tribal lands that substantially benefit federally recognized tribes. This improvement is a step in the right direction and begins to take into account the challenges Alaska faces with rising project costs.