Capitol Currents Newsletter

Another Chance to Advance Inland Waterways Infrastructure

October 10, 2023

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Another Chance to Advance Inland Waterways Infrastructure

Tracy Zea, WCI President/CEO


In Washington, DC, or the "swamp," there is a strong opinion that nothing is getting done. A poll by Gallup had Congress's disapproval rating at 78% in August 2023. With most Americans probably turned off by news surrounding funding the federal government, WCI is excited about another potential opportunity to improve the inland waterways transportation system through the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2024.

WRDA bills have generally been a silent success story in Washington. While within a 14-year period only two bills were signed into law, Congress has enacted five WRDA bills over the last eight years. With current appetite in Congress to support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through WRDA and annual appropriations increases, WCI continues to advocate to advance the inland waterways system because, in DC, opinions often change quickly.


The WRDA process officially started with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee requesting individual Senators’ priorities by October 6. WCI has one request this year: to keep Congressional intent to pay for inland waterways construction and major rehabilitation projects funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) at 100% federal cost, not cost-shared, like regular order appropriations navigation projects, between federal Treasury funds and Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) receipts generated by a diesel fuel tax on commercial operators. This request is consistent with the intent that IIJA-funded inland waterways construction projects are completed at full federal cost to achieve an accelerated return on investment. Ensuring the cost of these projects remains 100% federally funded will allow the Nation to realize economic return more quickly, reduce the supply chain's environmental footprint, and address uncertainty in increasingly competitive global agriculture and energy markets. 


IIJA funded seven inland waterways construction projects, but due to significant cost overruns, IIJA funds will be unable to complete any of these projects, initially considered funded to completion. Unless modified in WRDA 2024, this will jeopardize and needlessly delay critical ongoing and planned capital improvements across the antiquated inland waterways transportation system, further delaying important benefits to the Nation.

If this policy is not adopted in WRDA 2024, the inland waterways risk falling back into an Olmsted Dam-like scenario where the IWTF can only fund one project at a time. While now operating as a world-class navigation project on the Ohio River, Olmsted’s new lock construction took more than 25 years to complete. Enacting WCI’s WRDA 2024 policy request is, quite frankly, the most important legislative priority for 2023/2024.

WCI is hearing the WRDA 2024 process to solicit Member requests in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will begin in November. WCI's House asks will remain the same as for the Senate.

WCI would appreciate help from its members, reaching out to House offices to support keeping Congressional intent and funding IIJA inland waterways construction and major rehabilitation projects at federal cost.



Legislator Profile: Senator John Boozman (R-AR) 

In this issue of Capitol Currents, we profile another elected official who has championed the inland waterways: Senator John Boozman (R-AR)


A fifth-generation Arkansan, Senator Boozman was raised in Fort Smith and graduated from Northside High School. He went on to play football for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks while completing his pre-optometry requirements. He graduated from the Southern College of Optometry in 1977 and entered private practice that same year, co-founding a family business with his brother that would ultimately become a major provider of eye care to Northwest Arkansas.


Senator Boozman advocates for economic policies that help Arkansas’s small businesses continue to grow and add jobs to the state’s economy. And since agriculture accounts for nearly one-quarter of Arkansas’s economic activity, John has been a consistent champion for the state’s farmers, ranchers and loggers and was instrumental in the fight for an equitable farm bill.


As the son of an Air Force Master Sergeant, the Senator learned at an early age about the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, as well as the unique challenges military families face. He brings these values with him to Washington where he is committed to enhancing the quality of life for both veterans and their families. As a member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, he has authored provisions to bolster care and services for women veterans, modernize educational benefits under the GI Bill and better reach and provide mental health care and resources to former service members.


He served as the Ranking Member of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry during the 117th Congress, a position that continues to enable him to play a key role in influencing policy that relates to the agriculture economy, nutrition programs and quality of life in rural America.

He also continues to serve on the Committee on Appropriations, which is responsible for allocating federal funds, and the Committee on the Environment and Public Works, where much of the nation’s infrastructure policy is developed, including Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bills.


Q: Prior to public service you were a small business owner and optometrist serving your community. Can you please explain how that experience shaped you into the legislator you are today?


A: Running a small business with my brother was incredibly rewarding. We got to take care of a community that we were very proud and excited to be part of, which grew and changed a lot over the years. We also worked really hard to treat our employees well and understood how important they were to our success. Knowing what it was like to sign the front of a paycheck, navigating rules or regulations and really understanding the real-world impact, and just doing everything in our power to offer high-quality service that people needed was not only important then, but has helped me represent Arkansans well in Washington. All those things translated over into public service and have been very valuable insights to bring with me to Congress.


Q: Arkansas is a state filled with rich history especially when it comes to agriculture, which is one of the largest industries in your state. What role do you think the Arkansas, White, and Mississippi Rivers play in promoting the agricultural industry?


A: These three rivers each have their own unique importance to Arkansas agriculture. The Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers’ ability to support freight transport is a key tool for our state’s farmers, ranchers and producers. On the Arkansas River alone, roughly 11 million tons of commodities are shipped annually up and down the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) that begins at the confluence of the White and Mississippi Rivers and runs to Oklahoma. Having direct access to this transportation artery, and others throughout Arkansas that amount to more than 1,000 miles of navigable waterways, gives the natural state’s agriculture industry access to ports across the country and the world. Additionally, the White River provides suitable irrigation for crops on Arkansas farmlands, which is why I’ve been a strong supporter of the development of irrigation projects that utilize this abundance of surface water and reduce dependence on groundwater.


Q: In addition to serving on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry you also serve on the Appropriations, Environment and Public Works (EPW), and Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Committees. How do you balance your time between these committees and how do your committee assignments help you to carry out your legislative agenda?


A: Each committee has different areas of focus and very important responsibilities that we take great pride in contributing to and being active in. The Farm Bill is currently up for reauthorization, so as the top Republican on the Senate Ag Committee, that’s obviously a major priority right now. The EPW Committee deals a lot with the infrastructure that underpins our economy and helps sustain communities, while the VA Committee works in a very bipartisan way to make sure our country fulfills the promises we make to the men and women who serve in uniform. And the nice thing about the Appropriations Committee is that it deals with funding all federal programs and agencies, so we get to have input on an incredibly wide range of subjects. So, the reality is my committee work all fits together in such a way that we get to make very important progress on the issues that I’m heavily invested in and knowledgeable about in order to deliver for the people of Arkansas and folks across the country.


Q: Since joining the Senate, what members have you enjoyed working with, past or present, and how have they helped you become a better legislator throughout your career?


A: There are lots of colleagues I’ve enjoyed working with over the years. Whether it’s on my side of the aisle with Senators Inhofe, Barrasso or Capito, or with Democratic counterparts like Senators Carper and Cardin – not only do we get along well, I’ve also been able to learn a lot from them about policy, the background experience they bring to the table or just the way they approach the job of representing their constituents. I know I can reach out to any of them when searching for legislative solutions or just seek advice about an issue they’re passionate about and get very candid, thoughtful feedback. It’s especially vital to work across party lines to get things done, and I’ve been so fortunate to have great partners on the other side who are very skilled and reliable. Because of those relationships, we’ve been able to accomplish some significant wins on issues that deal with agriculture, infrastructure, recycling and support for veterans.


Q: Do you think you would’ve made it to the NFL if it wasn’t for numerous hamstring injuries throughout your high school and college career?


A: I always tell people that my claim to fame is that a few of my teammates and I actually drove Joe Gibbs out of college football and into the NFL where he won several Super Bowls and became a Hall of Famer – we were so un-coachable that Coach Gibbs couldn’t handle the frustration and needed a change of scenery. The truth is, I was very blessed to have as much success as I did on the football field and playing for the Razorbacks was a dream come true, but playing in the NFL wasn’t ever really something I envisioned. The day still hasn’t come where I miss the two-a-day practices or brutal conditioning workouts.


Biographical Facts


Senator John Boozman (R-AR)



1950 in Shreveport, LA






University of Arkansas, Southern College of Optometry


Public Office

First elected to the Senate in 2010, Senator Boozman was sworn in for a third term on January 3, 2023. Prior to serving in the Senate, he represented the people of the Third District of Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is Arkansas’s senior U.S. Senator and the dean of the state’s Congressional delegation.



Inland Waterways Users Board Approves Resolution to Fully Federally Fund IIJA Waterways Projects

By Jennifer Armstrong, WCI Director of Government Relations


The Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB) held its 100th meeting in Paducah, KY, on July 20. The meeting provided updates from federal partners, including the Corps of Engineers, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD). The day prior to the meeting, on July 19, the Corps provided a tour of the ongoing Kentucky Lock construction project to members of the Users Board.


During the IWUB meeting, the Corps provided updates on navigation projects in the study, design, and construction phases, including the status of project cost overruns. Included was an overview of newly released policies aimed at addressing inflation risk and other factors challenging the Corps in developing accurate cost estimates. The Corps acknowledged that having updated costs for all projects will take considerable time, possibly years, and they are working with Congress on a funding mechanism that will allow costs to be updated more accurately.

After previous requests from the IWUB to receive timely and accurate accounting of Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) balances and revenue, a financial report of the IWTF was presented at the meeting. With data available through the end of June, the Corps indicated receipts were keeping pace with fiscal year 2021 with an estimated $128 million balance in the IWTF which includes a $20 million reserve the Corps maintains to avoid over-allocating from the IWTF.


Project capabilities for fiscal year 2024 were also provided by the Corps for IWTF cost-shared construction projects. Fully funding these capabilities in fiscal year 2024 will allow for full-use of the receipts collected. IWUB Chairman Spencer Murphy emphasized the Board’s priority of getting an accurate balance of what can be appropriated in a fiscal year. Along with an accurate IWTF balance, project capabilities are vital for the Board to advise and make recommendations on the tax dollars that the industry pays.

A discussion of cost overruns on projects took place, as cost increases are particularly significant for projects that were expected to be funded to completion using IIJA funding. At the meeting, the IWUB unanimously passed a motion recommending navigation projects identified as “funded to completion” with IIJA funding should continue to be 100% funded from the General Treasury — not cost-shared — consistent with Congressional intent.  (see article,  page 1)


The motion to continue IIJA-funded projects 100% from the General Treasury supports WCI’s top priority request for WRDA 2024.

The next (101st) meeting of the IWUB meeting will be held Thursday, October 19 at the Hilton Springfield Hotel, 6550 Loisdale Road, Springfield, VA. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. EST and is expected to adjourn at approximately 2 p.m. Registration for the meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. There will be no tour with this meeting.



WCI Holds Annual Media Tour in Pittsburgh


This year, Pittsburgh was the site for WCI’s annual tour for the news media, held August 9-11. Media attendees included David Krapf, Editor, WorkBoat; Eric Haun, Editor, Marine News; Jeff Yoders, Associate Editor, Engineering News Record; Shelley Byrne, Reporter, Waterways Journal; Steve Bohnel, Pittsburgh Post Gazette; and Jamie Wiggan, News Editor, Michael Johnson, Staff Photographer, and Hannah Kinney-Kobre, Digital Editorial Coordinator, Pittsburgh City Paper. Also in attendance was Angela Grett, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Ingram Barge Company. The tour was led by WCI Directors of Government Relations Jen Armstrong and Dustin Davidson, and WCI Chair Cherrie Felder.


The tour began on August 9 with a towboat ride aboard WCI member Campbell Transportation Company’s vessel to see Emsworth Lock and Dam. An evening dinner was held at Coughlin's Law Kitchen and Ale House.


On August 10, the group received a Corps of Engineers’ briefing and tour of the Lower Mon Construction Project, followed by lunch at Speers Street Grill, and a Port of Pittsburgh Commission-hosted industry dinner at the Duquesne Club. The industry dinner allowed representatives  to discuss Pittsburgh’s influence on the inland waterways system, aging locks and why their modernization is essential, how waterways bring business as an economic generator, and more.


On August 11, the group traveled to a groundbreaking for the Upper Ohio Navigation Project Montgomery Locks and Dam, attended by Senator Bob Casey and Senior Advisor to President Biden and White House Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, along with members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Pittsburgh District.



Member spotlight: Viserion Grain, LLC


WCI member company Viserion Grain, LLC is a newly formed grain company, with a highly experienced leadership team, connecting local producers to the agricultural value chain both domestically and internationally.


The experience includes Viserion founder Aaron Wiegand, formerly of Bunge and JBS Foods, who gained a great appreciation for the global supply chain. From this understanding, grew a vision of building a business to help make those connections between U.S. producers and end-users worldwide.


This vision took shape in 2021 with the acquisition of 10 elevators on a significant portion of the Mississippi River located North to South from McGregor, IA; Savanna, IL; Shawneetown, IL; Caruthersville, MO; Huffman, AR; Helena, AR; two in Osceola, AR, and Lake Providence, LA down to Lettsworth, LA.


Early in the process, Tim Gallagher, who previously managed most of the Bunge elevators that now comprise Viserion Grain, joined the company as President. His previous work, combined with that of Mr. Wiegand, means 50+ years of experience applied across the entire breadth of Viserion’s local and global network. In the last two years, Viserion has continued to attract top-notch talent with a wealth of knowledge around river assets.

Viserion Grain was founded with an emphasis on better serving local communities, with elevator managers encouraged to be actively involved on the local level. James McWard, facility manager in McGregor, IA, is present at each city council meeting to ensure a positive relationship between the town and the elevator. Viserion Grain is heavily involved with the local FFA chapter and does a “Truck Driver Breakfast” every harvest where local kids cook breakfast burritos for truckers. Tony Banks, manager at Shawneetown, IL, said, “We take pride in being a good neighbor and working with the local communities of New Shawneetown and Old Shawneetown.” Viserion has also funded a project to widen public roads into the facility and donated money to the local fire department for water rescue equipment, a new drone, and a rescue tube for grain entrapment. Other community activities include classroom farm safety, county 4H auctions, and sponsorship of other FFA events. This service mindset is crucial to the success of local producers, and Viserion’s strength lies in its independence and not being part of a global multinational grain company.

Viserion’s vision is to build an agricultural supply chain company that brings increased value to its customers. As part of their goal, Viserion has added complementary businesses with the acquisition of Western Milling (located in California and Arizona) and has built a domestic rail trading program working with Midwest farmer-owned Cooperatives.


The Mississippi River system remains at the heart of Viserion Grain’s value proposition and the company looks to WCI’s leadership to enhance the shared mission to connect local producers to the world.



Celebrate WCI’s 20th Anniversary, November 13-15, in New Orleans


Celebrate WCI’s two decades of big success in the Big Easy, November 13-15. WCI’s 20th Annual Waterways Symposium, Annual Meeting, and Board of Directors Meeting will be held at the Four Seasons Hotel in New Orleans. Join WCI’s members and guests for a not-to-be missed exchange of key inland waterways infrastructure information and dialogue, along with lots of fun.


Consider sponsoring the meeting at the Diamond level ($7,500—includes 2 meeting registrations), Platinum ($5,000—includes 1 meeting registration), Gold ($3,500), or Silver ($2,000) level. Contact Deb Calhoun if you are interested in sponsorship.


2023 Agenda


Monday, November 13

12:00 – 1:15 p.m. Buffet Lunch for Early Arrivals | Four Seasons

1:30 – 4:15 p.m. WCI Annual Membership/Board of Directors Meeting | Four Seasons

4:15 p.m. Waterways Symposium Registration Opens | Four Seasons

5:00-6:30 p.m. | Opening Reception | Four Seasons: Vue Orleans

Evening | Dinner |On Your Own


Tuesday, November 14

7:30 – 9:00 a.m. | Buffet Breakfast | Four Seasons

9:00 – 9:05 a.m. | Opening Remarks | Four Seasons

WCI Chair Cherrie Felder, Vice President, Channel Shipyard Companies

9:05 – 10:00 a.m. | Economic Outlook | Four Seasons

Peter Ricchiuti, Senior Professor of Practice, Freeman School of Business, Tulane University

10:00 - 10:50 a.m. | U.S. Construction Outlook | Four Seasons

Kenneth Simonson, Chief Economist, The Associated General Contractors of America

10:50 - 11:05 a.m. | Presentation: National Rivers Hall of Fame National Achievement Award to Steve Golding, Chairman,

Golding Barge Line| Four Seasons

11:05 - 11:30 a.m. | Networking Break | Four Seasons

11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. | Lunch and Keynote Speaker | Four Seasons

The Honorable Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)

1:00 - 1:45 p.m. | United States Army Corps of Engineers Update | Four Seasons

Major General William (Butch) H. Graham, Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations, USACE (invited)

1:45 - 2:15 p.m. | Networking Break + Sweet Treat | Four Seasons

2:15 - 3:00 p.m. | The Inland Waterways' Impact on New Orleans | Four Seasons

Michael Hecht, President/CEO, Greater New Orleans, Inc.

3:00 p.m. | Closing Remarks and Adjourn | Four Seasons

Tracy Zea, President and CEO, Waterways Council, Inc.

4:00 p.m. | Board Buses

4:30 - 6:00p.m. | Cocktail Hour | Southern Yacht Club, 105 N Roadway Street, New Orleans

6:00 - 8:00 p.m. | WCI 20th Anniversary Dinner | Southern Yacht Club

8:00 p.m. | Board Buses to return to Four Seasons


Wednesday, November 15

7:30 – 9:00 a.m. | Buffet Breakfast | Four Seasons

9:00 a.m. | Adjourn



UMRBA Announces Expansion of the Navigation Assets Inventory to Include Navigable Missouri River


The Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA) is expanding on a regional effort to improve freight mobility through innovative, strategic approaches as well as to promote the inland waterways to improve the nation’s overall transportation system.


The Upper Mississippi River System and the Missouri River are vital transportation corridors, connecting the Midwest to the world economy. “Use of the Upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers for freight supports and improves the flexibility of the entire U.S. transportation system, and increases our economic competitiveness in a global marketplace,” says Iowa DOT Director Scott Marler.


“Through UMRBA, the states DOTs work collaboratively to achieve full integration of the inland waterways into the nation’s surface transportation system, ensuring that reliable, regularly scheduled, competitive, sustainable services are routine choices for shippers in the Midwest,” says Missouri DOT Director Patrick McKenna.


The Navigation Assets Inventory, launched in 2021, is an interactive map featuring ports, terminals, boat accesses, and other navigation-related information on Marine Highways 35 and 55, allowing users to search for intermodal access with a certain dock type or storage capacity. The expansion of the Navigation Assets Inventory includes an additional 734 miles of navigable river from Sioux City to St. Louis, including two ports, over 50 terminals, and 14 live National Weather Service and U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges.


The expanded Navigation Assets Inventory now includes Marine Highways 35, 55, 29, and 70, creating new opportunities for ports, terminals, and operators to access federal funding, technical support, and other resources to expand or develop new shipping services and make the Missouri and Upper Mississippi Rivers a more cost-effective and self-sustaining transportation route.


UMRBA hosts the Navigation Assets Inventory as part of its efforts to facilitate interstate coordination and leadership on behalf of the five Upper Mississippi River states – Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. UMRBA continues to work to strengthen Upper Mississippi River transportation mobility and utilization, and to ensure multi-use management of the Upper Mississippi River System.

The recently expanded Navigation Assets Inventory is available here:

For more information about UMRBA, visit



Illinois Waterway Reopens After Major Maintenance


The Illinois Waterway, with its eight lock and dam sites long overdue for significant repairs, was closed 120 days for major maintenance that began June 1 and concluded with its reopening on September 30.


The work, performed by the Corps’ Rock Island District, was at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, which had its upper miter gate installed and machinery replaced, at Dresden Island Lock and Dam for upper miter gate installation, valve, machinery, and electrical system replacement, and at Marseilles Lock and Dam for electrical crossover work.



Cherrie on Top!


WCI Chair Cherrie Felder was named Maritime Person of the Year by the Propeller Club Port of New Orleans on August 25. She will be presented the award and lauded by colleagues and friends at the 89th Annual Maritime Person of the Year Gala on October 25 at Metairie Country Club in Louisiana.



2023 Industry Calendar




October 10:  TRVA-TCWC 57th Annual Meeting, Franklin, TN (Embassy Suites)


October 10-11:  American Waterways Operators Board of Directors Meeting and Fall Convention, Philadelphia (Bellevue Hotel)


October 19:  Inland Waterways Users Board meeting, Springfield, VA (Hilton Springfield, 6550 Loisdale Road)


November 13-15:  WCI Annual Meeting, Board of Directors Meeting, Waterways Symposium, 20th anniversary celebration, New Orleans (Four Seasons Hotel)


November 29-December 1: International Workboat Show, New Orleans (Morial Convention Center) 


December 7:  Seamen’s Church Institute 23rd Annual River Bell Awards Luncheon, Paducah (Paducah-McCracken County Convention & Expo Center)