GRANITE CITY — When the Mississippi River was flowing at record low levels in December, gaps in federal law made it unclear if the Army Corps of Engineers legally could remove exposed rock pinnacles that impeded barge traffic.
U.S. representatives Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, and Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, held a news conference Wednesday morning to promote a measure they are co-sponsoring that clarifies and expands the corps' power to take quick action to keep Big Muddy barge traffic moving when the next crisis hits.
The Mississippi River Navigation Act was the first bill in the 113th Congress for the freshman pair.
Enyart said he and Davis decided to introduce their bill because of the dramatic fluctuations they had seen in river levels in recent years.
"We're going to set partisan differences aside," said Enyart said,who joined Davis at America's Central Port, which overlooks the Mississippi.
Enyart predicted the bill would have an impact on the region's economy, especially agricultural exports.
"I believe that this type of project is a non-partisan," he said. "It's for the good of the district, for the good of the region, and really, for the good of the nation."
U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, and Mark Kirk, R-Highland Park, are co-sponsoring mirror legislation in the Senate.
Keeping the river open is an important issue for the economy of Southern Illinois, where coal and grain are the two biggest items moved by barges, Davis said.
"This is about jobs in central and Southwestern Illinois," Davis said. "These jobs that are dependent upon coal being moved up and down river are not just Republican or Democratic jobs. They are family jobs."
The Davis-Enyart bill has not been assigned to a House committee. The measure contains four main provisions that would:
* Authorize the corps to conduct a study of how to coordinate management of the entire river basin during periods of extreme weather.
* Improve tools used for Mississippi River forecasting, which would provide more automated gauges and increase the use of other forecasting tools.
* Expand flexibility for the corps to respond to traffic and navigation issues outside of the authorized channel in low water situations.
* Create a pilot program to enable the corps to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat in the middle Mississippi River as they conduct navigation projects.
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at email@example.com or 618-239-2533.