Larsen Helps Secure Passage of Infrastructure Bill That Aids Northwest Washington Ports, Flood Control, and Ecosystem Repair

WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives today passed a job-creating water infrastructure bill with the support of Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act authorizes federal investment in ports, flood control and ecosystem restoration. Northwest Washington has several ongoing federally funded water infrastructure projects.

“We can’t have a big league economy with little league infrastructure,” Larsen said. “In some parts of Northwest Washington, safe and strong water infrastructure is every bit as important as roads and bridges.

“Whether it’s flood control in the Skagit Valley or maintaining ports in Everett and Bellingham, we need to make sure that our infrastructure is a solid foundation for our economy.

“This bill will create jobs and make it easier for communities throughout Northwest Washington to move forward on infrastructure projects that will grow the economy in the long-run.

“While this bill delivers for Northwest Washington, there’s more than we can do. Northwest ports pay more in fees than they get back for investment. While this bill gives our ports some additional money to spend on infrastructure, I will continue working to find ways to get our ports a better deal.”

Larsen is a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act governs funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for water navigation projects (including ports and shipping channels), flood control projects and ecosystem restoration projects.

Several projects in Northwest Washington use Army Corps funding, including:

The bill authorizes increased investment in water infrastructure which is funded by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Congress currently spends only about half of the money that comes into the trust fund each year. The bill authorizes spending 80 percent of the fund’s intake by 2020.

Ports in the Northwest Washington pay more into the trust fund than they are eligible to receive because most of the funding is reserved for dredging, which the naturally deep-water Pacific Northwest ports do not need as much as other ports. This bill begins to allow funding to be spent on enhanced infrastructure projects. Larsen is working to further benefit Northwest ports by allowing funds for other uses, including on-shore infrastructure improvements.

The bill also sets aside 10 percent of funding for small parts, like Everett, Skagit and Bellingham. Small ports are drivers of local economies

Another reform in the bill will allow local agencies to pay for expedited permitting from the Army Corps of Engineers. The provision, sought by the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, will allow communities to move faster on projects that will provide significant economic benefit. The Army Corps has a backlog of permit applications, stalling some projects.

Larsen successfully secured language in the bill that will provide more federal funding for ecosystem restoration in the Puget Sound. The provision allows the Army Corps of Engineers to pay 65 percent of the costs of bridge replacements and removals in ecosystem restorations. More on that provision is available here.

The bill includes compromise language relating to vegetation growing on levees. The language strikes a balance between protecting the levees’ flood control ability with the valuable habitat the vegetation provides for fish and other wildlife. This is particularly important in Northwest Washington where flood control projects often overlap with vital salmon rearing habitat.

The Senate passed its own version of the bill earlier this year. House and Senate negotiators will next combine the bills into a final version for Congressional approval.