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Kane farmers, others, welcome fed legislation to improve river system

The nearest river lock and dam may be dozens of miles from Kane County. But the region’s economy still will receive a boost from an expected flurry of activity to improve navigable waterways in Illinois, say supporters of new federal legislation aimed at improving the country’s river locks, dams and ports.

Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the bill known as the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.

The legislation passed, 417-3.

It was supported by local congressional representatives, including U.S. Reps. Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield;  Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton; and Bill Foster, D-Naperville.

A similar bill had passed the U.S. Senate earlier this year.

WRRDA had drawn strong support across the spectrum of business, industry and politics.

Locally, the measure was supported by the Kane County Farm Bureau, said Joe White, president of the county farm bureau, who farms near Elburn and Kaneville.

“This was one of those infrastructure jobs that just needs to be done,” White said. 

He said the farm bureau particularly supported funding and regulatory changes to improve the antiquated locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

As much as half of the corn and other grain grown in Illinois is exported. White said a “huge chunk” of the Kane crop is shipped by barge down the Illinois River through Morris and Ottawa.

Last year, Kane County farmers harvested more than 13 million bushels of corn. Corn now sells for about $5 to $6 a bushel.

White also noted that farmers depend on the barge system to ship fertilizer upriver from New Orleans to the Midwest.

In addition to agricultural organizations, WRRDA also drew support from manufacturing groups, which rely on the rivers to ship finished goods downstream and receive raw materials, including petroleum, coal and steel from seaports.

In explaining his vote, Hultgren noted the importance of the riverway system to the local economy.

While WRRDA will not bring direct benefits to the Tri-Cities and Kane County, it will indirectly benefit the region, he said, by supporting agriculture, manufacturing and other key industries.

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