By MATTHEW DALY
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump signed a wide-ranging bill this week meant to improve the country’s water infrastructure, such as by building a long-sought shipping lock on the waterway linking Lake Huron and Lake Superior.
The authorization for the Soo Locks project was included in a water-resources bill that cleared the Senate this month. Trump signed it on Tuesday.
The complex at Sault Ste. Marie has just one lock suitable for the 1,000-foot freighters that now haul iron ore and other cargo from Lake Superior along the St. Marys River to the other Great Lakes.
The bill would allow the construction of a second large lock, which the shipping industry and elected officials say is needed in case the older lock is disabled. Congress still needs to appropriate money in separate legislation over a series years to pay for the $1 billion project.
In total, the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 authorizes more than $6 billion in spending over 10 years for projects throughout the country. In Florida, the new law will put $1.3 billion toward establishing the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir.
The reservoir would be built south of Lake Okeechobee to filter out toxins that have contributed to harmful algae blooms that have killed turtles, fish and other marine life — even manatees — and have ravaged South Florida’s tourism-driven economy. The law will also put money toward projects meant to restore Gulf Coast wetlands that were damaged by Hurricane Harvey and improve harbors in Seattle; Savannah, Georgia; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Separately, the law would set up a system intended to give local officials more of a say on large water projects run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Congress approved the bill with just one dissenting vote, which was cast by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Lee said the proposal calls for spending federal dollars on a series of local projects that should instead be paid for and maintained by state and local governments.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the new law will help the economy, cut red tape and improve old drinking-water systems in municipalities such as Flint, Mich.
Just as important, the law will show that lawmakers from both parties and all regions can come together to improve infrastructure, Barrasso said.
“It doesn’t get a lot of press — conflict is what gets covered — but this is a good, solid, major piece of infrastructure legislation,” he said in an interview. The next step is an infrastructure bill to improve roads and bridges, Barrasso said, acknowledging that such a bill is unlikely to appear before the next session of Congress.
Trump noted at a ceremony at the White house that he had pledged during his presidential campaign to repair the country’s crumbling infrastructure. “Today,” he said, “we’re taking another major step toward that goal.”
“After years of rebuilding other nations, we are finally rebuilding our nation,” Trump said.
Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida who is locked in a close re-election fight with Republican Gov. Rick Scott, hailed the water bill.
Nelson praised Republican Sen. Marco Rubio for working with him to advance the Everglades project.
“This reservoir is particularly important right now to help mitigate the toxic algae crisis that’s sweeping the state, but it’s also critical for our broader Everglades restoration effort,” Nelson said.
Rubio said on Twitter he was glad Trump had signed the legislation, which was also pushed by Rep. Brian Mast, another Republican from Florida.
“This is an important step toward solving Florida’s water challenges,” Rubio said.
Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the nonprofit Everglades Foundation, said the approval of the reservoir project is almost two decades past due.
He urged the Army Corps of Engineers to build the project in four years — not the 10 to 15 years some have said the work might take.
“Florida’s estuaries, coastlines and America’s Everglades are imperiled, and the people of Florida cannot afford to wait,” Eikenberg said.