The U.S. House this afternoon passed its first water projects bill in years with Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., calling the measure a "step in the right direction" toward restarting construction of a new lock for Chickamauga Dam.
The vote, attracting bipartisan support, was 417-3.
Earlier, Fleischmann said in a floor speech that "I represent a city, Chattanooga, Tenn. We've all heard of the Chattanooga Choo Choo but there's another place called the Chickamauga lock in Chattanooga.
"This bill basically does something that I've been working on so hard since I've been in Congress," Fleischmann said. "It's a step in the right direction to finally work towards funding the Chickamauga Lock."
The House's Water Resources Reform and Development Act (House Resolution 380) makes a key change to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which is funded through fuel taxes paid by commercial water users like barge operators nationwide.
Currently, the fund provides 50 percent of the money for projects like dams and locks with the federal government paying the remaining 50 percent.
"What it [bill] does basically is it reforms the Inland Waterways Trust Fund," Fleischmann said. "This is a trust fund right now that is fundamentally broken. Why? Because what it does, it sends all the money to one particular lock project and starves out all the other lock projects in the system, including Chickamauga Lock."
The project he referenced is the Olmsted Dam and locks on the Ohio River, which has dammed up funding for other projects.
To free up the trust funds for other projects, the bill increases the federal share for Olmsted to 75 percent.
A similar bill passed by the Senate earlier this year goes even further, making the Olmsted project entirely federally funded.