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New water bill advances Army Corps’ public-private partnership program

The latest Water Resources Development Act, which passed a key Senate committee last week, would for the first time advance a pilot public-private partnership program first proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a decade ago.

The WRDA of 2024 would require the Corps to craft a best-practices guide for P3 projects and report to Congress on alternative project delivery methods for water projects.

“It definitely does show there’s continued interest in at least the Senate on public-private partnerships and alternative delivery,” said Aaron Snyder, the Corps’ lead on its infrastructure funding and financing team, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act team and P3 program development team.

The WRDA bill of 2014 set up a pilot P3 program as a matter of policy, but the program never got funded, Snyder said. The pilot program has a pipeline of five projects, most of which have been funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“It definitely does show there’s continued interest in at least the Senate on public-private partnerships and alternative delivery,” said Aaron Snyder, the USACE’s lead on its infrastructure funding and financing team, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act team and P3 program development team.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

“It appears Congress is now saying, ‘Hey Corps, tell us what you’ve learned from that pilot program, how you’ve used the authorities to build that program and provide us with a better users’ guide for entities interested in this’,” Snyder said. “Any progress is good news.”

Senate bill 4367 features two P3 provisions, one that requires the P3 user’s guide, including a description of applicable authorities, lessons learned, and best practices. Another section requires the Corps to complete a report on the authorities and programs that facilitate the use of alternative project delivery methods for water resources development projects, including P3s.

The WRDA totals $2.3 billion and would fund at least eight new or modified projects — down from 22 in the previous bill, although more could be added as it winds through Congress — nearly all of which deal with flood mitigation. The bill also funds 81 feasibility studies. The largest allocation goes to $1.7 billion for a coastal protection plan on New York City’s Staten Island.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the measure on May 22 and it was introduced to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week.

In his opening statement, EPW Chair Tom Carper, D-Del., said that the Corps projects provide “critical infrastructure” for communities around the country. “As sea level rise, driven by climate change and extreme weather events, increasingly threatens our communities and their economies, the Corps’ work will take on even greater importance,” Carper said.

In related news, Snyder said that the USACE’s pilot P3 program last week added a new project, a flood risk mitigation project in Louisville, KY, that totals around $150 million and will feature the replacement of 12 pump stations bundled into one contract.

The fourth project, the South Platte River & Tributaries, Colorado, Ecosystem Restoration and Flood Risk Management project, is structured as an alternative delivery model that’s expected to save $121 million to $194 million and delivered two to five years ahead of a traditionally delivered project.

The USACE’s inaugural P3, the Fargo-Moorhead Floor Risk Management project in North Dakota and Minnesota, won the Bond Buyer’s Deal of the Year.

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