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NFC: Fw: Fw: GREAT! Post-Dispatch editorial on Corps

Editorial / Thursday, December 20, 2001. 



   Like every other huckster and recession-battered business in America,
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is jumping on the national security
bandwagon to try to sell its scandal-plagued plan for a $1 billion system
of seven new locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi River. 

According to Post-Dispatch Washington correspondent Bill Lambrecht, Corps
planners recently were told to emphasize the Mississippi River's vital
role in national security, should the nation need to increase shipments
of grain to allies and future allies in the war on terrorism. 

Pardon our skepticism, but this sort of opportunism will do little to
restore the public's faith in the integrity of the Corps' planning
process. Congress, which will consider the plan next spring, should
ignore any national security spin that isn't backed up by sound
cost/benefit data. The need for the expensive new locks and dams desired
by the barge industry and grain growers must be weighed against the need
to restore and protect the environmental health of the Mississippi and
its remaining wetlands. 

The argument that fighting terrorism may involve sending more grain
barges down the Mississippi has some merit. But not enough to justify a
$1 billion public works project, years away from construction. "If it
becomes critical to get grain, for instance, to Afghanistan, you have to
be able to do it in the swiftest possible manner without bottlenecks,"
said Lynn Muench, vice president of the American Waterways Operators
Midwestern office here. But the need to get grain to starving Afghanis
has been critical for years. The bottleneck has been America's utter
disinterest and lack of political will, not old locks and dams. 

The integrity of the Corps' lock and dam plan -- which already has taken
eight years and cost taxpayers $60 million -- began to crumble last year
when it was revealed that the Corps had cooked its books to justify the
project and pad its payroll. A panel of independent university economists
hired to evaluate the plan said it was so unscientific it couldn't be
used to justify expanding even one lock. 

The Corps now appears to be trying to do a more honest and sophisticated
job of projecting river traffic based on different scenarios of future
national and world conditions. The Corps' new scenarios will be made
public in the spring; the final study could take three or four more

Sound public policy must be based on sound research -- not data doctored
to reach a predetermined conclusion or a post 9-11 pitch. The Corps must
demonstrate that its process and its numbers can be trusted this time; an
independent economic review of those numbers is essential. And Congress
must give a full and fair hearing to all those with a stake in the
long-term environmental and economic health of the Mississippi: farmers,
barge operators, wildlife biologists, environmentalists and the ordinary
citizens who will foot the $1 billion bill. 

NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is 
distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest
receiving this information for research and educational purposes. 

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