After 16 years and
$70 million of study, the Corps of Engineers is about to release
a proposal for speeding navigation and restoring natural habitats
along the upper Mississippi River.
In May, the Corps will issue a
draft report with a proposal for the "upper Miss"
and Illinois Rivers that could cost $7.7 billion over 50 years.
Up to $2.5 billion would go for lock and dam expansions and
$5.2 billion for environmental restoration. "The preferred
alternative is one that we think best serves the public and
is fiscally responsible," says Lt. Gen. Robert Flowers,
chief of engineers.
The plan takes a phased approach,
asking Congress initially to authorize only preliminary engineering
and design for lock and dam work. Engineering would cost tens
of millions of dollars, some of it to be done by contractors
and some by the Corps. Other early items would be some environmental
projects, plus mooring "cells" and boats to aid
barge traffic at locks.
Flowers says moving to the design
phase while Corps economic models are "refined"
is prudent, "because...the system thats out there
now is past its design life and you could have a failure...at
Plan includes design to extend seven locks.
The study has been controversial.
In 2000, the Army Inspector General said a senior Corps officer
manipulated an economic analysis for the study and two others
"created a climate" that led to that action. The
three denied the allegations. In 2001, a National Academy
of Sciences panel said the Corps did not adequately weigh
less expensive alternatives and said economic models
assumptions and data had flaws. Flowers halted the study for
more than a year, restarting it in 2002.
Much of the cost would be for doubling
seven locks to 1,200 ft. They date from the 1930s and 15-barge
tows must be split to pass through. For the environment, Flowers
says the Corps is asking whether it can try to "replicate
the original conditions on the river." Design firm HDR
is "strongly supportive of expanded Corps infrastructure
as well as the environmental work," says Larry Bory,
But theres a long swim ahead,
with public meetings and a final report in late summer. A
chiefs report then will get Bush administration review.
Funding would be up to Congress.
Environmentalists are irate. Melissa
Samet, American Rivers senior director of water resources,
says the plan holds restoration "hostage to a $2.3-billion
boondoggle." Critics say the Corps did not prove the
need for the lock work. They favor better traffic scheduling.