Washington, DC – Barge traffic on the Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway continues to decline, according to an analysis of Army Corps of Engineers data completed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Corps figures show reductions in the number of barges processed through locks on the rivers during 2000 and 2001. These declines extend a quarter century old trend of reduced barge traffic on the rivers. For example, during the ten-year period from 1992 through 2001 the number of barges processed annually at Locks 20-25 on the Upper Mississippi River (the most utilized locks) has fallen more than 20 percent.
Despite these sagging numbers, the barge industry is now busy lobbying Congress to finance expensive new locks for the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway System. Last month, the Corps released a “Draft Interim Report” on the project premised on barge traffic scenarios far more optimistic than its own traffic numbers would suggest are reasonable.
“In its latest study plan the Corps is using a ten year old traffic base even though the latest figures are available on its own web site,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. PEER represents Corps employees who have raised questions about the objectivity of Corps analyses of the need for the expensive project. Last year, the Army validated charges by a Corps whistleblower and disciplined three top Corps commanders who had manipulated internal studies in an effort to justify the costly project. “The new Corps economic analysis is lifted straight from Field of Dreams -if you build the lock extensions then the barges will come.”
In public comments filed this week, PEER charges that Corps forecasting uses wildly optimistic planning “scenarios” in its latest draft report, constructed by a single forecaster, Sparks Companies, Inc. of Memphis TN, whose corporate vision statement is “To be a vital force in the success of food and agricultural industries around the world.”
“The Corps’ disgraceful record on the Upper Mississippi serves as ‘Exhibit A’ for why all future agency analyses of important or controversial projects should be subjected to independent technical peer review,” concluded Ruch.