Washington, DC — In a stunning development the Bush administration has quietly proposed ending all federal expenditures for the controversial Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway lock expansion in its fiscal year 2005 federal budget, according to a review released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Bush administration budget completely drops the line item for the estimated $2.3 billion navigation project, omitting any funding requests for further study, design, or construction.
Terminating the scandal-ridden Upper Mississippi project comes as part of the fourth consecutive major reduction in expenditures for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed by the Bush administration. This year’s budget contains a 13.1 percent cut in Corps civil works expenditures — the second largest percentage cut proposed for any federal government agency by President Bush.
“Not with a bang but with a whimper, this budget should pull the plug on the seemingly never-ending campaign by the Corps to build this multi-billion dollar white elephant,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represents Corps employees who have disclosed previous attempts by Corps management to manipulate study data in an effort to justify this project.
The Upper Mississippi project has been criticized by the President’s Office of Management & Budget (OMB), as well as by two National Academy of Sciences review panels for using faulty economic models, unrealistic traffic forecasts, and exhibiting a Corps-wide bias towards large-scale, expensive structural solutions ignoring inexpensive non-structural alternatives such as scheduling of barge traffic. At the same time, barge traffic on these rivers has been mired in a decade-long slump, further dampening the need to build bigger locks.
“OMB is taking their management role over the Corps of Engineers very seriously and is beginning to rein in this notoriously wasteful, rogue agency,” stated Ruch. “It is fair to say that the Corps civil works reductions are the only environmental bright spots in an otherwise bleak budgetary landscape.”
Ironically, the Corps just recently revealed its latest draft recommendation for replacing many of the existing, recently rehabilitated, and fully functional river locks on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway with larger new locks at a price tag of an estimated $2.3 billion. In an attempt to build support for the project, the Corps was seeking to couple this construction scheme with an even larger amount of vaguely defined “environmental restoration” spending estimated at $5.3 billion, an amount that would have made this overall $7.6 billion package the second most expensive Corps public works project ever-undertaken, exceeded only by the restoration of the Florida Everglades.