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Washington, DC — The National Research Council of the National Academies of Science today issued a blistering report ripping the credibility of an U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study to justify building bigger new locks throughout the entire Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway system. In stern words, the NRC directed the Corps to slow down any plans for the $2.5 billion project until a number of basic shortcomings could be addressed.

The National Academies of Science (NAS) report recommended that the Corps “extend its schedule for completing its feasibility study” until it can address some fundamental failings, including —

  • Lack of an economic model that is “widely accepted by economics experts”;
  • Inability to “adequately” evaluate benefits from lock extensions; and
  • Failure to follow the recommendations from an earlier NAS report.

The NAS also faulted the lack of reliable forecasting and directed the Corps to immediately take steps to schedule barges and other “nonstructural” actions to alleviate waterway traffic congestion prior to examining the need for new construction. “In the bluntest way, the National Academies of Science is telling the Corps to pull the plug on the Upper Mississippi study,” stated PEER Executive director Jeff Ruch whose organization recently sued the Corps for its reliance on a biased economic model in the study. ” Unfortunately, the pork dynamics are too powerful and, given the seamy history of this project, the Corps will shamelessly ignore the NAS and recommend a multi-billion authorization in January.”

Today’s NAS report is only the latest chapter in the scandal-plagued history of the Corps’ efforts to secure approval for new construction to accommodate barge traffic on the Upper Mississippi River and the Illinois Waterway. In 2000, the Corps economist for the project, Dr. Donald Sweeney, filed a whistleblower disclosure saying top commanders had altered key numbers in an effort to “cook the books” so that the project would appear justified. The latest NAS report echoes a number of the issues Dr. Sweeney raised in 2000.


Examine the Review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Upper Mississippi-Illinois Waterway Restructured Feasibility Study: Interim Report by the National Research Council (12/11/03)

Read highlights from the NAS Report View the spreadsheet itemizing cuts to EPA’s budget by the Senate

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