After years of delay and scandal, the Army Corps of Engineers is getting ready to release its final report on how to best manage the Upper Mississippi River. The report will influence policy on the river for the next 50 years. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Katherine Glover has the story:
After years of delay and scandal, the Army Corps of Engineers is getting ready to release its final
report on how to best manage the Upper Mississippi River. The report will influence policy on the
river for the next 50 years. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Katherine Glover has the story:
It’s the job of the Army Corps of Engineers to help barges move up and down the Mississippi. The
Corps has channeled the river and dredged soil from the bottom to deepen it. It has built walls
along the sides, called levees, to prevent flooding. And its lock and dam system has converted the
river into a stairway of pools, allowing it to control the river’s flow.
The Corps has spent billions of dollars to build and maintain these systems. Critics say that these
expensive projects amount to huge subsidy for the barging industry. And they say these projects
are destroying the river’s ecosystem.
Dan McGuiness leads the Upper Mississippi River campaign of the National Audubon Society. He
says the damage to the river isn’t always obvious.
“People oftentimes think the river looks pretty good, and it looks not much different than it did 40
or 50 years ago, but most of the damage on the river is what you can’t see; it’s below the water.”
McGuiness is concerned that the Corps new plans will cause even more damage. But industry
groups want the Corps to build newer, bigger locks. Barges have doubled in size since the first
locks were built. To fit through, barges must now separate into two pieces and then reconnected on
the other side.
Chris Brescia is the President of MARC 2000, the Midwest Area River Coalition, a barge industry
group. During peak season, he says, the wait time at a lock can be over 24 hours.
“And remember, that’s at each lock. That’s not just at one lock.”
And there are 29 locks on the Upper Mississippi River.
In April, the Corps will release a study detailing how to improve the river. The Corps abandoned
an earlier version of the study after they were caught falsifying data to justify increased funding.
This time around, the Corps has promised to work with environmental groups and to look at
ecosystem restoration alternatives as well as navigation improvements. The study is sure to stir up
fierce debate about one of our country’s greatest water resources, and about how that resource, and
our tax dollars, should be used.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Katherine Glover.