On Board ‘The Waterpod’

  • The pod docked at the Worlds Fair Marina in Queens. (Photo by Samara Freemark)

So, maybe you think you do good
by the environment. Maybe you buy
local, maybe you go to the farmers’
market, maybe you even walk to work.
But you’ve probably got nothing on
the crew aboard the Waterpod – a
converted barge anchored in New York
City. Samara Freemark
went to the Pod to see just how
sustainably people can live:

Transcript

So, maybe you think you do good
by the environment. Maybe you buy
local, maybe you go to the farmers’
market, maybe you even walk to work.
But you’ve probably got nothing on
the crew aboard the Waterpod – a
converted barge anchored in New York
City. Samara Freemark
went to the Pod to see just how
sustainably people can live:

When I caught up with the Waterpod barge, it was docked at a marina right next to
Laguardia Airport.

(sound of a plane)

That’s the sound of people and products moving all around the world.

But on board the Waterpod, four artists have spent the summer living locally – about as
locally as a group of people can possibly live. They’ve been surviving almost entirely on
what they can make, grow, or gather on a 3000 square foot barge.

Which is where I found artist and Waterpod creator Mary Mattingly.

“Hi.”

Last spring, Mattingly and some friends rented the barge and spent a month converting it.
They built a kitchen, 4 bedrooms, gardens, and a whole lot of alternative energy and
water systems. They wanted to see whether they could create a floating self-contained
ecosystem – one that could adapt to a future where resources were scarce and rising sea
levels had swamped coastal regions.

“We’re probably going to need to find new ways to make land that’s usable. So can you
just recreate it on a platform like this? So what’s the answer? I think so.”

Waterpod launched in June. It’s been traveling to docks in the New York City area since
then. The barge is towed around by tugboats – not exactly a sustainable energy source,
true, but the crew does pretty well producing just about everything else.”

We have 33 vegetables and 2 fruits. In this garden we’re growing kale, potatoes,
tomatoes.”

There’s also a coop for 4 chickens, which each produce an egg a day.

“Their names are Gilly, Rizzo, Marble and Bonzai.”

Between the chickens and the gardens, Mattingly says Waterpod is almost self-sufficient
for food. The barge gets its water from collected and purified rain.

“We get enough water barely. We are very close to not having enough water. We only
use a 55 gallon jug of water a day. So split between four people that’s about maybe 10
gallons a day at the most. So we’re taking really short showers.”

Solar panels and a power-generating stationary bike provide energy – enough to power
the lights and the fridge and an impressive collection of laptop computers. The crew uses
those to collect and analyze data on how their various survival systems are functioning.

Crew member Ian Daniels says the data could eventually be used not just by people
embarking on radical living experiments – but also by regular folks who just want to
make their homes a little more sustainable.

“We have 3000 square feet here. So what would happen if you cut that in half? Or a
third? What can I use that space for? Maybe you’re growing food on your roof or in your
window. Maybe you just take this example and take it down a notch, just do what’s
plausible in your own world.”

The Waterpod experiment is ending. So, I asked the crew for the biggest lesson they
learned this summer about living sustainably. Was it about energy conservation? Or, a
new method for collecting rainwater? Actually, Mattingly told me, it was mostly about
getting along with other people.

“I guess I didn’t really consider what it would be like to live in such a small space for
such a long time with other people and the psychology of that became a really interesting
part of the day to day life, and how we managed to make that work and how we would
have to have that dinner every night to reconnect and get back together.”

Which, she says, is a lesson that translates pretty well back on land.

For The Environment Report, I’m Samara Freemark.

Related Links

FIGHT FOR AMERICA’S LONGEST RIVER (Part 3)

  • Finding a balance between natural habitat and commerce on America's rivers is causing problems. (Photo by Lester Graham)

When Lewis and Clark traveled up the Missouri River 200 years ago, they
recorded the abundant wildlife they saw along their way. Fur trapping was a
thriving industry on Frontier Rivers. But it took another 100 years of over-hunting
for the US to realize it was wiping out its wildlife. Today, conservation,
commerce and tourism all intersect on the nation’s big rivers. Each of those
industries relies on a steady supply of water. In the last of three reports, Kevin
Lavery looks at how all of those interests share – and struggle – over water:

Transcript

When Lewis and Clark traveled up the Missouri River 200 years ago, they
recorded the abundant wildlife they saw along their way. Fur trapping was a
thriving industry on Frontier Rivers. But it took another 100 years of over-hunting
for the US to realize it was wiping out its wildlife. Today, conservation,
commerce and tourism all intersect on the nation’s big rivers. Each of those
industries relies on a steady supply of water. In the last of three reports, Kevin
Lavery looks at how all of those interests share – and struggle – over water:


The Missouri River is known as the Big Muddy. Sure, it’s muddy at its mouth
where it joins the Mississippi River near St. Louis. But a thousand miles
upstream, the Missouri cuts a gleaming blue ribbon through Bismarck, North
Dakota. It looks like paradise to Mike Peluso… and with a broad smile, he rushes
his boat smack into the middle of it.


Peluso grew up fishing on this river. It’s a place brimming with history. Lewis
and Clark camped here in 1804. As he’s fishing, Peluso points to a frontier-era
fort that now sits within a state park:


“That’s actually where Custer started off, right up there before he went to his final… Here’s
a bite!”


Peluso lands a 4-pound walleye. It’s the most abundant fish species in the upper
Missouri system, and he wants to keep it that way:


“Just going to let her go down. You know, hopefully my kids at some point in time will get
to enjoy the same thing I just did. (SPLASH). Oh yeah… she took off. Perfect.”


Fishing on the Missouri River is crucial to North Dakota’s economy. In the 1950’s
the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Missouri River 80 miles north of
Bismarck. The formation of Lake Sakakawea gave rise to a 150 million dollar
annual recreation industry.


That industry largely exists because of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The
Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery breeds 80% of the state’s game fish.
There’s about 70 million walleye eggs in one building alone. But officials here
also care for fish that are never meant to be caught.


Rob Holm is with the Fish and Wildlife Service. He watches several pallid
sturgeons circling an 8,000 gallon tank. Each five-foot fish weighs about 60
pounds. The pallid has survived for 70 million years. But Holm says threats to
its habitat have made it an endangered species:


“If we can change things just enough to give them a fighting chance, I think it’s a good
thing. They’ve been around since the time of the dinosaurs. If we miss a beat on it now…
they’re not going to be there in 10 years.”


The pallid sturgeon was harvested for its caviar before it was federally protected.
But illegal catches still happen. Environmental groups see the pallid as a
barometer that gauges the overall health of the Missouri River. Chad Smith runs
the Nebraska field office of American Rivers:


“We lose the pallid sturgeon, that’s an indication that we may start to see problems with
the catfish and the paddlefish and the mallards and the bass, and then people are really
going to start screaming.”


The pallid sturgeon needs deep water to lay its eggs. In 2006, the Army Corps of
Engineers released extra water from a South Dakota reservoir to mimic the flood
pulse that cues the fish’s reproduction. It was a highly controversial act 15 years
in the making:


“I’m uncomfortable with the Corps playing God.”


Paul Rhode is with the national shipping advocacy group Waterways Council,
Incorporated. He says the artificial rise meant dropped water levels later in the summer.
That hurt commercial barge operators. Rhode questions the Corps’ methods:


“I hope there are studies going on to try to capture whatever it is that they’re doing to justify
having a spring rise. In past years it was to stimulate least tern and piping plover
populations, and then it was discovered that there was no science behind that. That was
just guesswork.”


The interior least tern and the piping plover are two birds that are also protected
by the Endangered Species Act. Spokesman Paul Johnston says the Corps has
evidence that its methods are working:


“Near Ponca, Nebraska we dredged out an old channel that had been closed off to create
shallow water habitat for the sturgeon and created an island. It was still being groomed
when the terns and plovers began nesting on it. We had to shut the bulldozer operator
down.”


The Corps says it understands the needs of all the different interests along the
Missouri River. That’s why it’s agreed to pay for an independent scientific study
of its habitat construction program. That study is expected to begin this fall. The
Corps says it’s still committed to trying to find a balance between nature and
business on America’s longest river. But barge owners, sportsmen and
environmentalists will try to tip that balance in their favor.


For The Environment Report, I’m Kevin Lavery.

Related Links

Army Corps to Expand Mississippi Locks

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving ahead with
recommendations to expand locks on the Mississippi River despite
an earlier report that found the Corps’ calculations in making a similar
plan were wrong. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
reports:

Transcript

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving ahead with recommendations to expand
locks on
the Mississippi River despite an earlier report that found the Corps’ calculations
in making a
similar plan were wrong. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


The Corps of Engineers proposes spending 8.3 billion dollars to expand navigation
locks for
heavier barge traffic and restore the ecosystem of the upper Mississippi River. The
National
Research Council was highly critical of an earlier plan, saying the Corps’
projections of greater
traffic on the river were flawed. In a statement, the Corps says this new plan
balances the need
for economic growth and environmental sustainability.


Environmentalists say it’s still wrong. Melissa Samet is with the group American
Rivers.


“The Corps has done a great disservice to the nation by recommending this project.
We have
other needs. It’s a significant amount of money. The recommendation is based on
unsound
science and unsound economics. And that’s just not the way a federal agency should
be working.
It’s certainly not serving the American people.”


Critics say they expect the Corps of Engineers to lobby Congress hard for funding
the expansion
of the locks and not as hard for the environmental restoration.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Battle Lines Drawn Over Mississippi Locks

The Army Corps of Engineers is proposing spending billions of dollars to expand locks along the Mississippi River, but environmentalists say it’s a waste of money. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Katherine Glover has the story:

Transcript

The Army Corps of Engineers is proposing spending billions of dollars to expand locks
along the Mississippi River, but environmentalists say it’s a waste of money. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Katherine Glover has the story:


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has compiled a study that suggests the nation needs to
spend billions of dollars improving navigation on the Upper Mississippi River. It would
expand or add locks at dams on the Mississippi from Minnesota to just above St. Louis,
Missouri. The Corps has similar plans for the Illinois River, which stretches from near
Chicago to near St. Louis.


Tow boats push barges full of grain downstream, carrying 60 percent of the nation’s grain
exports. They use the Mississippi lock and dam system, which was built in the 1930’s.
The Corps of Engineers built the lock and dam system to ensure the water would remain
deep enough to keep barge traffic moving year round. The locks that allowed barges
through the dams were adequate for the time. But today, towboats are pushing groups of
barges twice as long as they were in the 1930’s. To get through the locks, they must
separate into groups and then reconnect on the other side.


Denny Lundberg is the project manager of the Corps’ navigation study. He says the
Mississippi River system is an important corridor for the grain trade and the aging current
locks could put Midwest farmers at a disadvantage.


“What the Mississippi River does is provides a transportation system for certain key
exports and helps the nation’s balance of trade and it does this by saving roughly 60 to 70
percent of the cost of shipping over that distance by rail… so the existing system out
there generates about a billion dollars annual transportation cost savings to the nation.”


Farmers are in favor of expanding the locks. Gerald Tumbleson farms in Southern
Minnesota. He attended a public hearing on the Corps’ recommendations.


“The problem of the system now is it is too slow. Now, you might say it delayed an hour
or two on a barge or something like that, but when you start adding those up over a
period of time that’s a lot of hours.”


Tumbelson says that delays lead to increased transportation costs, bringing down the
price he can get for his products. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal would
speed up the system by building seven new locks and five lock extensions, as well as
other smaller measures to speed river navigation.


The Corps’ proposal also includes money to help restore some of the ecosystems that
have been damaged by the Corps’ navigation projects in the past. But many
environmentalists are skeptical that anything will be done for the environment.


In a study called Twice Cooked Pork, a coalition of environmental and taxpayer
groups say they found major flaws with the Corps’ conclusions in its proposal. The
groups say that barge traffic on the river is declining, not increasing. They say there’s
more domestic demand for grain and other products, so there’s not as great a need to ship
it downriver. And the groups say the project will be the most expensive waterway project
in history, but will only benefit the barge industry. And they add… it will benefit the
Corps itself.


Mark Muller of the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy is skeptical that the
proposed project would have any benefit for people like farmer Gerald Tumbleson.


“I don’t think it really matters if we have longer locks or not, that doesn’t mean our
exports are going to increase, and unless we have an increase in exports we’re not going
to have any benefits to farm income.”


Critics say given the Army Corps of Engineers’ history, there’s plenty of reason to be
skeptical of the Corps’ findings. In 2000, a whistleblower within the Corps revealed he
was pressured to falsify statistics to justify spending billions of dollars on Corps projects
along the Mississippi. Further investigation by both the Pentagon and the National
Research Council revealed widespread flaws and corruption in the Corps’ research and
methodology.


But the Corps says the current proposal came after many public hearings, and extensive
consultation with other federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Army Corps of Engineers’ Denny Lundberg says those public meetings and
discussions had a role in developing the current proposal.


“And we have taken that and developed a combined plan to try to seek a balance out on
the river so this integrated plan really serves as a framework for being able to operate and
maintain the system both for navigation and for the environment.”


The Corps will continue taking public comments on the draft report until July 30th. In
the fall, they will present their final report to Congress, which has the final say on the
river’s future.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Katherine Glover.

Related Links

Army Corps to Lay Out Plans for Upper Mississippi

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:

Transcript

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.

Related Links

Army Corps to Lower River Levels

The Corps of Engineers will soon lower water on the Missouri River… a month after it was first ordered by a judge to do so. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tom Weber reports:

Transcript

The Corps of Engineers will soon lower water on the Missouri River… a
month after it was first ordered by a judge to do so. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Tom Weber reports:


The Corps is only going to keep the river levels down for three days. A
federal judge in Washington had ordered the reduction to protect nesting
endangered species… but the Corps said that would conflict with another
ruling from Nebraska that said water must be high enough for barges.


Those lawsuits were all combined and sent to a court in Minnesota… where
judge Paul Magnuson ruled the two orders were not in conflict. He says that
means the order to lower levels still applies.


Barge companies were told to secure vessels because the river will likely be
too shallow for navigation during the three days. The corps had risked
being fined a half-million dollars a day for being in contempt of the
ruling… but Judge Magnuson says he won’t enforce those fines at this time.


Environmental groups say it might be too late for the species… but it’s
better than nothing.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tom Weber.

Related Links

Dams Make Major Floods Worse?

  • The Army Corps of Engineers installed these wing dams to force the current to the middle. The rushing water scours the bottom of the channel to keep navigation open. A new study alleges the wing dams slow the current during major floods and cause flood waters to be higher. Photo by Lester Graham.

A recent study concludes that some actions of the Army Corps of Engineers might be causing more, rather than less damage during major floods on rivers in the Midwest. The study by two Washington University professors found that wing dams, which jut out into the river, could cause big floods to rise even higher. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham takes a closer look at this study:

Transcript

A recent study concludes that some actions of the Army Corps of Engineers might be causing more, rather than less damage during major floods on rivers in the Midwest. The study by two Washington University professors found that wing dams which jut out into the river could cause big floods to rise even higher. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham takes a closer look at this study:

The Mississippi and the Missouri rivers are two of the major arteries for barge transportation in America. Millions of tons of grain, and raw materials are floated up and down the rivers each year. It’s the Army Corps of Engineers’ job to keep the rivers open to barge traffic. The Corps has been doing that job for the past 150 years. But since the 1930’s that effort has taken on immense proportions. Huge dams hold back the river, keeping the water high enough for the barges to travel up and down-stream. Big earthen dikes, called levees, wall in the rivers, keeping them from flooding farms and towns, but also keeping the water from reaching the natural flood plain. Robert Criss and Everett Shock studied flood levels and the effects of the Corps of Engineers projects. Criss says those dams and levees alone might be enough to disrupt the flow of the river and cause flood stages to be higher.

“But the other component is these structures called wing-dams which are jetties of rocks that project out perpendicularly into the channel. For high-flow conditions, these act something like scale in a pipe. They impede the flow, restricting the channel. That slows the velocity of the water down and that also makes the flood stages higher.”

The purpose of wing dams is to force the current to the middle of the river to scour out the navigation channel to keep it open for the barges. Researcher Everett Shock.

“So, they do the job they’re intended to do. It seems that there’s an unintended–perhaps unintended consequence of all these constructions along the river that shows up when we have a big flood and makes it to –on the basis of our study– makes these big floods worse.”

Criss and Shock say their study finds that since these flood control projects have been erected, there have been more big floods, such as the one in 1993 that flooded the Mississippi and some of its tributaries for most of the summer. Robert Criss.

“The fact is, before World War II, a flood stage of 38-feet is very rare and now it happens every five years.”

But not everyone agrees with the methodology used by the researchers. The
Corps of Engineers dismisses the researchers’ study, saying they used flawed data. Corps officials point to a study at the University of Missouri – Rolla. That study compared the 19th century method of measuring a river’s flow by timing how fast floats moved in the current to the methods used today. Dave Busse is a scientist with the Army Corps of Engineers. He says the original stream flow measurements –the ones Criss and Shock used— were inaccurate.

“The flows were over-estimated by 30-percent using this float measurements rather than the measurements than we use today.”

Criss and Shock are skeptical of new numbers that the Corps prefers. Saying it seems awfully convenient for the Corps because changing the numbers makes the historic floods look smaller and therefore makes the 1993 flood look unprecedented. Criss and Shock say based on the original records, there was as much water in past floods as in the 1993 flood but lower water levels. Criss and Shock say the difference between then and now is that the Corps’ big dams, levees, and wing dams constrict the river’s flow and make floods higher.

The Corps, however, has other criticisms of the Criss and Shock study. Dave Busse says the researchers ignored the role of the Corps’ reservoirs in the rivers’ watersheds. Busse says the reservoirs hold back water that would otherwise be part of a flood. And Busse says, another flaw is the researchers conclusions about wing dams. The Corps says the wing dams force water to deepen the channel and increases the flow of the river.

“So, what we have is the same –it’s a re-shaped river, but its carrying capacity is actually higher now. We can actually carry more water at the same stage. The river got deeper, therefore this conclusion that they’ve made is wrong.”

The Corps says there’s more to managing the river than the researchers have considered. Criss and Schock, meanwhile, say their study is not the first to be dismissed by the Corps of Engineers. They say other studies have found similar results, but the Corps dismissed them as well.

Environmentalists have been arguing for decades that levees and dams keep floodwaters from spreading out on their natural flood plains and cause higher flood levels. The Criss and Shock study adds to their arsenal of arguments to change the way the rivers are managed. But most environmentalists concede that we’ve become somewhat dependent on the Corps flood control projects. Chad Smith is with the environmental group,
American Rivers.

“In most ways both of these camps are right. The Corps is right that putting some of the structure in has helped to reduce the kind of annual flood events that always happen on a big river like this, but what they unfortunately have done is to exacerbate what happens when you have bigger floods and the wing dams and the levees and the dams themselves all are part of that.”

The Army Corps of Engineers says it’s reviewing its way of managing rivers in light of the 1993 flood. But they also note that while flood stages might be higher more often than they were in the 19th century, most of the time those floodwaters remain behind the floodwalls and levees, protecting the communities from high water, and the Corps says in the end, that’s the only fact that really matters.

Validity of Corps Study Questioned

The Upper Mississippi River is a key navigation route for
commercial vessels traveling to and from the Great Lakes. The U-S
Army Corps of Engineers is studying ways to enhance the river’s traffic
capacity. One option is to expand some of the locks. That would reduce
the time it takes for barges to travel between ports. But one Corps
economist says the benefits of lock expansion don’t outweigh the costs.
Now, he’s blowing the whistle on those whom he says have fixed the
numbers to justify a one billion-dollar construction project. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Kevin Lavery reports:

Transcript

The Upper Mississippi River is a key navigation route for commercial
vessels traveling to and from the Great Lakes. The U-S Army Corps of
Engineers is studying ways to enhance the river’s traffic capacity. One
option is to expand some of the locks. That would reduce the time it takes
for barges to travel between ports. But one Corps economist says the
benefits of lock expansion don’t outweigh the costs. Now, he’s blowing the
whistle on those whom he says have fixed the numbers to justify a one
billion-dollar construction project. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Kevin Lavery reports:


Lock and Dam number 25 near Winfield, Missouri straddles the upper
Mississippi 40 miles north of St. Louis. Last year, 39 million tons of
grain, soybeans and other cargo passed through here. Though it’s winter,
water continues to rush through the dam. However, ice on the river farther
north has slowed barged traffic here to near non-existence.


A lock is essentially a watery elevator that raises and lowers boats to
different depths. Each lock is 600 feet long, but a typical 15-barge tow is
12-hundred feet long. Walter Feld is with the Corps of Engineers’ St.
Louis District. He says a tow has to break apart to negotiate the lock’s
narrow chamber:


“One lockage would take about 30 minutes. When you break that tow
apart and put two pieces together, it takes probably closer to 90 minutes.
So all that delay adds up to triple the length of time to get through
it.”


In 1993, the Corps began a 58-million dollar study of the upper
Mississippi in an attempt to plan for the needs of the navigation industry
over the next 50 years. Dr. Donald Sweeney was named the lead economist
for the study:


“The feasibility study is a planning and implementation
study.
You’re required to investigate the economic effects and environmental
consequences of whatever actions you might propose.”


At the start of the study, Sweeney says his team was told to give its best
unbiased estimate of the situation:


“And I believe that was truly the spirit of the study up
until
late 1997, at which it turned 180 degrees.”


Among other alternatives, the Corps looked at doubling the size of seven
locks to reduce congestion on the river. But the economics team concluded
the benefits gained would not be worth the cost of construction. Sweeney
says the analysis showed such a project would result in a loss of up to
20-million dollars a year.


In a written affidavit, Sweeney testified that top Corps officials
the economists to alter their analysis to justify spending a billion
dollars to expand the locks. The report points to a number of internal
memos indicating the Corps’ desire to appease the barge industry. In 1998,
Sweeney was relieved as head of the economics team, five years after the
study began.


Corps spokesman Ron Fournier says the media has underplayed the full scope
of the navigation study, and that lock expansions are not the only option at
the agency’s disposal.


“The study is actually navigation improvements, which is
variety of alternatives for the river. We have alternatives such as
extending the guide walls, adding mooring cells or buoys for barges to
tie up to, and then again also the expansion of the lock chambers
themselves.”


Fournier says Sweeney failed to take into account some of those
alternatives, many of which he says were added since the economist left the
study team.


“The navigation study has been evolving for the past seven
years; and as new data is received from the shipping industry, from the
farm growers and from a variety of other economists throughout the
country, new calculations are being used and different results are
being obtained.”


Aside from the financial issues associated with large-scale construction,
environmentalists say lock expansion would jeopardize wildlife on the river.


Washington D.C. based Environmental Defense has taken a leading stance in
the issue by releasing many of the internal Corps documents to government
officials. Senior attorney Tim Searchinger says the papers clearly show
most of the people in the study had a great deal of professional integrity,
and that some may have been pushed into doing the wrong thing.


“There is a top ranking leadership that’s willing to cause
environmental harm, even when the analysis clearly shows that from a
purely economic standpoint, the project isn’t justified either.”


Another reason why economist Donald Sweeney says the Corps is pushing
expansion is because such projects would bolster the agency’s stagnant budget.


“They’re trying to become a bigger, more vital agency.
And
sometimes that conflicts with a purely unbiased scientific analysis of
potentially a billion dollars worth of expenditures.”


Late last month, the Office of Special Counsel declared the Corps likely had violated the law in

catering to the interests of commercial navigation. The OSC is the independent federal agency with

whom Sweeney filed his affidavit. The office has ordered Defense Secretary William Cohen to

conduct an investigation and report back by the end of April. Spokesman Ron Fournier says from the

start, the Corps has been forthright about the
study both with Congress and the public.


“We feel that when this investigation is complete,
they’ll
find there’s no wrongdoing, and of course the
study has been done in an above
Corps will prove that the
board, upright manner.”


The investigation has also reached the congressional level. The Senate
committee on Environment and Public Works is conducting a number of public
hearings on the study this month.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium,
I’m Kevin Lavery in St. Louis.

Commentary – Floating Nukes

Russia has recently begun construction on a floating nuclear power
plant, designed to bring electricity to remote northern regions of that
country. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elston
wonders
what could happen if we brought these floating plants to the Great
Lakes:

Transcript

Okay, so on the surface it sounds like a really bad idea. Build
floating nuclear power plants, with dependable Russian nuclear
technology, and dot them along the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Sort of
like a little fleet of mini-Chernobyls-to-go. Critics are saying that
these barges will be sitting ducks, waiting for terrorists to tow
them away. And then there’s that ever-present threat to the
environment.


But I say, let’s not be hasty here. I think there’s a potential for
using these barges in the Great Lakes. First of all, they could help
us get rid of our nuclear waste problem. What Russia plans to do
with the spent fuel is tow the barges into shore every dozen years
and unload it. But I say flip it around. Take all the waste from our
land-locked plants and stick it on the barge.


This would solve no end of problems. No more worrying about burying
it in a mountain somewhere. Problem solved at a fraction of the cost.
We actually could float the stuff in the water around the barge,
which would solve another major environmental problem. There’s been
so much concern about invading species in the Great Lakes. A good
dose of radiation should render even the hardiest invader sterile.
Another problem solved.


And that’s just the beginning. The glow from all this spent fuel
would light up the water around the reactor. This would make it a lot
easier for sports fishermen to see what they’re doing. After all,
nobody’s supposed to eat the fish they catch from the Great Lakes,
anyway. If we keep the barges nice and close to the shoreline, they’d
light up those dark and dangerous beaches. We’d save on energy and we
wouldn’t have to worry about lighting bonfires. That would put an end
to all those rowdy beach parties. The glow would also help boaters
find their docks at night. No more search and rescue. Another bonus.


The more I think about it, the more I have to admit, this is one hot
idea. You gotta hand it to those Russians. I wonder what they’ll
think of next.


Suzanne Elston is a syndicated columnist living in Courtice, Ontario. She comes to us by way of the

Great Lakes Radio Consortium.