CORPS UNDER SIEGE
By Reggie McLeod
The case against the Army Corps of Engineers’ $54 million Navigation Study gained credibility and momentum in May, when a panel of three independent economists and and economist for the Corps claimed the study used flawed data.
In February, Corps economist Donald Sweeney filed a whistle-blower suit claiming that his bosses replaced him as head of the economic part of the study when he refused to pump up figures to justify expanding the lock-and-dam system on the Mississippi River. In May, Richard Manguno, Sweeney’s successor on the study, told Senate investigators that his boss, Col. James Mudd, commander of the Corps’ Rock Island District, directed him to change the study’s economic data in order to justify expanding the system.
Months before the scandal broke, the Northeast Midwest Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based, nonpartisan, environmental and economic research institute, asked three economists to evaluate the economic section of the Navigation Study. The economists, Steven Berry, Yale University; Geoffrey Hewings, University of Illinois; and Charles Leven, Washington University, have no connections to the Corps, shipping interests or groups opposed to lock-and-dam expansion.
The panel found the economics study to be deeply flawed:
“Our findings suggest that there is no compelling reason for this project to move ahead at this time. First, demand projections provided by the USACE [Army Corps of Engineers] seem to be seriously at odds with recent evidence and projections provided by other specialists. Thus the presumption of future congestion seems not to be substantiated. Further, there seem to be growing possibilities for diverting grain to other uses (potentially creating more value-added for the region) or diverting grain for export to other ports using alternative transportation systems.”
In another development, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), put the Corps on notice that the lock-and-dam system and shipping jeopardizes two endangered species, the Higgins’ eye pearly-mussel and the pallid sturgeon. The Corps must work with the FWS to relocate Higgins’ eyes to environments where they can survive and restore habitat for pallid sturgeons.
The Corps will also have to reduce damage to several other threatened and endangered species, including the bald eagle, winged mapleleaf mussel, least tern and Indiana bat.
The Army Corps of Engineers is a branch of the Army, which is part of the Department of Defense and thus the executive branch of the government. When Sweeney’s whistle-blower suit brought to light problems in the Corps, the Pentagon and Army began reorganizing the Corps to increase its accountability. Three Republican Senators, Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.), Environmental and Public Works Committee Chairman Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) told the Army not to reorganize the Corps. Then Stevens and Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) introduced a rider to a farm budget bill to prevent the Corps from reorganizing in the future, according to the Washington Post (5-13-00).
The rider says, “None of the funds made available in this or any other Act may be used to restructure, reorganize, abolish, transfer, consolidate or otherwise alter or modify the organizational or management oversight structure; existing delegations; or functions or activities applicable to the Army Corps of Engineers.”
Corps critics claim it is a major conduit for pork-barrel projects that Congress wants to protect. An Associated Press story from mid May reports that Corps and Army officials told a Senate subcommittee that Congress has given the go ahead, but not the funding, for $38 billion of navigation, flood control and other water construction projects. The Corps gets about $1.6 billion a year for these projects.
Reggie McLeod is editor and publisher of Big River, an independent, monthly newsletter about the Upper Mississippi River: 800-303-8201.