Washington, DC — In a stingy domestic budget, the Bush administration has cut out all federal expenditures for the controversial Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway lock expansions, according to a review released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Bush administration proposed budget for fiscal year 2006 completely eliminates the line item for the estimated $2.3 billion navigation project and omits any further funding for study, design, or construction.
The Bush FY 06 budget offers substantial funding support for only nine “priority projects,” including the Everglades Restoration, Missouri River wildlife habitat mitigation and Columbia River fish recovery. The priority list also includes $34 million for environmental mitigation from past lock expansion projects, with the bulk of the money slated for Illinois.
“We rarely applaud the Bush Administration’s record but this is one action that is hard to dispute,” stated 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. “We are in a zero sum situation – every dollar that would have been wasted on the Upper Mississippi locks expansion project would mean one dollar less for health care, education or law enforcement.”
In addition to cutting all future funding, the President’s Office of Management & Budget (OMB) has not forwarded to Congress the Corps recommendation, made this past December, to proceed with replacing many of the existing, recently rehabilitated, and fully functional river locks on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway with costly larger new locks carrying an estimated $2.3 billion price tag.
Terminating the scandal-ridden Upper Mississippi project comes as part of the fifth consecutive major reduction in expenditures for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program proposed by the Bush administration. In his new budget, President Bush proposed a 7 percent decrease in discretionary budget authority for the Corps Civil Works program from FY2005.
The Upper Mississippi lock expansion project has been criticized by the Army’s own Inspector General, OMB, and three National Academies of Sciences reports for using faulty economic models, unrealistic traffic forecasts, and continuing a Corps-wide bias towards large-scale, expensive structural solutions while ignoring inexpensive non-structural alternatives such as the scheduling of barge traffic. At the same time, barge traffic on these rivers has been mired in a now more than decade-long decline, further dampening the need for bigger locks.