From: Christopher Doering, Reuters
Published December 17, 2004 12:00 AM

Army Corps Proposes $8.3 Billion for Upgrade of Rivers

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Thursday proposed an $8.3 billion plan to build seven new locks to ease shipping congestion and improve local ecosystems in the Mississippi River region.


The plan was the latest recommendation by the Corps in the last decade to upgrade the 70-year-old lock and dam system on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.


Earlier Corps proposals were criticized by green groups and independent reviewers for failing to look at ways to ease congestion that were cheaper and safer for the environment.


"We believe this (lock and dam modernization) is crucial to the future of the nation's economy and to this important national resource that we move forward," Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the Army's Chief of Engineers, told reporters.


The Corps, responsible for building federal dams and designating flood plains, said its lock and dam measure would be gradually implemented and updated as new data becomes available.


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Initial estimates put the price of ecosystem restoration -- which included preservation of wetlands and nearly 300 birds species -- at $5.7 billion. Design and construction of seven new locks to ease congestion would cost $2.6 billion. The Corps report must be approved by Congress.


The plan has support among some Midwestern lawmakers and trade groups, who say corn and soybean farmers need the shipping improvements to remain competitive with exporters in South America.


Each year more than 100 million tons of cargo, nearly half of it grain, are exported along the river system. The Corps argues that shipments will increase in coming years.


An earlier Corps draft was criticized after it predicted that grain exports shipped on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers would rise between 1995 and 2000, but they fell.


The National Research Council, part of the National Academy of Sciences, has said the Corps plan is flawed and lacks credibility in large part because of its optimistic grain predictions.


Source: Reuters


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