Corps of Engineers Halts Work on Water Projectsby Libby Quaid, Associated Press
Environmental News Network, May 1, 2002
WASHINGTON -- The Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday it will halt work on about 150 water projects because of questions about how the agency determined the need for them.
The projects are congressionally approved but not yet under construction, the corps said. The list of flood control, river navigation, and other projects is being developed and will be released in the coming days, corps spokesman Homer Perkins said, adding that 150 is an estimate.
The agency's director of civil works, Maj. Gen. Robert Griffin, said the action is "part of a more comprehensive initiative to ensure that corps projects are a sound investment for our nation and are proposed in an environmentally sustainable way."
Griffin last week suspended a $311 million, 103-mile dredging of the Delaware River because the General Accounting Office was about to criticize the cost-benefit analysis used to justify the project. GAO, the investigative office of Congress, has not released its findings but followed its practice of sharing a preliminary draft with the agency. "There has been a lot of controversy about the corps' economics for quite a while now, and that was justification enough that Gen. Griffin said, 'We need to pause and take a look at this,'" Perkins said.
Among other projects, the $4 billion federal agency operates dams, digs channels for barge navigation, builds levees, and pumps for flood control.
Tuesday's decision means the corps will require new analysis for any project with an economic analysis done before 1999. The corps will also review newer projects in which new information has come to light about the environmental, scientific, engineering, or economic factors used to justify construction.
The announcement pleased the agency's critics, although they warned that true reforms will still require congressional intervention. "This gesture does not change the fact that it is a fundamental conflict of interest to allow the corps to determine for itself that its projects are a good investment and environmentally sound," said Rebecca Wodder, president of the environmental advocacy group American Rivers.
The corps has come under fire in recent years following whistleblowers' allegations that corps officials manufactured a case for spending $1 billion to enlarge barge locks on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.
A National Academy of Sciences review of the project's cost-benefit analysis found it flawed throughout, and an earlier Army inspector general review concluded that three top corps officials, eager to please powerful Midwestern agribusiness interests, manipulated the study in order to justify the project. That report also found a corps-wide bias in favor of huge projects.
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