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NW Dams on 'Most Wasteful' List

by Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press
Spokesman Review, March 3, 2000

Environmental, taxpayer groups blast Corps of Engineers

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects to continue operation of four Snake River dams and deepen the Columbia River are among the "25 most wasteful water projects" in the nation, an environmental group and a taxpayer watchdog organization said Thursday.

The National Wildlife Federation and Taxpayers for Common Sense included the list in a report titled "Troubled Waters" and urged the corps to stop the projects.

"It is time for the Army to stop waging war against our environment," said Mark Van Putten, president of the National Wildlife Federation.

The groups said four Snake River dams in Washington state have caused the decline of salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act. If they become extinct, Van Putten said, American Indians could file suit under their treaty rights.

"And they will have a good case," he said. "They could win billions or tens of billions of dollars."

Plans to deepen 103 miles of the Columbia River between Portland and Astoria, Ore., would dump dredged material on more than 9,500 acres of near-shore ocean, threatening a $50 million annual Dungeness crab fishery, the groups said.

Ralph DeGennaro, executive director of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said halting the 25 projects would save taxpayers at least $6billion.

"The corps is out of control," he said. "Their credo seems to be damn the taxpayers and full speed ahead."

The report comes as the corps battles allegations it manipulated studies to justify higher spending on water projects. Corps officials, who have denied any wrongdoing, issued a statement saying they try to pursue projects that are good for the environment and taxpayers.

"Our project development process ensures that divergent and competing interests are heard. We believe our judgments are sound and that we present balanced recommendations that are unbiased and in the public interest," the statement said.

The groups used several criteria in compiling a list of what they consider the 10 most wasteful projects and 15 other unnecessary initiatives, including cost to taxpayers, impact on the environment and violations of federal law or corps policies.

Topping the list were a series of irrigation projects in Arkansas, priced at $1 billion, followed by the deepening of the Delaware River in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania ($311 million) and an expansion of several upper Mississippi River locks and dams in five Midwestern states ($1.2 billion).

One of the Arkansas initiatives, the Grand Prairie irrigation project, was singled out because its chief beneficiaries -- rice farmers -- are not willing to help with construction costs, the groups said.

The project would divert water from the White River for farming, which the report says would "dramatically" reduce river flow, lead to wetland loss and increase pollution in the White River National Wildlife Refuge.

Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press
NW Dams on 'Most Wasteful' List
Spokesman Review, March 3, 2000

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