Editorial: Mississippi Waste: Billions
spent on locks would sink other needs
Detroit Free Press
Published July 25, 2005
The U.S. Senate is the only thing standing between taxpayers
and a boondoggle of staggering proportions: a $3.6-billion
project to upgrade locks and do restoration work on the
Mississippi and Illinois Rivers over the next 15 years.
The problem with this particular piece of pork, besides
the fact that most studies indicate the benefits of new
locks will never exceed their cost, is that it will compete
for funding directly with other projects that are far
more worthy, including many throughout the Great Lakes.
Earlier this month, the House approved the plan as part
of a bill that endorses major U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
projects. But several studies indicate Mississippi barge
traffic will never increase enough to justify expanding
the locks. In fact, barge traffic might drop steeply if
more farmers raise corn for ethanol, which usually is
refined close to home -- and increased ethanol production
is a key, if not necessarily sound, part of the energy
bill also under consideration in Congress.
Michigan, of course, has its own locks-related dream:
to build a second 1,000-foot lock at Sault Ste. Marie.
Among its four locks, only one can handle the biggest
ships plying the lakes. A second one that size, which
would replace two of the smaller locks, would provide
redundancy in case of damage or security problems, a need
that has only increased post 9/11. The project is awaiting
final approval from Corps headquarters in Washington,
although some design work has proceeded in the meantime.
The lakes obviously have other major needs. Once a federal
task force completes its report in December, the region
may finally have a shot at getting some big money from
Congress, a lot of which would need to come from the Corps
of Engineers' budget for projects such as cleaning up
toxic hot spots. That goal will be much harder to accomplish
if hundreds of millions of dollars a year are already
flowing wastefully into the Mississippi.