charge expansion of river would hurt environment
An environmental group and a budget watchdog organization
joined forces Thursday to criticize the proposed widening
of the St. Lawrence Seaway, charging such a project would
damage the environment and waste taxpayer money.
The National Wildlife Federation and Taxpayers for Common
Sense singled out the St. Lawrence Seaway as one of several
major sites around the nation where they say the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers risks damaging the environment
for little tangible economic benefit.
At present, the corps is only studying the future of
commercial shipping on the waterway leading into the Great
Lakes, and a study supervisor said the complaints are
ill-timed because the analysis isn't even halfway complete.
But opponents of widening the waterways for larger ships
fear the work will ultimately lead to a multibillion-dollar
project for the 2,300-mile system of channels and locks
that would harm the surrounding areas and threaten the
ecosystems of the lakes.
Environmentalists' greatest concern is the spread of
foreign species that overwhelm native aquatic life. Zebra
mussels from the Caspian Sea first appeared in the Great
Lakes in 1988, most likely carried inside ships' ballast
tanks. Since then, the mussels have clogged water pipes,
ships and docks.
Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense argued the
corps did very valuable work in the past, but in recent
years has become mired in special-interest and pork barrel
politics, promoting big-ticket projects with little merit.
"The corps has become a scandal of an agency that
needs to be reformed," Ellis said.
Lt. Col. Thomas Magness, whose Detroit office is overseeing
the seaway study, said it is unfair to criticize scientific
work that is still in its early stages.
"I think it's premature to start shooting down the
results when we're at this point in the analysis,"
said Magness. "We're clearly following a process
that we'll all be able to stand proudly of the answer,
whatever the answer may be."
The work has been divided among an economic team, an
environmental team, and an engineering team, studying
everything from the physical condition of the massive
locks along the river to the long-term economic viability
of the shipping corridor.
Magness said he would like the environmental groups to
join the study process.
The study has another 21 months until completion, but
New York lawmakers are already fighting the Bush administration's
proposed spending for further study in the 2005 fiscal
Rep. John McHugh, a Republican whose district runs along
the St. Lawrence, opposes spending $800,000 for more studies,
and will try to eliminate that item from the budget, his
Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer,
both Democrats, have opposed the expansion project, which
has been estimated to cost from $10 billion to $15 billion.
Environmentalists argue a major dredging program along
the river would remove parts of some islands, and spoil
some of the natural beauty of the region in an area where
commercial shipping has already been in decline.