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Academy of Sciences shoots down Corps’ lock expansion study

Academy of Sciences shoots down Corps’ lock expansion study

   The National Academy of Sciences said the latest study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers promoting the expansion of a half dozen locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers is “flawed.”

   The locks along this part of the inland waterway system were built to handle barge tows of up to 600-feet long. The Corps promotes a multibillion-dollar investment to increase the size of the locks to handle 1,200-foot-long barge tows.

   The Academy of Sciences chastised the Corps report for giving priority to navigation concerns over environmental issues because “it considers the 1930 Rivers and Harbors Act — which ordered a nine-foot channel to be maintained in the Upper Mississippi — its overriding authority for managing river projects.”

   Because 50 percent of the barges on the waterway carry grain, forecasts of increased grain exports would strengthen the need to extend the locks, according to the Corps’ report.

   However, the Academy of Sciences said there are “no overwhelming regional or global trends that clearly portend a departure from relatively steady levels of U.S. grain exports over the last 20 years.

   “Absent major changes in international income levels, consumer preferences, or grain production, all of which can affect demand for American grain, the (Academy of Science) said future U.S. grain exports are likely to remain flat, at least in the near term.”

   The Academy of Sciences recommends that the Corps focus more of its attention on “inexpensive, nonstructural navigation improvements that could ease current barge traffic.”

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