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Agencies back Corps’ plan for Upper Mississippi navigation improvements

Agencies back Corps’ plan for Upper Mississippi navigation improvements

   A handful of federal agencies testified before House lawmakers June 24 that they back the Army Corps of Engineers’ multibillion-dollar plan to improve navigation and wetland preservation along the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway.

   “The natural habitat has been damaged significantly by the construction and operation of the navigation channel,” testified Jerri-Anne Garl, EPA’s Region 5 director for the Office of Strategic Environmental Analysis, before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. “The Corps’ consideration of ecosystem restoration needs is intended to help offset the ongoing and long-term cumulative impacts of this channel on the ecology of the river.”

   Other federal agencies backing the Corps’ plan are the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Maritime Administration and Fish and Wildlife Service.

   The Upper Mississippi River navigation system has 37 locks and dam sites spread over 1,200 miles of waterway. Most of the locks on the waterway are 600-feet long, and the 15-barge tows that use the waterway require the locks to be 1,200-feet long. Decoupling barges to get them through the locks can cause average delays of about five hours at some locks. The age of the locks also causes the Corps to conduct additional maintenance. According to the Corps, 19 of the 36 most delayed lock sites are located on this portion of the inland waterway network.

   The Corps has spent more than $70 million during the past 12 years preparing its study of the Upper Mississippi River system.

   The Corps, which expects to release its final recommendations later this year, said the modernization of the Upper Mississippi River system would require an initial investment of $1.8 billion for navigation improvements and an initial 15-year ecosystem restoration plan would cost $1.46 billion.

   Full implementation of the Corps’ plan would be $2.4 billion for long-term navigation improvements and $5.3 billion for ecosystem restoration, making it the most expensive public works project in the history of the Corps.

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