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New Locks Cut From Bill

Sat December 04, 2004 - Midwest Edition
CEG



DAVENPORT, IA (AP) A plan to spend billions of dollars updating the locks on the Mississippi River was cut from a federal spending bill approved by Congress.

As recently as Nov. 19, it appeared the $1.7 billion plan would remain in the $388 billion omnibus spending bill, said Beth Pellett Levine, a spokeswoman for Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), a sponsor of the bill.

“It was taken out at the last minute by the leadership,” she said.

Supporters of the new, longer locks said they are necessary for barges to get grain and other commodities to Gulf of Mexico ports more quickly. The nation’s leading corn and soybean producers –– Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri –– rely on the Mississippi River as the cheapest route for shipping to export markets.

The project has been opposed by environmentalists who said it should be fully debated in Congress. The project has generated controversy along the Mississippi River valley for a dozen years.

Government officials concluded earlier in November that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hadn’t justified the project.

The National Research Council reported on Oct. 6 that grain exports are unlikely to grow enough to justify replacing the aging Mississippi and Illinois river locks.

“There are no overwhelming regional or global trends that clearly portend a marked departure from a 20-year trend of steady U.S. grain export levels,” the panel said in the report.

It was the second time the research council, part of the agency that includes the National Academy of Sciences, said the corps had failed to justify the construction. The agency has tried for more than a decade to replace the locks, but the project stalled after a whistle-blower accused the corps of inventing its justification.

The corps went back to the drawing board, and the result is a new plan that would spend as much on restoring the environment as on new lock construction. Older locks, or river gateways, are too small for today’s tows, causing costly delays as barges are disconnected, sent through locks and then lashed back together on the other side.

The proposed plan called for new Mississippi River locks to be built north of St. Louis up to just south of the Iowa border. New mooring facilities also would be built at Lock and Dam 14 near LeClaire, IA, under the plan.

Funding for the locks expansion could be introduced again as future spending bills are compiled.