Defunding Tributaries Would Seriously Damage Economy

Waterways Journal
11 July 2011

Politicians at all levels have been waving the banner high for creating jobs. jobs, and more jobs. Ironically, the government (at which level we don't know) has directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reduce spending on what they call the low use Kaskaskia River Project because it moves less than a billion ton-miles of cargo annually.

As reported in the WJ (July 4). the projects recommended budget level for 2012 is $1,539.000. and the reduction would be $6:37.000. What would be left of the budget is critical. George Andres, general manager of the Kaskaskia Regional Port District, predicts 2012 tonnage to reach 2 million tons (reflecting just over a billion ton-miles of cargo). If it doesn't, the Corps says the traffic may not be sufficient to justify keeping the lock and channel operational.

Andres says the Corps is using outdated information to reach its conclusions, and challenges the reduction. The Corps is seeking stakeholder input. Due to the July 15 deadline, the quickest way to comment might be to contact the Carlyle Lake/Kaskaskia Project Office, e-mail; Kaskaskia River Project Office at 618. 284-7160: or the Carlyle Lake Project Office at 618. 594-2484.

But let's try a new approach. We don't even have to speculate. The Corps said it has been directed to reduce funding for "low-use" projects by $ 6 million. That is less than one-tenth of a billion dollars. And the action would impact projects all around the country. The perpetrators of this folly seem to have no knowledge of how the transportation system in this country works.

Did they ever hear of a feeder system? Or feeder lines? In the trucking business, over-the-road transporters drop off their cargo with local operators (consider them feeder factors) who make the final deliveries. These local operators are crucial if the transportation contracts are to be completed. Railroads have feeder lines as well. Kill the feeder lines and the contracts can't be completed. The feeder lines of the river system can be the smaller tributaries like the Kaskaskia, or larger waterways like the busy Ohio and Illinois rivers, which feed the Mississippi. (While the feds don't control railroads. they do control the navigable waterways. and they are proposing disaster.)

In the case of rivers. operators on tributaries move cargo out to the main waterway to be added to larger tows. thus providing sufficient cargo for the long haul to be profitable. Each navigable tributary is key to the health of a larger river: and the larger river is key to the survival of the operators and businesses along the length of the tributaries. The Kaskaskia channel in question is 36 miles in length.

If carried out. the feds' proposal would eliminate thousands of jobs around the country. Many businesses have no other way to move cargo inexpensively. If they lose the waterways. they have to move by truck or rail, thus increasing transportation costs. Would it be worth the damage to the economy to save less than a tenth of a billion dollars?

But there is more to the Kaskaskia issue. Andres reminds its that the Corps just finished spending $16 million to reopen a navigation channel to Fayetteville. Ill. Andres said. "Completed in June 2011. this project opened the door for the long-planned Fayetteville Harbor project. Three companies have signed letters of interest in locating at Fayetteville. Why would you spend $16 million and then not let the development occur? So much for long-range planning!

As for questioning the data upon which the Corps projections for the Kaskaskia were built, the Kaskaskia Port District said the Corps used two-year-old figures to develop a budget.

Andres said they use "nonsensical metrics to determine the value of a particular waterway."

Ironically. the administration is now touting desires to spend in the neighborhood of $500 billion more to repair h highways and bridges. Some say it represents a third stimulus package.

At the root of this folly is the fact that too many in Washington do not understand business and how the free enterprise system works. Right now they are stumbling all over themselves, further damaging the economy.