The Corps: From `Fix As Fail' To `Fail To Fix'

The Waterways Journal
13 December 2010
By David Murray

Maj. Gen. John Peabody: commander of the Great Lakes & Ohio River Division of the Corps of Engineers. delivered a blunt and shocking- message November 20 to Ohio River stakeholders: the COTS of Engineers is going to has e to begin let-Ling sonic parts of the system fail.

Peabody's message was summed up by Jim McCarville executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh (Pa.) Commission. as: "The money is not there to fix and maintain even what we have." Given the current cost-cutting preoccupation in Congress and a recent pledge against earmarks by incoming Republican members. the Corps does not expect the money to materialize anytime soon.

Peabody's presentation, titled "From 'Fix as Fail' to Fail to Fix" was delivered at the annual regional Ohio River stake-holders meeting held in Pittsburgh from November 30 to December 1. McCarville said be was "shocked" at how dire the Corps' funding situation has become.

One chart Peabody presented showed all of the facilities (not just locks and clams) the Corps operates in the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division. which extends from upper New York State to the tip of Lake Superior to northern Alabama and encompasses most of Tennessee. While only 5 percent received an "F " grade, 23 percent were given a "D" and a flat 52 percent only a "C." None received an "A," and only 20 percent were in "B" shape.

Another chart showed a steady increase in hours lost to lock outages, from about 12.000 hours lost in FY 2000 to 42,000 lost in FY 2009. Another chart, titled "Highly Constrained Funding for Risk," showed that the Corps can only afford to respond to the most extreme emergencies, and essentially cannot afford to be proactive in many cases of "medium-to-high" relative risk.

A chart of locks in the system rated nine "good." eight "inadequate," and 31 "poor." with none in "excellent" condition. The Greenup Lock has an "F" rating, meaning it could fail at any time.

The good news that emerged from the Corps' presentations, said McCarville is that it now has modeling tools in place to allow it to do more with less and to better prioritize risks and threats. But all the modeling tools in the world cannot overcome the lack of funding.

McCarville said he has often been called a pessimist "because I used to say the sky would fall on us in 15 to 20 years. Now that's more like five to 15 years."

Cornel Martin, president and chief executive officer of Waterways Council Inc., said the implications would go far beyond navigation.

"The Corps is saying they will actually have to let some parts of the system fail, and that means closing some waterways. That will impact not only navigation. but recreational boating. water supply for utilities, and even some municipal water supplies."

Would a major shutdown focus public attention on the funding crisis? "I used to think so." said McCarville, "but now I'm not so sure. It might focus public attention on that one lock that fails but there seems to be little fundamental appreciation among the public of what infrastructure does and how it is funded, or not funded."

No local papers covered the conference, he added.