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This article appears in the August 20, 2004 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

As the Economy Sinks,
`Bush Doesn't Give a Dam'

by Marcia Merry Baker

[The figures referred to in this article are available to subscribers to EIR Online.]

"President Bush's record $2.4 trillion budget for 2005, intentionally or not, continues to strangle ports and waterways, and other important programs of the Corps of Engineers," warns a press release on an Army Corps of Engineers website. The case of the McAlpine Locks and Dam on the Ohio River in Kentucky is the latest example of the Bush Administration's abandonment of economic infrastructure (see "Bush Doesn't Give A Dime, Either," for budget-cuts details), while it inflates the economy with lunatic annual tax cuts and even suggests replacing the income tax with a regressive Federal sales tax.

By Aug. 22 or thereabouts, the Army Corps hopes to re-open its McAlpine Locks and Dam in Louisville, whose emergency closure for repairs on Aug. 9, in effect, put out of service the entire 981-mile Ohio River Waterway system during a peak shipping season. The sudden closure backed up some 1,800 barges and 120 tow boats; the impact of the closure has been felt throughout the entire Mississippi River transportation system.

The Army Corps has acted throughout this episode with all due diligence, beginning with the precautionary deployment of regular diving inspections of the main McAlpine lock, which identified the cracks in the 40-year-old gate of the main chamber in May. This year's repair incident—the first-ever emergency shutdown of the McAlpine Locks and Dam—is a marker for the general state of disrepair, and worsening dysfunction, of the inland waterway system of the United States, as a direct result of decades of Federal "fiscal restraint" policies blocking maintenance and expansion of vital infrastructure of all kinds in the United States—rail, air, water, public health, etc.

The immediate circumstances of the current Louisville closure make the point. Why is there no back-up lock available? In fact, a smaller, auxiliary lock chamber was in readiness until a few years ago, when it was de-commissioned so that a new, modern 1,200-foot lock chamber could be constructed on its site, to replace the existing lock from 1961. But the go-slow pace of this long-delayed project, whose original groundbreaking and work schedule have been prolonged for so many years by Federal anti-infrastructure policy, meant that metal fatigue in the main, existing lock structure was all but guaranteed—and it caused this month's navigation emergency.

At the present pace, the new lock will not be opened until 2008.

Faced with these austerity-imposed contingencies, the Corps established a program of frequent inspection by divers. Moreover, as of 2001, emergency "stand-by" gates and a gate-lifting crane were installed next to the main lock, in case of a catastrophic structural failure—which the Corps has never had in its history. All this, because of the neo-conservatives' insanity imposed on it, to keep aging systems functioning way beyond their engineering lifespan.

'Bush Axes Projects,' Says the Corps

The McAlpine Locks and Dam is only one of 19 structures on the Ohio River "Mainstem," and many others on tributaries—all of which are long overdue for refurbishing and modernizing. "In 2004, nearly a quarter of the lock chambers on the Ohio River exceeded their 50-year design life," stated a Corps press release this June. Figure 1 shows the general map and "ladder" of locks and dams on the Ohio Mainstem, and the three Army Corps Districts responsible—going downriver from the Ohio's origin: Pittsburgh, Huntington, and Louisville.

The Upper Mississippi/Illinois Waterway installations—37 dams and locks on a 1,200 river-mile system—are even in worse shape than those of the Ohio. Refurbishing has been discussed, studied, and defended for more than 15 years, without getting Congressional approval. A get-started measure is now before Congress, but no action is assured (Figure 2).

Not only capital investment funds, but simply Army Corps "M and O"—maintenance and operation funds—are being cut back so deeply that mass staff layoffs are taking place in many Corps districts. Forced by the Administration's proposed cutting of $9 million from its Fiscal 2005 budget, the Corps of Engineers-Pittsburgh District is implementing a plan that will slash about 270 locksmen's positions—about one-third of the 790 "full-time-equivalent" positions in Fiscal 2003. Layoff notices are to be issued in September, with employees facing official separation from their jobs by mid-November. The Pittsburgh District, one of seven in the Great Lakes/Ohio River Division (which is one of eight divisions nationally), maintains and operates 23 locks and dams and 16 reservoir projects, and oversees 42 local flood-protection projects, in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, southwestern New York, northern West Virginia, and western Maryland.

The job cuts mean only one lockman will be on duty at each facility, instead of having two lockmen per shift, forcing waits of up to several hours—assuming river traffic is not shut down again to repair more cracked gates—and delaying shipments. At the Pike Island Locks and Dam in West Virginia, for example, a total of about 107,000 tons of products such as coal, steel, and petroleum pass through the facility each night, with 14-16 lockages daily.

Other waterways are "in the same boat." The very newest part of the national inland system, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway network, completed in 1985, also has problems resulting from deferred maintenance, even if the structures are newer. The Tenn-Tom Waterway website ( features a press release, headlined "Bush Axes Corps Projects" (quoted at the outset above). "The proposed $22.4 million do not provide for an estimated $1.54 million of additional funds needed for the closure and repair of three locks [on the Tenn-Tom] this Fall"—the story is a familiar one nationally.

"Bush doesn't give a dam," commented Lyndon LaRouche, on the eve of the Louisville Aug. 9 closing. He was referring to how the aging and accident-prone condition of U.S. waterway installations is a direct result of decades of Federal government neglect of infrastructure, pushed to the extreme in the last three years of the Cheney/Bush Administration.

Cheneyacs Plus Ecology Maniacs

Since 2001, the Administration has proposed drastically reduced funding of the Army Corps for civil works (see box). Moreover, the Corps faces extreme uncertainty about the too-little funding it gets, not knowing year to year, or even, now, month to month, what to expect—whereas engineering reality demands a multi-year, even multi-decade horizon for infrastructure projects. What the Corps can spend beginning this Oct. 1 is not known; and a special authorization bill to fund the beginnings of replacement of aged locks on the Upper Mississippi/Illinois Waterway is stalled.

Working in dangerous tandem with the no-infrastructure, deregulation, and corporate looting policies of the Halliburton-Enron White House, are wealthy "environmentalist" groups whose policies are the flip side of those of Cheney's Energy Task Force. The Nature Conservancy oligarchs and the American Rivers Alliance lobby as "dambusters"—the name of American Rivers director Andrew Fahlund's favorite movie. On Nov. 30, 2003, the Nature Conservancy issued an anti-infrastructure report on the Upper Mississippi (partly funded by the EPA), which called for restoring 47 sites to their "natural" (i.e., regularly flooded) state. The Upper Mississippi flooded disastrously in 1991 because it lacked the flood-control infrastructure built by the Corps on the Lower Mississippi.

The American Rivers outfit put out a July 21 release promoting its "solution" to no infrastructure funding: "More than 145 dams have been removed [in the United States] since 1999.... This promising trend is the result of two converging developments—a growing appreciation of the ecological benefits ... and the aging of much of the nation's dam infrastructure."

LaRouche: Build Up the Army Corps

LaRouche's views on the urgency of full funding for the Corps were communicated by EIR to the Corps' Briefing Sessions, held in June in the Mississippi Valley and Washington, D.C. to of take public comment on its proposed "Preferred Integrated Plan" for improvements in the Upper Mississippi. This outlines a program to replace seven of the 37 locks and dams, and thence proceeding to the rest over the next 50 years. EIR testimony to the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure—which held a June 24 hearing on the Upper Mississippi proposals—presented LaRouche's proposal "to unleash the Army Corps for its original mission, to build internal improvements—and to assist nations internationally in the same task."

The testimony reported LaRouche's stress on the special character of the Army Corps and its work; namely, its potential role in training youth for skilled employment. On an international webcast Oct. 22, 2003, LaRouche discussed his perspective (in answer to a question related to restoring the draft): "Despite our healthy abhorrence of war, national military service is an integral part of citizenship in a functionally sound republic. The urgent need for building up the Army Corps of Engineers at this time is a relevant example. We have a social problem of first magnitude of importance among the generations of young Americans who have little or no qualification for the kind of productive employment in which they could expect to support a normal family household. In Franklin Roosevelt's time, we attacked this kind of problem with the quasi-militarized Civilian Conservation Corps.... Our experience with World War II war-time selective service, when combined with the experience of the CCC's, shows us the road to transforming presently marginally employable young Americans into a quality of employable labor force needed for a successful national economy recovery effort overall. Since more than half of the economic recovery effort needed today will be in basic economic infrastructure at the Federal, state, and county/municipal level, the combined role of an Army Corps of Engineers with auxiliaries resembling the CCCs, is an obvious leading element of the national economic-recovery process."

At present, the LaRouche Youth Movement (LYM) is on the scene in Louisville and other key Midwestern sites, organizing around LaRouche's Real Democratic Party Platform, which spells out the principles and programs required for the economy—in particular for water and land infrastructure, and jobs. LaRouche laid the groundwork in August 2002, when the Youth Movement came into being nationally around organizing for an "Emergency November Program for Reconstructing the U.S. Economy" for the mid-term 2002 elections. This focussed on transportation crises in rail and aviation, as well as the waterways. Two years later, the physical economy is even worse; and the LYM is mobilizing to force an historic political shift.

The decaying U.S. rail system can in no way compensate for waterway breakdowns. Coal-hauling is so clogged up on the Western state rail lines that Toledo Edison Co. has already resorted to delivering 60,000 tons of coal by truck to its generating plant in Oregon, Ohio!

The U.S. commercial air system is even worse than in 2002. For example, as of September, U.S. Airways (originally based in Pittsburgh, as Allegheny Airlines) is ceasing service out of Pittsburgh altogether to many Pennsylvania cities and other destinations. Reading, Pennsylvania, will be back where it was in 1941, with no air service at all.

What is required is an all-out infrastructure rebuilding and expansion drive across all modes of transportation, and other vital sectors. LaRouche discussed this with state legislators and other leaders in trips this past Spring to the Ohio Valley (Louisville) and the Mississippi Valley (Little Rock, Arkansas). There is a strong and bipartisan potentiality among the Congressmen and state legislators of the Mississippi and Ohio Valley regions, for backing obviously overdue waterworks improvements; the leadership of LaRouche and impact of the LaRouche Youth Movement that is critical to force a political break-out—including in the Kerry camp.

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) is sponsoring a bipartisan measure to authorize $3 billion, including $1.56 billion for the seven new lock replacements on the Upper Mississippi/Illinois. Bond notes that this in itself would create 48 million man-hours of construction work. Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, and all the states of the Great Lakes/Ohio District of the Army Corps, and of the Mississippi/Missouri Valley, have seen plunging economic activity in recent decades, along with the neglect of their infrastructure base. Outright poverty rates are rising county by county in these states (see below).

In Kentucky itself, 39,400 manufacturing jobs were eliminated from 1999-2003, a 13% drop from 309,000 down to 269,000. Factory shutdowns are occurring throughout industry, from heavy to light processing. The number of workers in the Kentucky apparel industry, for example, fell 70% in the past 13 years, down from 32,200, to under 8,900 and still falling. The other states have similar losses. Ohio alone lost 173,100 manufacturing jobs from 1999 to 2003, in a 17% drop from 1,027,000 down to 854,500.

'Mighty Close' to Disaster, Commander Warns

After the crack in the McAlpine Lock miter gate was discovered by inspection divers in May, the Corps mobilized the construction crews and materiel to make the repair as rapidly as possible. Shippers were given June and July to make contingency arrangements.

Corps officials worry that the Aug. 9 McAlpine shutdown is a harbinger of worse to come. "I'm concerned about the water resources infrastructure in this country," said Maj. Gen. Carl Strock, the new commander of the Corps. "We have not yet had a catastrophic failure of a Corps of Engineers project, and that, for us, is the Holy Grail. But I'll tell you what, we are mighty close. We are running closer and closer to that risk every day."

Strock spoke of the timing of the repair. "Our engineers wanted to shut down the river much earlier, but we made a very deliberate risk assessment, how far we could possibly push that off to allow industry and the river users to respond and build stockpiles, and work around the closure." He referred to the many contingencies; for example, the coal moved on the Ohio for thermal generating plants. "If you shut down the Ohio River [without advance preparation], the Northeast grid goes down because all the coal-fired power plants in that valley depend on the steady flow of coal—a flow that cannot be met by rail or truck."

A July 21 report, "Interim Study of the Effects on the Economy of the Upcoming Emergency Closure of the McAlpine Lock," concludes, "This disruption to the economy from closure of the McAlpine Lock is a direct result of inadequate funding over several decades of maintenance and modernization of the vital national resource—the inland waterways system."

The map in Figure 3 shows the main routes of the 12,000 miles of navigation channels, which are the responsibility of the Army Corps along with other water/land management purposes—flood control, dams, diversions, levees, hydro-power, recreation, ports, and so on. Nationwide, of the 240 active inland waterway lock chambers, 113—or 47%—are 50 years old or more, past their engineering lifespan. Some are 70 years old or more. These are associated with the inventory of more than 425 major dams for which the Corps is responsible.

In turn, these Army Corps dams are only a subset of a national U.S. inventory of over 85,000 dams of all sizes. The Corps dams are usually large, "downstream" structures on major rivers, while thousands of other dams are in upper watershed streams—such as those built decades ago for water control and land reclamation, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Then there are town reservoirs and waterworks, recreational lakes, state navigation systems, and all manner of dams for flood control and other purposes. Thousands of these structures in the national dam inventory are in the same need of repair and upgrading as the major Corps dams.

An event on the Kentucky River, a tributary of the Ohio, earlier in August, makes the point. A dam abutment gave way, under flood pressure, and now there is the urgent question of how to pay for, and carry through with repairs by the Kentucky River Authority, on behalf of the 710,000 people resident in the river basin, including those in the state capital of Frankfort (see below).

Ohio River System

From Pittsburgh—where the Ohio River originates at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers—to Cairo, Illinois, where the Ohio joins the Mississippi, is a corridor of some 981 miles in which navigation improvements were built at various stages during the past century. Figure 1 shows the "ladder" of locks and dams along the mainstem. More than 275 million tons a year of commodity shipments are carried on the Ohio system. Upgrades of all kinds are needed at both mainstem structures, and along the significant network of tributaries, for example, the Monongahela.

Yet under the go-slow, or even no-go Federal policies, years of studies are dragging on. Currently in effect is the Ohio River Mainstem System Study—a look at forecasting river usage and what should be done. It is hobbled by Congressional mandates to delimit its "scenarios" of future needs; and by presumptions of whether coal—a commodity accounting for 50% of the present annual tonnage along the waterway, should or should not be the metric for deciding what locks to upgrade. Another 10-year study has been under way, in which the first draft report is due out for public comment in November 2004, under the title "The Ohio River Navigation System Investment Plan." According to the Corps, "The report will prioritize the recommended Ohio River modernization improvements using four prediction scenarios through the year 2060. It will include a system-wide Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement with the Engineering, Economics, and Environmental Cumulative Effects Assessments."

In fact, it is self-evident that many aged Ohio corridor installations should be modernized. For example, the Emsworth Lock and Dam No. 1 just downriver from Pittsburgh was built in 1920. Its chamber of 56 by 360 feet should be replaced, recommends the Corps, by a new 110 by 600 foot chamber.

The Ohio River Mainstem group stated this on current construction in March 2003: Olmsted and McAlpine Locks and Dams were previously studied and authorized, and are now under construction. Olmsted, a new project on the Ohio River, will replace the last two historic wicket-style dams built in the early 1920s. Twin 110-foot by 1,200-foot chambers and a five tainter-gate dam with a navigation pass will be operating by 2008. McAlpine construction replaces the 110-foot by 600-foot and 110-foot by 360-foot auxiliary locks, with a 110-foot by 1,200-foot lock; and existing swing and drawbridges with a fixed bridge spanning the new and existing 1,200-foot locks. As with all navigation construction projects, both are cost-shared with the Inland Waterways Trust Fund."

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