Any knowledgeable birder in St. Louis will tell you that there are no waterfowl on the Missouri River: no ducks, no herons, no gulls. That’s because the Missouri isn’t a river anymore. The Corps of Engineers has turned it into a big ditch with a deep, fast flowing main channel. It has no sloughs anymore, and it’s not suitable for waterfowl.
It is suitable for barge traffic. In addition to its locks and dams, the Missouri, unlike the Mississippi, has rock jetties that jut out into the river forcing the water to flow quickly in the deepest part of the channel. That’s good for barges. If you’ve ever been down to the confluence of the two major rivers, you’ll see how much more quickly than the Mississippi the Missouri moves.
The Mississippi is broad enough and deep enough not to need those rock jetties. But barges on the Mississip do need locks and dams, and there are 27 of them. Those locks and dams make the spots that are wide and thus too shallow for barges deep enough for them to navigate. The Corps of Engineers lo-o-ves to build them and to beat the drums for more of them. Who cares about a few silly old herons?
I say, who cares about a few silly old barges? Who needs them? We, the taxpayers, don’t need them. Only ConAgra and Cargill do, as a cheap means of shipping their grain. And we get stuck with the bill for subsidizing their “cheap” means of transportation.
Hey, there’s a highway system out there. Let them use that and leave the flood plains to flood and the herons to breed.
And the Least Terns. They are even more in need of breeding grounds than the herons. Least Terns are quick, acrobatic fliers who would make any fighter jet jock look like a stumblebum. My husband, who is a birder, has twice witnessed Least Terns–an endangered species–build nests on the mudflats and gravel of Ellis Bay above the locks and dams of Alton, only to have the nests destroyed and the babies drowned when the Corps flooded the bay.
The Corps would, no doubt, have patiently explained that, because the river was low, it was necessary to close the locks and back up the river to make it deep enough for barge traffic. Oh well then, that’s different. Can’t have those barges waiting around for baby birds to grow up.
What the Corps won’t tell you is that building those locks and dams is a boondoggle, and that their own studies show it. In 1998-99, their own economist, Donald Sweeney, blew the whistle on them for lying about the conclusions of a fifty million dollar feasibility study on new locks and dams. His study showed that building them made no sense economically. The Corps reversed his opinion, declaring publicly that it was feasible. When Sweeney’s internal protests were ignored, he went public.
Quite a brouhaha ensued in the media, but nobody at the Corps lost his job or was reprimanded–well, nobody but Sweeney, that is.
Who knows but what that exposure of the Corps’ lying impressed Claire McCaskill? She voted no on the bill that just passed the Senate giving Missouri interests $4 billion for locks and dams. McCaskill doesn’t approve of the lack of oversight of the Corps of Engineers:
The Senate vote was delayed for nearly two months by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who joined McCaskill in opposing the water bill after arguing that the Congress had weakened Senate provisions giving independent experts power to oversee Army engineers’ studies justifying river construction.
Unfortunately, she does approve of the projects themselves, she just doesn’t seem to trust the Corps of Engineers to be honest.
To be honest, neither do I. And we’re about to give them four billion dollars to play with. If ever there was a federal agency that needed to just fade into the sunset, it’s this one.