The National Research Council (NRC) just issued its interim report of the Restructured Upper Mississippi-Illinois Navigation Feasibility Study to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The first of three reports from the NRC Committee does little to assist the Corps, instead recommends the Corps to extend its schedule for completing the study.
The river basin has become a point of controversy recently in trying to find a holistic balance between environment, navigation and the floodplain. The Corps requested NRC to assemble a committee and review the restructured feasibility study. The committee was designed to provide advice on the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway (WMR-IWW) System. The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) contends the NRC has "missed an opportunity to truly help the Corps, Congress and the American people better understand the infrastructure issues and challenges facing the Upper Mississippi River basin."
The Executive Summary of the review says, "The Corps is on an aggressive timetable for the completion of the feasibility study. Although there is a need to move forward with the study, that need should be balanced with a similar need for credible and thorough analytical procedures." NCGA claims this report "offers nothing new or constructive."
NRC attacks price models and demand forecasts
The Corps has applied and been developing various models to develop a spatial price model for the feasibility. "The committee found that fundamental conceptual flaws in the ESSENCE model render it unfit for use in the feasibility study," the summary says.
The committee also claims forecasts of future grain exports being used for the feasibility study were not credible, since four of the five scenarios reflect an increase in grain exports. "These increasing forecasts are inconsistent with the past 20 years of relatively steady export levels," the summary adds.
But NCGA President Dee Vaughan says corn growers are tired of hearing that the Corp models are flawed and grain export forecasts are questionable. "These arguments have been thoroughly discussed, discredited and dismissed," he says. "That the NRC repeats them, especially when the panel has received highly credible information challenging them, makes me question the panel's independence and purpose."
Vaughan says NCGA supports investing in infrastructure. "America became the economic powerhouse it is today because our parents and grandparents made the wise decision to build an efficient transportation system. We are at a similar decision-point today -- do we reinvest in transportation or rest on our laurels and let the system deteriorate? The answer is clear. It is time to reinvest," he says.
The NRC committee plans to release two additional reports. The next one will be a more comprehensive report in which they will comment upon a Corps draft feasibility report (currently scheduled for publication in April 2004). The final one will review the Corps' responses to advice from the NRC URM-IWW studies.
To view the whole interim review, go to the Review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Upper Mississippi-Illinois Waterway Restructured Feasibility Study: Interim Report.