July 26, 2006
Jefferson City, Mo. — Despite promises in its Master Manual, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is failing to keep a navigable channel open on the Missouri River, Attorney General Jay Nixon said today. As a result, an already abbreviated navigation season is being shortened, and barges are unable to transport agricultural goods and asphalt along the river, Nixon said.
On Tuesday (July 25), the U.S. Coast Guard issued a warning to mariners concerning unsafe conditions on the lower Missouri River. The Coast Guard found the river to be impassable by working boats because the channel is too narrow and too shallow.
“During the litigation over how the Missouri River is managed, the Corps of Engineers gave assurances that it could manage the lower part of the river to maintain a minimum eight-foot deep channel, except under the most extreme drought conditions — which we are not under,” Nixon said. “The Corps has failed utterly on those promises, and Missouri's interests are suffering as a result.”
Nixon's specific concerns about the Corps' failure to keep the channel open were spelled out in a letter sent today from William Bryan, deputy chief counsel for the Attorney General's Agriculture and Environment Division, to Brigadier General Gregg F. Martin of the Corps of Engineers. In the letter, Bryan writes:
There can be only two reasons the Corps' operations are not providing an 8-foot channel now. One, the Corps new Master Manual is based on flawed target flows that do not provide the navigation support that the Corps erroneously believed they would provide and hence are not sound. Two, the Corps is not releasing sufficient water to properly meet targets that are sound. Neither is an acceptable explanation for the Corps' failure to achieve the navigation mission.
The letter points out that Gen. Martin sent a letter dated July 14 to The American Waterways Operators in St. Louis in which he stated that the Corps has “developed a contingency plan to maintain commercial navigation. The plan includes increased reconnaissance of the river depth, escort service for commercial navigation tows, and dredging if necessary.”
“This 'contingency plan' is itself an admission that the Master Manual is not adequate,” Nixon said. “If the Corps has a contingency plan — apparently developed without knowledge of many of the parties who have an interest in the Missouri River — we need to know its details very quickly.”
Nixon said Gen. Martin needs to let the Attorney General's Office know what plans the Corps has to make the Missouri River safe for commercial navigation to Sioux City, Iowa, throughout the end of the navigation season, which is scheduled to run through Oct. 17 at St. Louis.
The letter from the Attorney General's Office asks Gen. Martin to respond to Nixon's concerns by July 27.