Army Corps Exaggerates Demand For Longer Mississippi River Locks

On November 14th, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers economist and whistleblower Donald Sweeney criticized the Army Corps for using economic tools that exaggerate demand for longer Mississippi River locks.
"By overlooking alternative markets for grain like processing plants, the Corps is knowingly exaggerating the amount of grain being shipped by barge along the Mississippi River," Sweeney said. "Ignoring the effect of alternative grain markets on barge shipments is like ignoring the effects of gravity on space travel."

Sweeney received a Service to America medal last night for creating an economic model that recognizes that barge demand is impacted by the presence of alternative grain markets.

In 1998, when Sweeney's model revealed that longer locks were not economically justified for several decades, if ever, senior Corps officials ordered Sweeney to exaggerate the potential demand for barges, leading to his whistleblower disclosure. In 2001, the Army's Inspector General (IG) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) both concluded that senior Corps officials ordered Sweeney to manipulate data.

Despite the findings by the NAS and IG, the Corps rejected Sweeney's model in favor of discredited economic tools that are guaranteed to exaggerate future barge demand by assuming that alternative grain markets play no role in determining how much grain is shipped to New Orleans by barge.

"The Corps continues to cook the books in an attempt to justify longer locks," said Environmental Defense water resources specialist Scott Faber. "Rather than pretending that alternate markets don't have an impact on barge demand, the Corps is now pretending that alternative markets simply don't exist at all."

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