Tom Daschle asks for Corps review Senator Tom Daschle has asked the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to investigate new claims by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that federal law may prohibit it from shortening the Missouri River barge season to help fish, wildlife, and recreation.
The Corps is currently revising its policies for determining when water is released from river reservoirs for barge navigation, and when it is retained in the reservoirs for fish, wildlife, and recreation. Recently, the Corps claimed that it is required by law to manage the reservoir levels to maintain an eight month barge season.
In response, Daschle sent a letter to CRS director Daniel P. Mulhollan asking CRS to determine if there are any existing laws preventing the Corps from shortening the navigation season for downstream barges by releasing less water from the reservoirs during the summer months. The Corps, which historically has favored the barge industry over recreation and fish and wildlife, is under pressure from upstream states and conservation groups to shorten the season in order to help endangered fish and wildlife recover and aide recreation in the reservoirs.
"It appears that the Corps is determined to protect the downstream barge industry at the expense of fish and wildlife and recreation in South Dakota, including inventing new legal arguments that have absolutely no merit," Daschle said. "Unbelievably, the Corps now is claiming that federal law may prevent it from shortening the river's navigation season.
"What is so extraordinary about this new maneuver is that only four years ago the Corps and the Justice Department argued in federal court that the Corps has the authority to shorten the barge navigation season," Daschle continued. "It seems that the Corps is willing to make any argument at any time, depending on what special interest it wants to protect."
Just recently, Daschle told Assistant Secretary Joseph Westphal, who oversees the Corps, that if the Corps intends to press this argument, he will call for an independent legal review of its merits by the U.S. Justice Department.
Daschle, who held a hearing in Pierre on April 19 to gather public input on his bill to protect the Missouri River, said the Corps' current river management policies have resulted in sediment build-up all along the river in South Dakota. This build-up has caused severe flooding, shoreline erosion and made upstream river navigation difficult if not impossible. It also threatens several endangered species, he said.
"Every time I return home to South Dakota, I hear from more and more people concerned about the future of the river and fed up with the Corps' poor management policies," Daschle said. "We must take action now to restore the health of the river. The Corps current effort to revise its management policies presents us we an opportunity to do this. Hopefully, CRS can put a quick end to this effort by the Corps to avoid making the changes necessary to protect the river."
Daschle has introduced legislation to review the management and operations of the Corps, citing growing evidence that the agency has become increasingly unaccountable, disregarded laws and wasted taxpayer money.