Corps should spend $2 million a year to get independent reviews for its large-scale projects, panel says

Friday, July 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A panel of independent scientists advises the Army Corps of Engineers to spend roughly $2 million a year seeking independent reviews for its biggest projects.

The National Academy of Sciences included the cost estimate in a report Thursday to Congress that anticipates about five such reviews annually. The report says the secretary of the Army should create an administrative group that could decide whether the Army Corps planning studies should be reviewed internally or externally.

It also says any planning studies involving high costs, controversy, a broad area or large environmental risk should be sent for an external review.

Maj. Gen. Robert H. Griffin, the Army Corps' civil works director, says the nation's Pentagon-based construction agency will carefully study the report as a tool for self-improvement.

``We continue to improve our planning capability,'' Griffin said. ``The Corps also agrees with others who are calling for a more holistic watershed approach to the nation's water resource issues.''

Congress asked for the report following whistle-blowers' allegations that Army Corps officials manufactured a case for spending $1 billion to enlarge barge locks on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

``The highest degree of credibility will be achieved if responsibility for external review is given to an organization that is independent of the Corps,'' said James Mitchell, a professor emeritus at Virginia Tech who chaired the academy committee that wrote the report.

It was seen by environmental groups as confirming their belief the Army Corps has an institutional bias toward building huge dams and other projects.

``There are mountains of evidence that Corps projects are based on bad economics and bad science that have resulted in the needless destruction of countless rivers, wetlands and bays,'' said Scott Faber of Environmental Defense, an advocacy group.

Army Corps spokesman David Hewitt said, however, that on average only about 16 of every 100 projects are approved.

``There's been a change not only in the way we do business,'' he said, ``but there's been a change to ensure that we look toward building sustainability into all that we say and do.''