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Friday, July 22, 2011

Infiighting and getting nowhere

And we wonder WHY the solutiuons that have seemed so obvious to so MANY for so LONG go NOWHERE. It's not the Corps in Mississippi who suffers or is affected.... it's US. The only skin the Corps has in the game is budget and power... it's our lives and livelihoods.

Taken from Times Picayune

Corps of Engineers closing Louisiana science office

A fight between the Army Corps of Engineers and the state over who controls the science governing construction of nearly $2 billion in coastal restoration projects has led the corps to order closure of the Louisiana Coastal Area Science & Technology Office by Oct. 1.

The corps is considering using the office’s unspent money to dredge sediment from the Mississippi River or repair levees damaged during this year’s flooding.

Louisiana officials say they refused to sign a cost-share agreement committing the state to pay 35 percent of the science office’s 10-year, $100 million budget, because the agreement did not allow the state to veto the office’s budget or studies the office would conduct. The corps also refused to allow the state to audit the office’s spending.

In an April 26 letter to Garret Graves, director of coastal activities for the state, Major Gen. Michael Walsh also vetoed a request by the state to approve operation of the office on a year-to-year basis.

As commander of the corps’ Mississippi Valley Division headquarters in Vicksburg, Walsh oversees all corps operations along the river, including the agency’s restoration program in Louisiana. He will soon move to the Pentagon as the Army’s deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations.

The Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Plan, approved by Congress in 2007, authorizes construction of 15 major projects, including diversions of sediment and water from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers to build wetlands, and the rebuilding of several barrier islands and shorelines.

“Currently, the lack of an agreement is delaying resolution of many complicated issues for both ongoing and future projects,” Walsh said, including the ability of the state’s two rivers to provide enough sediment in the right locations to rebuild wetlands.

In a July 11 letter to Graves, Walsh said that the state’s failure to respond to the April letter left him with no choice but to order an “orderly shutdown” of the office.

“Because many proposed LCA wetland restoration projects require scientific support to demonstrate technical sufficiency, such technical efforts will now need to be funded through individual projects,” he said.

But in an interview, Graves said the state remains convinced that it has the right to control the use of science in building projects within its borders, and that the corps office has been too slow in generating reports needed to advance construction of a number of major projects, including diversions.

“They refuse to provide any type of milestones (for completion of reports), scope of services, goals to be achieved, or what the dollars would be used for,” Graves said. “And our attorney general’s office questioned whether it was even constitutional for us, as we have to show that all state money is used for the public good.”

The state also objects to the office being based in the corps’ division office in Vicksburg and its reliance on corps scientists.

“The money was all going to be spent by the corps in Mississippi,” Graves said. “We wanted Louisiana academia, which the corps was required (by the congressional authorization legislation) to consider the use of, and there’s no question that the top expertise on coastal Louisiana are our own academia at LSU, Tulane, University of New Orleans, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and to ignore that was very flawed.”

Graves said the state viewed the science program as an opportunity to build on the expertise of state scientists in coastal restoration issues that could then be used by governments around the world, “instead of paying other people to learn what our scientists already know.”

The state is working with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Greater New Orleans Inc. and the state Department of Economic Development to create a water institute that would serve the same role as the corps office, Graves said.

“We will have an independent entity that is developing science, rather than a federal agency that is looking in the mirror and saying how great they are all the time,” he said.

The state also has created its own science office in the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration.

Corps science office director Barbara Kleiss, who worked for the corps division office in Vicksburg when she took the job, said she asked at the time not to be relocated to Louisiana.

“That was discussed with the state and the state gave their permission for the position to be located in Vicksburg prior to my accepting it,” Kleiss said.

“There were discussions early on about it being in Louisiana, even discussions about it being on a specific college campus,” she said. “But early on in the process, many of the other universities objected to that, felt that was a bit of home cooking.”

The out-of-state location and use of both state and non-state scientists help keep the science objective, she said.

Meanwhile, a member of a board of nationally-recognized scientists advising the science office, expressed concern about the shut-down. “It’s not clear to me what this means for the LCA Program, but the Science Board members were disappointed and concerned to learn the news of an ‘orderly shutdown,” said John Wells, director of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.

“This is the failure of a brilliant concept of having a science office that would support critically-needed science and make sure it served decision-makers and provide program accountability,” said Donald Boesch, a former member of the science board who is president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

But Boesch said it’s been clear for some time that the friction between the corps and the state could lead to the office’s demise.

“It’s like the Spruce Goose that never flew,” he said, referring to Howard Hughes’ failed flying boat transport plane after World War II. “As soon as the Jindal administration was in place, it started to develop its own science capabilities. We knew the science office was becoming irrelevant and would not do much, because the state had decided to go its own way.”

Mark Schleifstein can be reached at or 504.826.3327.

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