Olmsted locks an earmark? No way

The Olmsted locks are several billion over budget and almost 20 years overdue. That’s true, but it’s not an earmark as some conservative groups and politicians have claimed.

The Olmsted Locks and Dam Project, which will replace the old locks and dam 52 and 53 at Olmsted, will significantly reduce tow and barge delays through the busiest stretch of river on the inland waterways system — a stretch where about 90 million tons of cargo a year pass through. The barge industry, which must deal with the costly delays at Olmsted, says the new locks and dam are badly needed. To them, it certainly is not an earmark. But that’s what some Tea Partiers who are mounting primary challenges against fellow Senate Republicans are calling it.

They are way, way off and apparently don’t understand budgeting and authorization levels.

Joe Carr, who is challenging Sen. Lamar Alexander in the Tennessee Republican primary, says it is an earmark. Never mind that the project was first authorized in 1988, 15 years before Alexander was first sworn into the Senate.

Carr blasted Alexander over Olmsted in an ad that ran in Tennessee in October after Congress agreed to boost the spending cap for Olmsted from $1.7 billion to $2.9 billion in the debt deal.

Carr said in the ad: “Lamar Alexander … was behind closed doors trading favors. Amid the chaos, Lamar snuck in $3 billion for a dam … like this one. Three billion for a dam? No darn way.”

The Senate Conservatives Fund went after Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for allowing a “$2 billion Kentucky earmark” for a project along the northern border of his home state.

“In exchange for funding Obamacare and raising the debt limit, Mitch McConnell secured a $2 billion Kentucky kickback,” said Mark Hoskins, SCF’s executive director.

It would have cost taxpayers $160 million to cancel contracts, dismantle equipment, and stop work at Olmsted if the authorization level had not been raised. Also, over 600 construction workers would have been idled.

Hopefully the Corps can complete the project by 2020, and a new funding scheme under WRDA will free up funds for other inland projects.


About the author

David Krapf

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.

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