In Deep Due Diligence

President Obama used his State of the Union address the other day to campaign for voters. Let’s not kid ourselves, his “infrastructure” baloney is as senseless as it sounds.

The U.S. doesn’t have the “crumbling roads and bridges” he spoke about. Go for a drive and see for yourself. Even the potholes are gone. After he gets re-elected, the “executive order” he promised to sign – if he produces one – will have nothing to do with road and bridge construction projects.

What he will be obliged to do though, will be to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars to about a half-dozen gigantic dredging projects. The idea is that the new Panama Canal will attract those massive, slow-steaming behemoths carrying containers filled with thousands and thousands of TEUs just chock-full of goods to be purchased by … unemployed Americans with no money to spend?

Are we supposed to swallow that line? What happens when those billions are flushed away and those promised 12,000 to 15,000 TEU-size vessels never show up? And they won’t, because there will be no demand for those imagined goods. Not to worry. He won’t be allowed to follow through with that scheme because folks are beginning to get wise.

On January 26th, here’s what CBS News reported:

“COLUMBIA, S.C. – As South Carolina lawmakers seek to undo a permit allowing Georgia to expand its Savannah port, state house members on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation that would temporarily suspend the state environmental agency’s authority on dredging decisions.
“In a rare show of unanimity, Republicans and Democrats decried the decision as disastrous to the state’s economy and environment, and a black eye to Gov. Nikki Haley, who’s been under fire for asking her board chairman to hear the appeal …

“The maritime commission has joined an appeal by the Southern Environmental Law Center, arguing the permit was improperly granted. It contends the dredging will deplete dissolved oxygen in the already impaired river, destroy habitat of endangered fish and destroy hundreds of acres of fragile freshwater marsh …

“‘Not only has this placed Charleston’s port at a competitive disadvantage and jeopardized the very existence of a future port in Jasper, it may also put our state’s taxpayers on the hook for paying a significant portion of Georgia’s port dredging,’ said Speaker Bobby Harrell, R- Charleston.” –

The South Carolina lawmakers weren’t the first ones to question the “wisdom” of uncalled for dredging projects, however. Early in April of 2010, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) alerted the public to the inadvisability of a $ 300 million Delaware River dredging proposal. The GAO’s report, requested by local members of Congress, unabashedly referred to the project as a “colossal waste of money”.

The report went on to point out that the Army Corps of Engineers cost and benefit studies failed to account for important changes in river industries and shipping markets, including some that could dramatically erode earlier financial forecasts.

Major factors needing more study, the GAO said, include the effect of a dramatic downturn in crude oil imports along the Delaware River and unproven assumptions about likely shifts in container ship traffic if the channel is deepened to 45 feet from its current 40-foot depth.

“Unproven assumptions”… that’s what we’re being fed by the “Dredging = Jobs” fraternity. The GAO didn’t assume anything, however. This is what they saw:

– Five feet of sludge dredged from a channel more than 100 miles in length, with a reasonable width of 1,300 feet, would require a disposal area of about 85,000 acres. This volume of sludge and slime would cover an area equal in size to the 19,000-acre Island of Manhattan to a depth of approximately four-and-a-half feet.
– The cost to transport and spread this volume sludge over widely scattered Pennsylvania communities would exceed the cost of dredging operations.
– In a project already underway, the Port Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers would be dredging New York’s much shorter channels, night and day, seven days a week, through the next decade … at an announced cost of $ 2.25 billion.
– Ship owners never have, and never will, permit “megaships” to stray upriver, 100 miles from the sea lanes.

The GAO auditors also knew that when buyers demand goods, appropriately-sized ships will deliver those goods. With widespread unemployment in the Philadelphia-Camden area, however, there were few buyers, a limited demand for imported goods, and only smaller ships making the occasional deliveries. The auditors didn’t come right out and say so, but the dredging proposal appeared to be just another way of fleecing the taxpaying public.

They also knew that the Delaware could be dredged for the estimated $ 360 million – only if a dredging company could be found that would do the job for about a dollar per cubic yard!

Let’s talk a little about dredging. If dredging those half-dozen ports is impractical and unnecessary, how can the dredging company employees stay off the unemployment rolls? This is how …

Forget about dredging those “half-dozen” king ports. When Norman Mineta was U.S. Secretary of Transportation, he suggested setting up 200 more of the nation’s 361 ports to handle containers. These smaller ports, he knew, would be much closer to consumer end users, thereby cutting back on the need to transport incoming goods by heavy trucks over miles and miles of the nation’s highways.

That made a lot of sense. Think of the other benefits that would be gained from the use of these smaller, expanded, nearby ports. Highway pollution would be reduced. The cost of goods to the consumer would be reduced. Thousands of job opportunities would be created in these new ports.

And all 200 ports would require maintenance! It would be a windfall for dredging companies!