Saturday, June 01, 2002

Study: River needs restoration, funding

Flood plain has paid the price of progress

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Locks and dams, along with cities and farms, have dramatically altered the Ohio River and its flood plain, according to a study that accompanied a $307 million restoration plan Congress approved two years ago.

        More than 1.2 million acres, 65 percent, of the river's forested flood plain have been wiped out.

        “The river could use some real ... ecological restoration,” said Melissa Samet, senior director of water resources for American Rivers, a national environmental group that advocated the plan.

        But funding for the restoration is not included in President Bush's budget for fiscal 2003.

Other priorities

        The plan, designed to offset some of the environmental damage caused by human activities along the 981-mile river, remains a priority with the Army Corps of Engineers, spokeswoman Carol Baternik said. But it has faced competition from other priorities for the corps, she said.

        It's common for new projects to be shelved several years before receiving funding, said Ms. Baternik, who works in the corps' Louisville district office.

        The delay, however, concerns some supporters who see the plan as the best hope to restore some natural conditions to a river that has been dramatically altered in the past 200 years.

        “I'm disappointed with the reception it (the plan) is getting,” said Gordon Garner, executive director of the Metropolitan Sewer District in Jefferson County.

        Mr. Garner represents Lt. Gov. Steve Henry on the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, a multistate agency that works to improve the river's water quality. The commission has endorsed the plan.

        In recent years, the corps has come under scrutiny for proposing and carrying out projects of questionable need, Mr. Garner said, adding that this kind of project “is what everybody has been wanting the corps to do.”

        The Ohio, with 20 locks and dams, has become a major commercial shipping route; more than 230 million tons of cargo are transported on the river each year.

"Restore native plants'

        While developing the plan, the corps identified 250 potential projects that would bring back 10,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests, 25,000 acres of wetlands, 100 miles of shoreline habitat and 40 islands.

        One of the Indiana projects would restore native herbaceous plants to the fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio in Clarksville.

        “We should try to do everything we can to restore native plants as much as possible at the falls, or any other preserve area,” said Alan Goldstein, a naturalist at the park.

        One of the Kentucky projects would dredge a silt-choked Craigs Creek embayment, or bay, in Gallatin County, between Louisville and Cincinnati, while creating several islands.

        This would enhance reproductive, nursery and feeding areas for fish and provide a refuge for migrating birds, the corps said.

        Ms. Samet said the corps faces a “backlog” of numerous new projects while the administration has proposed a 10 percent budget cut for the agency.

        Unless someone in Congress pushes, it could take a while before the plan gets funded, he said.


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- Study: River needs restoration, funding