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USACE Official: Olmsted Project Headed for 'Catastrophe' Before $2.9B Authorization

A rendering of the Olmsted Locks and Dam project, projected to be completed in 2015.
Courtesy: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
A rendering of the Olmsted Locks and Dam project, projected to be completed in 2015.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official says the Olmsted Locks and Dam Project near Paducah was headed toward a cost-and-scheduling “catastrophe” before the increased spending authorization was approved last night as a part of the deal to reopen the federal government.

“You know, I went to engineering school, so I’m not an expert on congressional legislative lexicon, so I don’t know if calling it an earmark is the appropriate thing," said Mike Braden, division chief of the Olmsted project.

Braden said the new authorization of $2.9 billion for the project mirrors a change request the Corps requested to finish the project, once they had bumped up against their original spending authorization of  $775 million.

Braden said that amount is in 1986 dollars and has been adjusted each year with inflation. $1.6 billion of last night's re-authorization has been spent thus far, with about $1.2 billion left to complete the project.

Braden says the Corps was just a few weeks away from implementing a slowdown strategy on the project.

“We were running out of our authorized amount, so we were doing contingency planning – slowing and shutting down the project, terminating workers, mothballing equipment, canceling procurement contracts," Braden said.  "So there would have been significant cost and time impacts.”

Braden said once the Olmsted project is completed, it will reap $640 million in net benefits to the nation on an annual basis. He said that’s why it’s imperative to complete it as quickly as possible. Now, with funding in place, Braden said the Corps is ahead of schedule to finish the project by 2020.

John Null is the host and creator of Left of the Dial. From 2013-2016, he also served as a reporter in the WKMS newsroom.
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