Jul 09 2007

Editorial: Riverfront project vital to city’s future

Editorial: Riverfront project vital to city’s future
Critics cite a $32 million project to move the offices of the Army Corps of Engineers to allow for development of Tuscaloosa’s riverfront as a case study of how local interests drain the corps’ limited funding.

It can be viewed just as easily, however, as a case study in how one man’s meat is another’s poison.

At issue is the old question of congressional “earmarks” — money for local-interest projects that an agency like the corps hasn’t requested but which lawmakers put into spending bills to please constituents.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, the Tuscaloosa Republican who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, got $4 million for the local project budgeted last year and another $5 million last month in his committee’s version of the corps spending bill.

If it stays in, the latter appropriation will provide momentum to keep the project going.

Plans call for demolishing everything on the corps site and moving the maintenance and storage facilities. A new office would be built on part of the site but it would be integrated into the Riverwalk development.

Critics argue that the corps doesn’t need to move. The present facilities are aging but adequate, they say, and the plans don’t mesh with the corps’ traditional mission of fortifying levees, restoring river habitats and upgrading locks.

But the project is essential to sustained development of the Tuscaloosa riverfront. The current corps complex stands in the way of trails, restaurants and shops that planners envision.

Congress has allocated billions to protect development in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast. In its way, the local project is more important to Tuscaloosa’s future than any amount of dredging, levee building or other traditional corps activity.