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Judge Rules Corps of Engineers in Contempt of Court

The Missouri River (Corps of Engineers Photo)
The Missouri River (Corps of Engineers Photo)


Washington, DC – A federal judge in Washington says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in contempt of court for refusing to lower water levels on the Missouri River to protect endangered species.

Judge Gladys Kessler says the corps must comply by Friday, or be fined $500,000 a day.

The corps says lowering the levels will halt barge traffic and conflict with another ruling from another federal court. The agency could seek an emergency ruling from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He's the justice who rules on emergency matters within Washington, DC's court.

The reductions would halt navigation on the Missouri, dropping depths at Kansas City from about 14 feet to eight feet. That's too shallow for barges carrying grain and other cargo to the Mississippi River at St. Louis.

Corps' lawyers sought emergency orders last week. But they were rejected by Kessler and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The Corps of Engineers refuses to comply. The Corps says Kessler's order conflicts with an earlier Nebraska federal court ruling, requiring enough water for barge shipping and power generation.

Tuesday night, corps spokesman Paul Johnston said the situation remains conflicted; with one court saying to let water out, and the other court saying to hold the water.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit want the Missouri to ebb and flow as it did before it was dammed and channeled decades ago.

The changes provide constant depths for barge shipping and other uses. But conservationists want to encourage spawning and nesting to help sturgeon and shorebird species on the government's threatened and endangered lists.


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