Archive for Saturday, October 7, 2000

Paying their way

October 7, 2000


Why benefit barge operations that for years have had special subsidization privileges?

In all the flap about whether Kansas reservoir should be lowered to accommodate barge traffic on the Missouri River, not enough attention has been paid to the tax elements of the matter.

For years and years, railroads and trucking companies paid taxes as they ferried loads to and from various places. All the while, the barge traffickers on the Missouri had government-subsidized status and got, in many ways, a free ride to get the same job done. There was dredging on the bargers' behalf at taxpayer expense. Where is the fairness in that?

Why drain away vital resources from Kansas, through Tuttle Creek, Perry and Milford lakes to compound the felonies of the past?

The barge people contend they must have the higher water to do their jobs, yet evidence is that the river level would be raised only about an inch while Kansas lakes could suffer damage to marinas, wildlife, recreation facilities and conservation programs. Consider, too, the water supplies for local communities.

Kansas officials have suggested, sensibly, that when Missouri barge traffic is hindered by drought conditions, the barge season should be closed sooner than the normal Dec. 1 date. This is a good year to do that.

To be sure, railroad traffic is not what it once was and the tax intake from that source may have dwindled. But truckers still pay a lot of freight to the government while the bargers continue to get free rides.

It is well that a court order has prevented the drainage plan to date, and we can only hope that this ruling is maintained.

It would be different if there were an emergency of some kind, such as occurred during World War II. The Darby Corp. of Kansas City built barges needed for military ventures including the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. There was a drought and it appeared the completed barges could not be floated down the Missouri to the Mississippi, to New Orleans and then to strategic positions.

Thought was given to transporting the giant pieces via highway, except heavy bridge and overpass damage was likely to result. As luck would have it, at the 11th hour, heavy rains raised the river level to allow the barge traffic.

But that is not the case now. Barge traffic is nowhere near as essential, and other delivery sources are available although not to the delight of the barge operators.

With various Kansas regions depending so heavily on the water in Tuttle Creek, Milford and Perry lakes, it would be senseless to give up water for barge operations that long have been subsidized more than they deserved.

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