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Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - 3:20pm

Mixed Reaction To Stimulus Fast Track

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers is speeding up the process to get stimulus projects going, a move that's dividing environmental groups.

The Obama administration wants stimulus projects to move faster.

In response, the Corp of Engineers in Savannah came up with this idea: put the numerous environmental regulatory hurdles that face projects into one hurdle.

"This does not lower the standards or the thresholds of the regulatory process," says Russ Kaiser, Director of the Regulatory Division at the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Savannah District.

Some environmentalists fear the move could lead to looser rules for projects.

But Judy Jennings, who works for several Savannah-area environmental groups says, few projects will meet the Corp's criteria.

"I can see some environmental benefit as long as the public isn't pushed aside," Jennings says.

The Savannah District is the first to fast-track stimulus work. If it leads to jobs, others could follow.

"We're now looking at it as a pilot type study to see if someone does come in and we're able to use it, whether or not we realize those potential gains," Kaiser says.

"If" someone uses the new process could be a big "if."

Few projects are expected to qualify.

For that and other reasons, environmentalists are expressing mixed feelings about fast-tracking stimulus projects.

Some say, it's just a way for the Corp of Engineers to set a precedent.