President Carter gave Congress official notice yesterday that he is impounding funds for the $87 million Meramec Lake Park project in Missouri.
It was the first such action in the controversy over 30 water projects now under review for possible cancellation. The Meramec Lake Park impoundment applies to the $2.7 million which would have been spent between March 10 and April 15, the deadline for presidential decision on all projects.
Last month, Carter reduced 1978 funding requests for 16 projects pending completion of the review on April 15. Until yesterday, it was understood that he would not attempt to halt spending of 1977 money on any of the projects.
Under the Impoundment Control Act, either house of Congress can now veto the President's deferral of funds for the Meramec project.
Carter's notification message yesterday followed by three days a previously unreported letter to Congress from Comptroller General Elmer Staats, which disclosed the Meramec fund impoundment.
Staats also noted the President's failure "to transmit a special message" to Congress about the impoundment as required by law.
In his message, Carter also disclosed that he had intended to impound an additional $5.1 million in 1977 funds - at least until April 15 - from two other projects on his original "hit list" of 16 projects to be halted.
They were for the Yatesville Dam in Kentucky and the Atchafalaya River project in Louisiana.
The funds for these projects were released four days later - after the Senate had approved by an overwhelming 65-to-24 vote an amendment which said Congress would defeat any Carter impoundment motices sent to the Hill.
The author of the amendment was Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), who learned of the impoundment of funds from his state's project at the White House for a meeting with the President on March 10.
During the debate on the Johnston amendment, the two Missouri senators specifically asked that the Meramec project be excluded - and thus remain subject to impoundment.
According to Army Corps of Engineer sources, the action of the Missouri senators was key in the administration's decision to impound the Meramec money.
Contracts for dredging in the Atchafalaya River, a Louisiana project which concerned Johnston were awarded last week. They amounted to $5.5 million.
Funds for one Bureau of Reclamation project were also briefly impounded, according to the Carter message. A $4.8 million contract that was part of the controversial Central Arizona Project was held up for five days, but released on March 15.
In moving on Meramec, Carter is fulfilling a specific promise made last March during the Missouri primary, when he vowed to oppose continued construction of the controversial project.
The corps review of Meramec, conducted as part of the overall Carter program, found "The project could jeopardize the continued existence of two endangered species of wildlife - the gray bat and the Higgins eye pearly mussel."
The governor of Missouri is attempting to have a state referendum on the project, which was first authorized almost 40 years ago.