Landrieu: Corps budget underfundedOct 1st, 2012 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: news
The Corps of Engineers, FEMA and several regional parish officials, including Parish President Billy Nungesser, provided testimony on the response and on-going recovery from Hurricane Isaac at the September 25 U.S. Senate Field Hearing in Gretna.
The hearing was led by chair of the Senate Appropriation Subcommittee, Mary Landrieu and other federal legislators including Senator David Vitter, Congressman Cedric Richmond.
“This hearing is part of a comprehensive seven year effort to evaluate and improve our nation’s ability to effectively prepare for, respond to and recover from natural disasters and man-made events of all sizes and types,” said Sen. Landrieu in her opening remarks.
Funding and the Corps construction budget
Landrieu went on to say that for the first time in over ten years, FEMA’s annual budget was enough for the agency to help communities recover without needing Congress to replenish the fund through additional legislation.
“But let me be clear, we simply cannot protect southeast, southwest, or south central Louisiana by relying solely on FEMA’s mitigation grants,” Landrieu clarified. “We
need a more consistent, more robust funding mechanism, we need the Corps of Engineers and the state to commit additional resources to the effort, and we need a multi-layered system of defenses that incorporates smarter planning and stronger
building codes as well.”
One of Landrieu’s main points of the hearing was to publicly highlight the Corps woefully inadequate annual budget for funding construction projects. Currently, the
Corps of Engineers’ annual construction budget only receives $1.6 billion in funding
for nationwide projects.
Major General John Peabody, Commander for the Mississippi Valley Division of the Corps, testified that his division currently has $60 billion in backlog construction projects.
Senator Landrieu stated that “if it wasn’t so sad, it would be a laughable budget.”
“The Corps budget has gone down every single year since Katrina,” Landrieu said. “[The lack of funding] leaves us playing a very dangerous and expensive game of catch-up”, citing a LaPlace flood control study project that has been in the budget for 40 years and has not progressed.
Plaquemines Parish and gaps in N.O.V. levees
Following up on Landrieu’s comments about the Corps inadequate budget for their backlog of projects, Senator Vitter pressed Peabody about the New Orleans to Venice
(N.O.V.) system in Plaquemines Parish.
One of the overarching problems with why there is no federal levee protection from Ironton to West Pointe-a-la-Hache is that construction costs of the project rose since
Katrina, resulting in the Corps to scale back the project and leave some areas out of federal protection.
“Because prices rose [for 100-year protection] after Katrina, the 34 miles of federal levee protection was reduced to 20,” explained Senator Vitter. “Did the Corps ever ask Congress for additional money to complete all 34 miles, which was what was envisioned in the Post-Katrina appropriation bill?”
Vitter also said that the Corps hosted a three-day summit in July of 2011 on that very issue, and the end result was that it would be best to build to the 50-year protection for all 34-miles and use that as a basis to build in the future. However, the decision was overridden and the Corps eventually decided to build to 100-year protection for 20 miles, leaving a large gap in the middle of the Westbank.
Peabody said he was not aware of any additional requests to Congress. He did say that the Corps will be taking the next month to review design specifications and possibly make alterations as the appropriations legislation says that the “primary purpose is to preserve Hwy. 23 as an evacuation route and our current approach does not accomplish that.”
President Nungesser also requested that the Corps consider including federalizing the 18-miles of the Eastbank from Braithwaite to White Ditch, citing the numerous resources the Eastbank of Plaquemines provides to the rest of the nation.
“They [PPC] had the $30 million for construction bonded out, we just didn’t get it done in time, but it wouldn’t have mattered for this storm,” said Nungesser. “When you look at the pictures of the St. Bernard floodwall then you understand how upset people on the Eastbank are since they’re protected by an 8 foot levee” because they did not meet the population standards of the Corps cost-benefit ratio.
Nungesser explained that it does not make financial sense for the government to keep rebuilding these areas left out of levee protection when a more cost-effective, long-term solution would be to include them into the levee protection system.
“We have a federal levee in South Plaquemines on the Eastbank, and [during Isaac] those people were trapped. To have that 18 miles with no federal levee but keep up
a levee in South Plaquemines [on the Eastbank] doesn’t make sense,” said Nungesser. “When you look at the coal facilities, the export and import of goods along both sides of the river—part of the reason we have such a great Port of New Orleans is the amount of tonnage that goes through Plaquemines—when you look at the fishing docks where that great seafood comes in and are shut down for weeks. We keep rebuilding with federal dollars.”