The Foundations for a New Water Resources Development Act
Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH)
Subcommittee on water Resources and Environment
Hearing on The Foundations for a New Water Resources Development Act
April 16, 2013
(Remarks as Prepared)
Today we are holding our first of what will be multiple hearings on the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the next Water Resources Development Act, and we are holding our first hearing this Congress as a Subcommittee. I would like to welcome all Members to the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
It is time for the Congress to re-engage in the development of the nation’s water resources and play a bigger role in prioritizing projects and activities carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers. Congress cannot continue to abdicate its Constitutional responsibility in determining what projects should go forward and should reassert itself in the face of an Administration that creates one-sized-fits-all policy with little or no transparency.
Over the last few weeks we have held a number of educational forums and roundtables on the Corps of Engineers program. One of the themes that has emerged is the concern of industry stakeholders and non-federal project sponsors, typically counties or cities, regarding the time it takes the agency to actually reach a decision.
In what used to take the Corps 3 or 5 years to study, it has now become the norm for the Corps to take 10, 12, or 15 years to produce a study. And it’s no wonder it’s taking so much time, since the Corps has to review in detail many different alternatives.
In one case, a Chief’s Report was sent to Congress last year. The study for the project was authorized in 1999. The original purpose of the project was for navigation improvements. But, when the Chief’s Report was delivered to Congress last year, the total project cost was $650 million. But only $250 million was for the actual construction of the navigation improvements.
The rest of the project costs, almost $400 million, are attributed to environmental enhancements, not just environmental mitigation.
In another case, the Corps of Engineers delivered to Congress a Chief’s Report for which there is no non-federal cost-share partner. That study took 7 years to develop, but since there is no non-federal sponsor, why should the Congress authorize the project? The funding spent on that study could have been spent more wisely on projects where there are non-federal sponsors and local support.
Lastly, a Chief’s Report came to Congress authorizing a project to prevent storm damages. But also included in that Chief’s Report would be the authority, should Congress choose to give it, for the Corps of Engineers to carry out an additional $140 million worth of studies in the project area.
Ultimately, the federal tax payer is on the hook for these studies and for the length of time it takes to carry them out. The Corps reviews far too many alternatives and then sends to Congress a project request that far exceeds, in scope and costs, what was initially intended.
As one of our witnesses will explain to the Subcommittee today, just because a study is costly, complex, and long, does not necessarily mean a better project. In fact, a large costly project with so many add-ons that it never gets funded is a benefit to no one.
It is critical to accelerate these studies. But it is also extremely important that we better prioritize the Corps of Engineers program to focus the agency on those projects and activities that protect life, promote safety, have an economic return on the investment, and have local support.
As we move forward with what will be a policy-heavy Water Resources Development Act, we will be focusing on accelerating the study and project delivery process, as well as better prioritizing these worthwhile investments that the American public has relied on for decades.
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Honorable Harry Simmons; Mayor, Caswell Beach, NC; President, American Shore and Beach Preservation Association | Written Testimony
Mr. Warren D. Williams; General Manager, Riverside County Flood Control & Water Conservation District; President, National Association of Flood & Stormwater Management Agencies | Written Testimony
Mr. Peter Stephaich; Chairman, Campbell Transportation Company; Secretary, Waterways Council, Inc. | Written Testimony
Mr. Adolph N. Ojard; Executive Director, Duluth Seaway Port Authority; Chairman, U.S. Legislative Policy Council, American Association of Port Authorities | Written Testimony
Dr. Christopher J. Gobler; School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University
Ms. Amy Larson; President, National Waterways Conference, Inc. | Written Testimony