President Obama and Congress are rightfully moving to provide federal assistance for those impacted by Hurricane (Superstorm) Sandy. Unfortunately in their zeal for action the Senate is proposing to go far and beyond what is needed for disaster recovery, threatening the future health and vitality of our coastal beaches and communities.
We are working with the Water Protection Network (WPN) and local NGOs to push for smart disaster recovery planning and rebuilding, and to make sure that well-intentioned support from Congress doesn't worsen future efforts. The bill removes environmental and planning safeguards, effectively giving the Corps of Engineers a blank check to do as they see fit on our beaches.
· This IS NOT simply a Sandy supplemental. It provides funds for disasters in many other parts of the country and appears to make significant policy changes affecting the entire country.
· There is over $5 billion in the Senate bill for Corps of Engineers’ work – which is the equivalent of an additional entire annual appropriation for the agency.
· The Corps can use $3.46 billion—$2.9 billion in areas hit by Sandy—of this money to build any projects it wants (authorized or not, EIS completed or not…), provided the Corps makes a finding that the projects are “cost-effective” to reduce flood risks. No NEPA. No public accountably. This is scary. Up to $499 million can be transferred to any other Corps account “to address damages from previous natural disasters.” Another $1 billion is made available for the Corps’ Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies account for general response to any flood, hurricane, or other natural disasters (e.g. including river or port dredging for sediments or drought-related inland waterway low-water conditions), with only $430 million for Sandy /North Atlantic region response including direction to repair projects “to design profiles,” which could mean construction beyond pre-Sandy dimensions. This provision throws open the door to unspecified major work far beyond Sandy disaster recovery.
· The bill changes the Construction cost-share to 90% Federal and provides $17 billion in Community Development Block Grant money that can be used to cover the meager 10% local share. Furthermore, the provision from WRDA 86 that required projects to be re-authorized if costs grow by more than 20% is eliminated.
· The bill eliminates $10 million in funding from the Presidential request, for a WRDA 2007-authorized national, interagency flood vulnerability and program effectiveness study. This study would provide the kind of comprehensive intergovernmental planning we really need, instead of giving a blank check to the Corps for going it alone.
The bottom line is that the bill is too big, too fast and creates a Wild West atmosphere where anything goes with billions of dollars in the largest emergency supplemental in history. The fear many of us share is that the Corps will dredge and pump a bunch of sand on the beaches and call it a day, giving people a false sense of security and incentivizing business as usual, while setting us up for this very thing to happen again.
Update: Use this link to send a letter to your representatives in Congress