By Christian Flinn
On February 2, 2016 the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a roundtable policy discussion on the provisions and priorities of the forthcoming Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) of 2016. The subcommittee members present included Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Ranking Member Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Representative Garret Graves (R-LA), and Representative Lois Frankel (D-FL), among others. In addition to the members, there were eight participants, each representing a different association or public entity with a vested interest in past WRDA bills as well as WRDA 2016.
The discussion kicked-off with statements from each witness as to what they hoped WRDA 2016 would accomplish. Some highlights include:
- Amy Larson, President of the National Waterways Conference. Ms. Larson expressed her support for the initiative in WRRDA 2014 to resume approval of WRDA bills every 2 years. Additionally, she stated her organization’s interest in reviewing a currently unreleased report on a provision in WRDA 2016 that would alter Section 7001 (Sec. 7001) of WRRDA 2014.
- Dusty Williams, Immediate Past President of the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies. Mr. Williams stated his organization’s concern at noticing a trend toward attempting to create “one-size fits all” solutions for mitigation and emphasized his desire for WRDA 2016 to encourage more involvement for local stakeholders.
- Kathy Broadwater, Deputy Executive Director of the Maryland Port Administration on behalf of the American Association of Port Authorities. Ms. Broadwater revealed plans to invest over $160 billion in ports across the country over the next 5 years. She also shared 2 changes to WRRDA 2014 the association hoped to see included in WRDA 2016, revolving around donor equity and funds distribution to underused or emerging ports. She also requested alterations to cost-share provisions for deep draft ports.
- Derek Brockbank, Executive Director of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association. Mr. Brockbank spoke of the value of a healthy coastline as well as how investment in coastal resilience can save billions of dollars in the long-run. He also spoke of a need for greater inter-agency coordination in the effort to make the American coastline better able to mitigate against natural disasters and hurricanes. A part of this discussion focused on emphasizing Regional Sediment Management (RSM) as a viable option to increase the efficiency of resiliency planning on the coast.
- Kristin Meira, Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. Ms. Meira’s organization was interested in clarifying the trust fund language for smaller ports which was not funded in FY 2014 and underfunded in FY 2015.
The roundtable proceeded with the subcommittee members asking questions of the participants related to their various requests and concerns. First, the Chairman of the Subcommittee asked for clarification on what great inter-agency coordination would look like. Overwhelmingly, participants responded using the example of the 3016 process, which allows FEMA to conduct national levee inspections, as an opportunity for agencies to share data and findings and also allow more input from local agencies with area-specific knowledge. This was further emphasized by Mr. Williams, who stated a desire to see the language surrounding non-Federal “stakeholders” changed to non-Federal “partners.” Ms. Mattei, President Elect of the American Society of Civil Engineers, also added that RSM and more efficient beneficial reuse of dredged material could be a benefit of greater coordination.
From there, the discussion took a turn to local vs. national issues. Rep. Frankel referenced concerns in her state of Florida due to lack of funding for Corps projects and interagency coordination and cited the self-imposed congressional ban on earmarks as a complication to greater regional cooperation. Chairman Gibbs agreed with the sentiment of greater coordination and questioned the right level of interaction between the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), at the national level, and the more localized District offices responsible to specific communities. Rep. Frankel echoed concerns surrounding a one-size fits all solution that she believes has prevailed in the past and Ms. Barbara Romero, Deputy Mayor of City Services in Los Angeles, stated that complications from such an approach had already manifested themselves in her city. Ms. Meira voiced an additional concern related to coordination. Namely, the USACE does not have enough manpower to handle the volume of requests it receives. Several participants voiced their agreement.
Weighing in on the discussion, Rep. Graves asked a number of panelists with projects in their cities or counties whether they were certain that USACE funding would be set aside for their completion. Most said they believed so but could not be completely sure. The Congressman, who has been critical of the USACE in the past, brought up the point of governmental inefficiency being partially to blame for the lack of assurance as well as the overall lack of coordination where resilience is concerned. Furthermore, he cited delays in what is known as the 214 process – related to financial compensation in WRDA 2000 – as proof of that inefficiency.
Overall, the roundtable discussion brought up concerns related to resilience planning, funding, inter-agency and local level coordination, and government inefficiency. Given those concerns, it was the hope of the panelists that WRDA 2016 would build upon the successes, while also fixing the shortcomings of, WRRDA 2014. Ultimately, delays in project approval and failed coordination in planning dominated the conversation but just how much will be taken into account in the final wording of the bill is yet to be determined.
For more information, contact Christian Flinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.