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Senator Murray Presses Top Army Corps of Engineers Official about Centralia Flood Control Project

Apr 10 2008

Senator demands answers on why Flood Control Project was left out of President's budget

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) questioned the top Bush administration Army Corps of Engineers official about why there was no federal funding requested by the administration for the Centralia Flood Control project, even after devastating flooding in December showed the overwhelming need for the project.

Senator Murray directed her question to John Paul Woodley, Jr, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works who oversees the Army Corps of Engineers under the Bush administration. Senator Murray also requested further briefings from the Army Corps of Engineers on this project at today's hearing. 

Audio -   Senator Murray's opening statement.

Audio -  Senator Murray questioning John Paul Woodley, Jr.

Senator Murray's opening remarks at the committee hearing (as prepared) follow:

Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing.  And thank you to our witnesses; I appreciate your attendance this morning to discuss these important topics. 

I do have to leave shortly to Chair a hearing of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development subcommittee and I might not be able to get back for questions, so I wanted to take this opportunity to raise a few items with you now.  I will also be submitting questions for the record if I’m not able to return.  

Secretary Woodley and General Van Antwerp, I would like to commend the three Army Corps of Engineers Districts that directly work with Washington State.  The Seattle, Portland and Walla Walla Districts do great work for my state and the people who live there.  The military and civilian staff both are responsive and they have worked very well with my staff.  

While I continue to enjoy an excellent working relationship with those offices, it is often difficult to continue to make progress without adequate budgets from this administration.  And I am deeply concerned by the $846 million in cuts to your budget from the FY08 appropriated dollars.  This seems to be an annual game the administration plays where they request shortsighted budgets and then pass the buck to Congress to fund the projects the people of our states desperately need. 

Additionally, I have serious concerns with the newly proposed user fees for the navigation locks to fund the Inland Waterway Trust Fund.

As proposed this user fee would place a larger burden on some river systems than others.  It makes no sense to me to abandon the established diesel tax and try to create and entirely new bureaucracy. Why not simply update the current collection vehicle?

For years now we have been working to deepen the Columbia River Channel to allow for larger ships and barges to carry millions of tons of cargo to domestic and international markets.

I am very pleased with the inclusion of funds to continue this effort as the Columbia-Snake River system is an economic engine of great importance to our country.  However, it seems illogical that the Corps would invest so much in the river transportation system, and then try to implement a fee that could discourage those users away from the river system and onto roads and rails. 

Turning back to the severe budget cuts and projects left off the President’s request I would like to talk with you about a project in Centralia, Washington.  We have been working with the Corps for many, many years on an important flood control project along the Chehalis River. This project has been studied, reported on and then finally authorized in the last WRDA passed by Congress over a Presidential veto. 

As I’m sure you are aware, there was a tremendous storm off the coast of Washington state and Oregon in December that caused flooding and damage the likes of which my state has not seen for some time.  The flooding was bad enough to shut down I-5, the main North-South freeway from Washington to Southern California, for 4 days.  The flooding, overwhelmed the Chehalis River and the entire river basin, also damaged homes, killed thousands of farm animals, destroyed local transportation infrastructure, and cost us millions in debris cleanup.

In Centralia and the surrounding areas, we still have people who are picking up the pieces from homes that were damaged or destroyed and businesses that went underwater. I have visited with the people who live in these devastated areas and met with local officials. They are all eager to find a way to prevent this from ever happening again.

I have made a promise to those people to work here in Congress to get the necessary funds for this project to move forward.  

Now I know that this is not an inexpensive project.  The federal portion is authorized around $74 million dollars with the state taking responsibility for about $50 million dollars of the cost share.

But in the budget we are discussing today the President has requested zero dollars. We cannot continue to do this.  

My time is short but I did want to raise these issues with you and  I look forward to working with you on these and other issues this year. And I would like to meet with you further to discuss these issues. Thank you.