In the News
Source: Ripon Advance
Dec 08 2017
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) on Wednesday gained commitments from a Trump administration nominee to re-examine federal flood mitigation programs so that program funding can be more accessible to Iowa and other rural states.
The Army Corp of Engineers uses a benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) funding formula driven by property values to determine communities’ funding priority.
During a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing held Wednesday on confirmation of R.D. James, nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), Ernst said, “The Corps has discretion to fund projects with low BCRs if it deems there is a significant risk to human safety. In fiscal year 2017, four of the five projects receiving funding under this human safety exception were in California.”
Ernst noted that coastal California property values are higher than in Iowa and other inland rural states.
Pointing to recent devastating floods in Iowa, Ernst described how current BCR metrics have impeded efforts to protect Cedar Rapids from future floods.
Addressing James directly, Ernst asked, “Will you commit to ensuring that all areas of the country are treated equally in this aspect?”
James responded, “Yes, ma’am, I will.” He agreed the metrics need updating and added, “It’s not right that there’s people in this country [who] will never, ever get any type of water infrastructure project under the current BCR analysis.”
James also committed to working with Senator Ernst and the federal Office of Management and Budget on timely BCR modification.
Ernst said the Cedar Rapids flood mitigation project has been unable to secure federal funding due to a low BCR resulting from the relatively low property values in the area, despite the fact that the project was first authorized in the 2014 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and then mentioned for prioritization in the 2016 WRDA.
Last October, Ernst and her Republican colleague from Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley teamed up to write a letter to then Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo Ellen Darcy and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commanding general and chief of engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In the letter they asked for justification of why communities such as Cedar Rapids and Des Moines are low on the federal flood-project funding priority list and called the funding formula “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”
“We find this extremely concerning and believe there are flaws in how the Corps calculates the costs and benefits on flood risk management projects, which will leave cities like Iowa’s two largest and others around the nation vulnerable to catastrophic flooding,” the 2016 letter said.