U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   03/31/2004
 
Statement of Senator Lisa Murkowski
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers role in the nation’s water resource needs in the 21st century.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing on such an important issue. I’m pleased that the Committee will be considering a Water Resources Development Act this year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has an important mission in my state, which includes thousands of miles of coastline and numerous harbors.

To begin, I would like to discuss a few Corps-related issues that are important to my state.

I have some concerns about the Corps’ performance-based approach to developing its budget request. Such an approach gives priority to funding projects that have the highest “economic and environmental returns,” according to the Corps. Earlier this month, at a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Assistant Secretary of the Army Woodley referenced this approach.

As my state contains many small, isolated communities that are only accessible by air or sea, I have concerns about this approach. That is why I am supporting a provision in the House WRDA bill, H.R. 2557, that allows the Corps to recommend harbor and navigation improvement projects without the need to demonstrate that the project is justified by “national economic development benefits” if (1) the community served by the project is at least 70 miles from the nearest surface accessible commercial port with no direct rail or highway link to another serviceable community or it is located in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, or American Samoa; (2) the harbor is economically critical such that over 80 percent of the goods transported would be consumed within the community served by the harbor and navigation improvement; and (3) the long term viability of the community is dependent upon the harbor, including access to resources and facilities designed to protect public health and safety. This provision would be beneficial to many communities in my state. The harbor-related needs of the small communities in my state are just as important as the needs of the ports of larger cities in our nation, especially when one bears in mind that most critical cargo that is delivered to such communities is delivered by sea.

There are two other sections of the bill of which I am supportive that I would like to discuss in further detail.

The first is the provision concerning the streamlining of projects. This language authorizes the Corps to expedite the environmental review process by requiring the Corps to coordinate the actions of all appropriate governmental agencies – in all levels of government – including Indian tribes. The section mandates that the Corps draft a process whereby all relevant governmental agencies review and issue permits simultaneously, as much as is practically feasible. Such reviews and permitting would be completed within a time frame determined by the Secretary of the Army in concert with other agencies. For far too long, Corps projects in Alaska have been delayed time and time again due to environmental reviews and permits. This is unacceptable. If we were residents of a small, remote community that needed to have its harbor dredged to allow larger vessels to enter its harbor to deliver such necessities as fuel and food and the dredging project was delayed due to environmental issues, then the problem would be self-evident.

Another provision in the House WRDA bill of which I am supportive is the provision increasing the federal cost-share responsibilities for construction - by 25 percent - and operations and maintenance - by 50 percent - for deep draft navigation projects between 45 and 53 feet deep. Many of the smaller communities in my state that need Corps projects also do not have the available funds to meet a high funding match threshold. Such local governments have limited abilities to collect taxes and fees and often turn to the state government for financial assistance. Unfortunately, the state government in Alaska is experiencing its own budget difficulties and is becoming less and less able to assist local communities with such projects. I know that many other state governments are also experiencing budget difficulties, as well.

I have nothing further. Mr. Chairman, thank you once again for holding this hearing.