Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am pleased to be here today to talk about the Water Resources Development Act. I am particularly pleased that we have a New York witness, Suffolk County commissioner Steve Levy. I look forward to his testimony and the testimony of all of our witnesses.
In my brief opening remarks, I want to touch on several points. First, I want to talk about some of the important work that the Corps is doing in my state of New York. Second, I want to talk about some policy changes that the Administration has included in the FY 2005 budget. And finally, I want to talk about some of the things that I hope we can address as we put together the WRDA bill in the EPW committee this spring.
Just two days ago, I was on Long Island, where I had the opportunity to learn first-hand about important work that the Corps of Engineers is doing with a range of federal, state, and local partners. The purpose of the Corps’ study there—which is known as the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Plan—is to develop a comprehensive, long-term plan to protect areas that are prone to flooding, erosion and other storm damage. This plan would replace the numerous ad-hoc measures that have been used to protect individual areas with a comprehensive management approach that considers the entire coastal system.
Unbelievably, the Administration zeroed this project out in their FY 2005 budget, even though this long-running study is just a few years from completion. I know that Steve Levy will have more to say about that project, but it is one example of vital work that the Corps of Engineers is doing in New York.
The Corps is also doing critical work at the Port of New York and New Jersey. The Port of New York and New Jersey is the largest port complex on the East Coast of North America, and is a major economic engine and trade hub for the region and the country. In 2002, the Port of New York/New Jersey handled 21.6 million tons of general cargo, and accounted for 60 percent of the containerized cargo handled by all North Atlantic ports, and about 14 percent of containerized cargo handled by all U.S. ports. Because of the increasing number of ever-larger ships in international shipping, the Port is currently working with the Corps and state agencies to deepen and widen several channels in the Port. These improvements are critical to the competitiveness our economy, which is increasingly trade dependent.
Mr. Chairman, there are many other projects that the Corps is working on in New York—literally from Buffalo to the tip of Long Island. And I look forward to working with the Chairmen and Ranking members of the full committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees as we move forward with WRDA so that we can enhance some of the ongoing projects and lay the groundwork for others.
I also hope that in context of the WRDA bill, we can address several important policy issues.
First, I want to register my strong opposition to the policy reversal contained in the President’s FY ’05 budget with respect to beach renourishment. This was reflected in the budget, and communicated to states and localities in New York and other coastal states in a February 2 letter from Assistant Secretary Woodley.
That letter informed states and communities that, quote: “the Administration has determined that Federal participation beyond the initial renourishment phase no longer can be supported in the budget.” This decision not only breaks commitments made by the federal government to states and communities in Project Cooperation Agreements that have already been executed; it also flies in the face of policy established by Congress in the 1996 WRDA bill.
Unfortunately, this is part of a larger agenda that the Administration has to starve beach renourishment projects. The FY 2005 budget cuts $121 million from FY 2004 levels for beach projects, and I am going to be working with my colleagues here, as well as Tim Bishop and others in the House to restore some of these cuts.
Finally, I want to briefly touch on several other issues that I think we need to look at in WRDA. I strongly believe that the Corps does outstanding work throughout New York, and I know that this work is valued by my constituents. At the same time, there have been several reports over the last several years that have shaken public confidence in the way that the Corps analyzes its projects, and in the way that the Corps mitigates ecological damage caused by its projects.
I have had some experience with this myself in dealing with what is known as the Great Lakes Navigation Study, a Corps of Engineers study that is in its initial phases. This study contemplates what I believe to be an ecologically damaging proposal to deepen and widen shipping channels in the St. Lawrence Seaway for what are questionable economic benefits. I have worked to put an end to this study, but if the study must go forward, it has to be done in a credible manner. And I think that the public deserves to expect credible analyses when it comes to large Corps projects. So I think we need to look at those issues as we go forward.