Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing today. It is very important that we take this opportunity, at the beginning of the process of organizing a WRDA bill for 2004, to establish some goals for what we want to achieve in this legislation.
By way of example I propose that this subcommittee should focus on the following goals:
Goal 1 Begin eliminating the operations and maintenance backlog.
The latest figures I have heard for the Corps' operations and maintenance backlog range from $33 billion to $48 billion. I understand that the Corps will testify today that the backlog has been reduced to about $11 billion, but that number is largely derived from the FY05 budget request cancellation of beach restoration projects nationwide.
As a senator from a coastal state, I can assure you that simply canceling these projects to give the appearance of a reduced backlog is not an acceptable answer.
I would like to see real steps taken to deauthorize Corps projects that are no longer economically justifiable. I offer an ideal candidate project in my own state - the Apalachicola River in northwest Florida. Dredging of the Apalachicola is not only economically wasteful, it is damaging to the local economy and the environment.
I want to thank Mr. Scott Faber, who will testify later in this hearing, for the excellent work he has done to help deauthorize the Apalachicola River project.
We can continue to ignore the backlog of Corps projects and simply authorize and authorize as each WRDA bill comes along. Or we can take the fiscally responsible route and prioritize our nation's needs based on some kind of rational process of review.
Goal 2 Bring some much needed reforms to the Corps.
One of the most important elements lacking in the Corps' current structure is an independent review of Corps projects.
This committee recognized the role for independent peer review when we authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) in WRDA 2000. In fact, the Indian River Lagoon Project, the first CERP project for authorization this year, is being reviewed independently right now. I want to thank Secretary Woodley and General Flowers for their foresight in initiating this process. Independent review is invaluable if we are to choose projects that represent a responsible use of taxpayer money.
I look forward to hearing the testimony from our witnesses.
And, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to working with you to draft a WRDA bill that we can proudly bring before the full Senate. Mr. Chairman, I have some testimony from the City of Tarpon Springs in Florida regarding alternative water supply projects.
I request that the City's testimony be included in the record. Thank you.