Opening Statement by Sen. Johnny Isakson (GA):
Thank you Madam Chairman.
These types of hearings are a good opportunity for us to learn about the Army Corps’ priorities, and about what we can do as partners with the Corps to ensure it meets its goals in a fiscally responsible manner. We require the Corps to do a number of things in the best interests of our nation, and I have a number of issues I am eager to hear from the Corps on. I am interested in hearing whether they believe their FY09 budget request, a decrease from FY08 levels, provides adequate funding for civil works projects. To be candid, I do not believe it does. I am also interested in hearing in what the Corps is doing to reduce its backlog of projects, as well as to improve its business practices.
On the local level, I am very disappointed that the Corps failed to realize the strategic importance of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP). This is a project that has been under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in various stages for a decade, and was authorized in the Water Resources and Development Act of 1999 (WRDA 1999) to deepen the channel from 42 to as much as 48 feet, subject to completion of environmental and cost benefit studies.
These studies are nearing completion, and I anticipate that they will show an extraordinary combination of high benefits versus costs. I also believe that they will reflect the most transparent, rigorous, and accurate compilation of environmental and economic analysis of any river and harbor project in the nation.
Since the initial authorization in WRDA, the Port of Savannah has become the fastest growing container port in the United States , and is now the second largest container port on the East Coast. Cargo volume has more than doubled in the past ten years, Savannah is now responsible for moving more than 16 percent of the East Coast’s overseas container cargo, and both the State of Georgia and private companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in land-side facilities to increase efficiency. However, the ability of the port to continue to expand and accommodate the economic growth of business activity throughout the East Coast and Midwest will be dramatically weakened if the port cannot be expanded to accommodate the larger “Panamax” vessels that will shortly dominate ocean commerce.
It was vital for this effort that the President’s budget request for FY 2009 included sufficient funds to begin the first year of the estimated four years of construction required for the project. Release of the funds would have been subject to completion of the required environmental resource and administrative approvals. Senior officials of the Corps, from the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works on down, assured me this project would be included. I am looking for answers from the witnesses as to their views of this project’s strategic importance, as well as why it was not included when all indications were that it would be.
As many of you know, for 17 years now the States of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida , have been negotiating over how to share the resources of water in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river basins. Late last year, the Governors of the three states as well as the Interior Secretary and the Army Corps of Engineers sat down to continue their talks over how to resolve the 17-year-old water dispute. The Governors emerged from the meeting saying they were hopeful they will reach an agreement by March.
On March 2, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Jim Connaughton sent a letter to the governors of Alabama, Georgia and Florida . While acknowledging that more progress has been made over the last few months than in the previous 18 years, Secretary Kempthorne and Chairman Connaughton said the governors have been unable to cross the finish line with an agreement.
In the letter, Secretary Kempthorne and Chairman Connaughton told the governors that the federal government will now begin a process to review interim operations that will replace the current program before it expires on June 1, 2008. Federal agencies may subsequently issue further revisions as may be warranted by federal law, changing hydrological conditions and new information. Any future changes in interim operations will be necessary only until the water control plans and manuals are revised.
Secretary Kempthorne and Chairman Connaughton express disappointment with the states’ continued course of legal action against one another. If the states refuse to work with one another, Kempthorne and Connaughton state that the revised operational decisions will integrate important information and perspectives gained from the negotiations, but regrettably, it will necessarily be a solution being directed to the States instead of their much hoped for solution coming from the States.
It is my hope that the three Governors will come back to the table so the states can take advantage of the productive talks and agree on a resolution. Key to any agreement between the States is an update of the nearly 20-year-old water control manuals for the ACT and ACF River Basins . Army Secretary Pete Geren showed real leadership when he announced that the update of these manuals would go forward. I am interested in hearing from the witnesses whether the Corps had budgeted in this budget the necessary funds to begin these updates.
With that Madam Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.