Good morning and welcome to our third full Committee hearing in response to Hurricane Katrina. Our first two hearings focused on initial Federal agency responses to the storm, while this one will look at the future – specifically near-term, intermediate and long-term steps by the Army Corps of Engineers needed to facilitate the rebuilding of coastal Louisiana.
I want to thank all of our witnesses for coming today. I know some of you have been here before, and I appreciate your willingness to speak with us again. We also have a couple newer faces on this issue, and I look forward to hearing ideas from a fresh perspective.
As everyone here knows, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee has sole jurisdiction over the Civil Works mission of the Army Corps of Engineers and will be the focal point for the development of any legislation necessary to direct the Corps’ activities, as well as for providing oversight of these activities. As Chairman of this Committee, I take that responsibility very seriously, and I am pleased we have heard from so many willing to help us fulfill our mission.
The Committee held a stakeholders meeting on October 20th for staff to hear from a broad range of interested parties, local and national, as to what needs to be done to ensure the recovery of the region.
One of the common themes to emerge was the importance of taking a comprehensive and integrated approach to the 3 main missions of the Army Corps in coastal Louisiana, which are flood and storm damage reduction, navigation and wetlands restoration. Today we will further explore this idea to find out how such an approach might be structured and how we can ensure its effectiveness.
By anyone’s measure, the federal investment to be made in rebuilding and protecting the city of New Orleans and the surrounding coastal area will be substantial. It is vital that this investment be made in the context of a well-thought-out plan and with maximum coordination with State and local planning decisions.
Another common theme from the stakeholders meeting is that it is the people who live there, not the federal government, who should be deciding where and how to rebuild the area. As a former mayor myself, I agree that it is unacceptable to have the federal government making local planning decisions, but I am afraid it could happen by default if we don’t receive a clear message from the local communities as we move forward with federal activities to provide storm protection.
We also have to ensure that there is proper oversight and cost controls on these federal activities – we cannot afford to do this wrong or for it to be a free spending boondoggle. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses their ideas on what safeguards might be appropriate and most effective.
I do want to add that before we get too far down the road of deciding what we should do when rebuilding, we must first know what happened to the levees and why the city was flooded. There are a number of experts taking a look at this very issue and we will remain in close contact with those investigations. When we have facts and the time is appropriate, the Committee will hold a hearing on the findings and take whatever steps are necessary.
While it is too early for final conclusions, I understand that the Corps has been making some adjustments when restoring the current protection to take into account initial findings. I hope to hear more details from General Riley and Mr. Dunlop.
Once again, thank you all for coming today. I look forward to hearing your testimony and to discussing some topics more in-depth during questions.