Capito hears concerns about water infrastructure projects
CHARLESTON — U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito heard testimony concerning the funding needs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as it works through a backlog of projects to improve inland waterways and protect against future floods and climate change effects.
The U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing Wednesday, titled “Examining the Benefits of Investing in USACE Water Infrastructure Projects.”
Congress passed the Water Resources and Development Act of 2020, an omnibus bill approved every two years that provides the bulk of the Army Corps of Engineers funding for civil projects. Capito, R-W.Va., was part of the negotiating team that crafted the most recent version of the bill prior to becoming the ranking Republican member of the EPW Committee.
“It’s that time again, when the committee begins the biennial process of crafting water resources legislation,” Capito said. “The Corps main mission area of navigation, flood risk management and ecosystem restoration supports the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans and facilitates commerce throughout this country.”
According to EPW Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., the Army Corps of Engineers has more than $109 billion worth in backlogged projects – more than 15 times the annual budget for the Corps of Engineers.
“Clearly there’s something wrong with this picture,” Carper said. “When demand for projects outstrips the supply of resources, the Corps is placed in an untenable position and more over it’s a decision-making process growing far more difficult as we all struggle to address the needs of small, rural, and often disadvantaged communities.”
Capito was able to secure more than $160 million for water and wastewater infrastructure projects being worked on by the Corps of Engineers in the previous Water Resources and Development Act. West Virginia is also set to receive funding for a study of the flood protection gaps in the state in the wake of the devastating 2016 floods in Central and Southern West Virginia that took 23 lives and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.
“While I fully intend to see that this study receives a new start, it will do little good if recommended projects are held up due to analysis that sort of disregards the needs of certain communities,” Capito said.
Capito encouraged committee members and lawmakers to create incentives in the next Water Resources and Development Act for the Corps of Engineers to work collaboratively with local partners to assess the specific needs of communities.
“People on the ground know what their water resource challenges are, and the experiences and expertise with the hardworking men and women at the Corps can help inform them of paths forward to address those challenges,” Capito said. “As we make these changes and other changes, however, it is important that we do not become too overly prescriptive.”
The EPW Committee heard from several witnesses Wednesday, including Robert McCoy, a member of the board of directors for the Waterways Council and owner of Amhearst Madison, a West Virginia-based marine transportation company that employs more the 350 people.
In his written testimony, McCoy warned the committee about the deteriorating condition of locks and dams used by boats to move goods up and down the nation’s rivers. Speaking before the committee, McCoy thanked lawmakers for creating a new cost-share formula to make navigational improvements over the next 10 years.
“That provision changed the construction and major rehabilitation cost share for inland navigation projects to 65 percent from the general treasury and 35 percent from the inland waterways trust fund,” McCoy said. “When fully appropriated, it will deliver roughly an additional $100 million annually in construction funding for navigation improvements.”