SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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DISASTER MITIGATION, PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE
PLEASE NOTE: The following transcript is a portion of the official hearing record of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Additional material pertinent to this transcript may be found on the web site of the Committee at [http://www.house.gov/transportation]. Complete hearing records are available for review at the Committee offices and also may be purchased at the U.S. Government Printing Office.
WATER RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT
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TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
JANUARY 28, 1998
Printed for the use of the
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTUCTURE
BUD SHUSTER, Pennsylvania, Chairman
DON YOUNG, Alaska
THOMAS E. PETRI, Wisconsin
SHERWOOD L. BOEHLERT, New York
HERBERT H. BATEMAN, Virginia
HOWARD COBLE, North Carolina
JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCTHOMAS W. EWING, Illinois
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
JAY KIM, California
STEPHEN HORN, California
BOB FRANKS, New Jersey
JOHN L. MICA, Florida
JACK QUINN, New York
TILLIE K. FOWLER, Florida
VERNON J. EHLERS, Michigan
SPENCER BACHUS, Alabama
STEVEN C. LaTOURETTE, Ohio
SUE W. KELLY, New York
RAY LaHOOD, Illinois
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
FRANK RIGGS, California
CHARLES F. BASS, New Hampshire
ROBERT W. NEY, Ohio
JACK METCALF, Washington
JO ANN EMERSON, Missouri
EDWARD A. PEASE, Indiana
ROY BLUNT, Missouri
JOSEPH R. PITTS, Pennsylvania
ASA HUTCHINSON, Arkansas
MERRILL COOK, Utah
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
CHARLES W. ''CHIP'' PICKERING, Jr., Mississippi
KAY GRANGER, Texas
JON D. FOX, Pennsylvania
THOMAS M. DAVIS, Virginia
FRANK A. LoBIONDO, New Jersey
J.C. WATTS, Jr., Oklahoma
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
VITO FOSSELLA, New York
JAMES L. OBERSTAR, Minnesota
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
ROBERT A. BORSKI, Pennsylvania
WILLIAM O. LIPINSKI, Illinois
ROBERT E. WISE, Jr., West Virginia
JAMES A. TRAFICANT, Jr., Ohio
PETER A. DeFAZIO, Oregon
BOB CLEMENT, Tennessee
JERRY F. COSTELLO, Illinois
GLENN POSHARD, Illinois
ROBERT E. (BUD) CRAMER, Jr., Alabama
ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, District of Columbia
JERROLD NADLER, New York
PAT DANNER, Missouri
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJAMES E. CLYBURN, South Carolina
CORRINE BROWN, Florida
JAMES A. BARCIA, Michigan
BOB FILNER, California
EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON, Texas
FRANK MASCARA, Pennsylvania
GENE TAYLOR, Mississippi
JUANITA MILLENDER-McDONALD, California
ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS, Maryland
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
MAX SANDLIN, Texas
ELLEN O. TAUSCHER, California
BILL PASCRELL, Jr., New Jersey
JAY W. JOHNSON, Wisconsin
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
JAMES P. McGOVERN, Massachusetts
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
NICK LAMPSON, Texas
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
SHERWOOD L. BOEHLERT, New York, Chairman
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota Vice Chairman
DON YOUNG, Alaska
THOMAS E. PETRI, Wisconsin
HERBERT H. BATEMAN, Virginia
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
JAY KIM, California
STEPHEN HORN, California
BOB FRANKS, New Jersey
JACK QUINN, New York
VERNON J. EHLERS, Michigan
STEVEN C. LaTOURETTE, Ohio
SUE W. KELLY, New York
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
FRANK RIGGS, California
ROBERT W. NEY, Ohio
JO ANN EMERSON, Missouri
FRANK A. LoBIONDO, New Jersey
VITO FOSSELLA, New York
BUD SHUSTER, Pennsylvania
ROBERT A. BORSKI, Pennsylvania
JAY JOHNSON, Wisconsin
ROBERT E. WISE, Jr., West Virginia
GLENN POSHARD, Illinois
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey
JAMES A. BARCIA, Michigan
FRANK MASCARA, Pennsylvania
GENE TAYLOR, Mississippi
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
ELLEN O. TAUSCHER, California
BILL PASCRELL, Jr., New Jersey
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
JAMES P. McGOVERN, Massachusetts
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
NICK LAMPSON, Texas
JAMES L. OBERSTAR, Minnesota
Faber, Scott, Director of Floodplain Programs, America Rivers
McKeon, Hon. Howard P. ''Buck'', a Representative in Congress from California
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Myers, Joseph F., Director, Florida Division of Emergency Management, on behalf of the National Emergency Management Association
Noyes, James A., Chief Deputy Director, Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, and Chairman, California Association of Flood Control Agencies
Skeen, Hon. Joe, a Representative in Congress from New Mexico
Strickland, Hon. Ted, a Representative in Congress from Ohio
Wilhite, Dr. Donald A., Director, National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska
Witt, James Lee, Director, Federal Emergency Management Agency
Zirschky, John H., Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army, Civil Works
PREPARED STATEMENTS SUBMITTED BY MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
Borski, Hon. Robert, of Pennsylvania
McKeon, Hon. Howard P. ''Buck'', of California
Oberstar, Hon. James L., of Minnesota
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Skeen, Hon. Joe, of New Mexico
Strickland, Hon. Ted, of Ohio
Thune, Hon. John, of South Dakota
PREPARED STATEMENTS SUBMITTED BY WITNESSES
Myers, Joseph F
Noyes, James A
Wilhite, Dr. Donald A
Witt, James L
Zirschky, John H
SUBMISSIONS TO THE RECORD
McKeon, Hon. Howard P. ''Buck'', a Representative in Congress from California, letters:
Governor Pete Wilson, of California, November 5, 1997
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Mayor Richard J. Riordan, City of Los Angeles, to James Lee Witt, Director, Federal Emergency Management Agency, October 3, 1997
Wilhite, Dr. Donald A., Director, National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska, responses to post hearing questions
Witt, James Lee, Director, Federal Emergency Management Agency:
Responses to post hearing questions
Guidebook, Project Impact: Building a Disaster Resistant Community
Zirschky, John H., Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army, Civil Works, responses to post hearing questions
ADDITIONS TO THE RECORD
Czerwinski, Stanley J., Associate Director, Housing and Community Development Issues, Resources, Community, and Economic Development Division, U.S. General Accounting Office, statement
Nelson, Governor E. Benjamin, Chair, Committee on Natural Resources, the National Governors' Association, statement
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Friends of the Santa Clara River, letter to Rep. Boehlert, January 27, 1998
Glickman, Dan, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, letter to Rep. Boehlert, January 27, 1998
Knabe, Don, Supervisor, 4th District, Board of Supervisors, County of Los Angeles, California, letter to Rep. Boehlert, January 27, 1998
Johnson, Gary E., Governor of New Mexico, Western Governors' Association, Lead Governor on Drought, letter, January 26, 1998
McCollum, Hon. Bill, a Representative in Congress from Florida, statement
DISASTER MITIGATION, PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28, 1998
U.S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment,
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 12 p.m., in room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Sherry Boehlert (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. BOEHLERT This meeting will come to order.
The Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee meets today to receive testimony on disaster litigation, including related issues involving flood channel maintenance and drought management.
The hearing is timely, not only because of the recent and devastating ice storms in the northeast, but also the continuing concerns about El Nino, and increasing costs of disaster recovery over the years.
Our primary focus today is hazard mitigation, specifically, post-disaster and mitigation under section 404 of the Stafford Act, and pre-disaster mitigation proposals, such as those in the administration's bill, H.R. 2446, and FEMA's innovative new program, ''Project Impact.''
In 1993, before this very subcommittee, the then new FEMA director, James Lee Witt, made the following statement. ''The time has come to face the fact that this Nation can no longer afford the high costs of natural disasters. While we cannot control naturewe will always have floods, and hurricanes, and earthquakeswe do know how to control the corresponding losses. We must and can work, design, and build our communities better, and to the extent possible, keep them out of harm's way. Mitigation must become a priority throughout all levels of our government.''
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We've experienced a lot and learned a lot since then. Mr. Witt, your statement still holds true. The Offices of the Assistant Secretary of the Army and the Corps of Engineers also testified on that date, and urged, among other things, that there be greater consistency among federal agencies and their flood-related activities, before, during, and after a flood event; and also more flexibility within federal programs in order to respond to flood events in ways that meet the test of common sense. These statements also continue to hold true, and not just for floods, but for other disasters and emergencies.
Today we hope to learn more about disaster mitigation, and make it a priority. We're interested in reducing the cost, the pain, and the suffering associated with disasters, whether they're El Nino driven floods, ice storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, or even drought. Today's hearing will undoubtedly help us in our task.
The subcommittee will also examine H.R. 2741, relating to permit exemptions under the Clean Water Act for certain types of flood channel maintenance activities. We'll hear about the situation involving El Nino, and efforts of local flood control officials to prepare for anticipated flooding.
It's a tough issue, one that requires a balancing of many factors, including protection of one of this Nation's most valuable and under-appreciated natural resources, wetlands. In addition, we will receive testimony on H.R. 3035, the National Drought Policy Act of 1997. Like the disaster mitigation, drought management should be risk-based, proactive, and integrated.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I expect the theme of disaster mitigation will carry over into next month as well. I am told the administration will continue to seek increased funding for hazard mitigation in FEMA's fiscal year 1999 budget. You can also expect our subcommittee to continue to explore legislation involving hazard mitigation and other proposals to save money and improve the disaster assistance process. This may be done in the context of another hearing on other parts of the administration's bill or related legislative proposals involving the Stafford Act.
I want to assure my colleagues, however, that while we may turn some of our attention in January and February to mitigation of natural disasters, we'll also focus on man-made disasters, and by that I'm referring to Superfund.
Congress, the Administration, and lawyers are largely to blame for the current Superfund Hazardous Waste Program. Some of it works, but some of it is broken, and it will remain so until the statute is changed and improved. Reform of Superfund is the highest priority of this subcommittee.
I plan to schedule a subcommittee markup of Superfund some time later next month. The process will continue to be open and bipartisan. That is the real strength of this subcommittee.
And before turning to our distinguished colleague, Mr. Johnson, that is sitting in as ranking member, let me make a point of personal privilege.
You'll notice in my opening statement I refer to in 1993, the then new FEMA director, James Lee Witt. In the year since, he has distinguished himself, and that agency has distinguished itself in responding to crisis after crisis across this country; the natural disasters. And just in recent weeksI know from personal experience in my own district, where eight of my nine counties were disaster countries 2 years ago because of the flooding, I know what it means to those people to see FEMA come in, and to provide assistance, and to provide guidance.
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But just two weeks ago, two and a half weeks ago, yet another disaster occurred. In this instance it was north of my district. My colleague, Mr. Quinn, and I are most familiar with it, because in our respected districts we're doing so much to try to raise funds, and do all the things that good neighbors do to help people in time of disaster.
But our Colleague Congressman, John McHugh, wanted me personally, Director, to convey to you his deepest appreciation. He said, he has never seen such a magnificent response from a federal agency in time of great need. So, on behalf of all the members of this subcommittee, on behalf of my colleague, Congressman McHugh, in behalf of Governor Pataki, who welcomes you on two separate visits, to the disaster site, let me say to you, here is one program we know is working as intended, and we want to encourage you to keep up the good work.
With that, let me turn to my colleague, a distinguished gentleman from Wisconsin, Mr. Johnson.
Mr. JOHNSON OF WISCONSIN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I apologize. Mr. Borski isn't able to be here at today's hearing, so I'm filling in. First of all, let me echo your comments on the work of James Lee Witt and FEMA. I'm sure a great deal of it has to do with the communication skills of his chief communications person, Moorie Goodman, who I used to work with very closely in TV back in West Palm Beach, and a vital part of his agency.
The only disaster, obviously, you're not able to do anything about, is the Green Bay Packers losing the Super Bowl. We can't go back and fix that.
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Today, however, we're going to concentrate on three differing issues related to how the Nation prepares for a response to natural disasters. Our witnesses today, will offer discussion of Federal programs for conducting mitigation efforts, to lessen the impact in severity of future natural events. Also the relationship between the Clean Water Act, section 404 program, and responsibilities for the maintenance of flood control channels, and the creation of an advisory commission for developing a national drought policy.
I wish in particular to welcome all of our colleagues, fellow Congressmen, to testify today. I think it's helpful to hear directly from these proponents of the legislation, and I believe that the testimony of our colleagues on the real world experiences, and what they hear from their constituents, will aid our consideration of proposals to enact an effective mitigation and preparedness program.
Federal expenditures for disaster relief have been on the increase for the past 20 years. It's due in particularly to severe events, such as Hurricanes Andrew, Iniki, and Northridge earthquake. But these increases are also due to the general increase in the cost of responding to floods, and earthquakes, and snow storms, and the like. Some of these expenditures are both repetitive though and avoidable. Enhanced efforts of disaster mitigation require a new and comprehensive way of examining the federal role in damage prevention and response. We need to, as we're doing today, focus efforts on avoiding future losses of life and property, and we need to do so by exploring all the available options, nonstructural, as well as structural. And I again congratulate Director Witt for his leadership on this issue.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We'll also be hearing from the Department of Army today, the Nation's leader in providing flood damage reduction efforts. I believe the Army will play a vital role in mitigating for future losses. I look forward to working with the Army in a comprehensive review of its flood damage reduction program.
The 1996 Water Resources Development Act took some important first steps toward ensuring flexibility and creativeness in flood plain management, and I hope the subcommittee has the opportunity to explore even more ideas during the consideration of the 1998 bill later this year.
Now, Mr. Chairman, I also wish to comment on two other issues that are going to be presented today. I certainly understand the concerns of southern California residents, over the need to maintain flood control channels, particularly this year, where the El Nino weather pattern's been predicted to bring record amounts of precipitation to southern California. However, I caution against any approach that could devastate scarce wildlife habit, particularly for endangered species, and I urge a thoughtful and balanced response to the needs of the residents of southern California, as well as the needs of the regional environment.
And finally, on the proposal to create a commission to advise on the drought-related issues, I believe we need to be able to work together in a bipartisan mannerthis committee always demonstrated it doesto make this happen. While I'm interested in reviewing the views of interested parties and the administration on this legislation, we ought to be able to agree on the need to mitigate sometimes devastating effects which drought can have on people, the environment, and the economy. And I ask Mr. Chairman unanimous consent to insert into the record, statements, both by Mr. Oberstar and Mr. Borski. I look forward to hearing from today's witnesses.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. Without objection, it's so ordered. I would advise all of my colleagues, that if they feel that they want to have an opening statement, I would appreciate if they would submit it for the record, so that we can respect the schedules of our very busy colleagues, and they can get about their business. And I know Director Witt has a time constraint also.
[The prepared statements of Mr. Oberstar and Mr. Borski follow:]
Mr. BOEHLERT. So unless I see any show of hands with a compelling need to share works and wisdom with the Chair, I will go directly to our witnesses, and I will introduce them.
First, our good colleague and friend, Chairman Skeen. And Chairman Skeen is special because he has worked closely with this subcommittee, and he's worked closely with a number of us who are vitally concerned about such programs as the Conservation Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. These programs are all critical to improving the quality of America's water. And I want to say to you, Mr. Chairman, we look forward to a continuing working relationship.
Mr. McKeon, once again, is an aspiring member to the boot caucus, as I'd like to welcome you here. But I'd like to say, the people of California can be proud of what you are doing to represent their interest, because you have made known very clearly to this subcommittee the importance of the subject matter on which you are going to testify.
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And Mr. Strickland, it's good to see an old friend and colleague, who is also one who has an outstanding reputation of reaching across the aisle, and in a bipartisan way, to work constructively for the advancement of responsible legislation.
So I welcome all of my colleagues. I would point out that your words of wisdom will be included in the record in their entirety. It would be helpful if you could show some restraint in summarizing, but we will extend the courtesy of the chair to you. So, Mr. Skeen, you start first.
TESTIMONY OF HON. JOE SKEEN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM NEW MEXICO; HON. HOWARD MCKEON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM CALIFORNIA; AND HON. TED STRICKLAND, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM OHIO
Mr. SKEEN. Thank you very much, Chairman Boehlert, and also Congressman Johnson, who's standing in for Mr. Borski today. You made mention of the UFO creatures around Roswell, New Mexico. They asked about you. So we've got them all working, and the only way we can identify them is at night; they run around going, ''deedle, deedle, deedle''. But appreciate them.
And I also appreciate the opportunity to testify on behalf of H.R. 3035, the National Drought Policy Act of 1997. But before I get into this, I would like to concur with you, and congratulate James Lee Witt on the job that he's done with FEMA. It's been outstanding. We certainly do appreciate it.
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H.R. 3035 is the National Drought Policy Act of 1997, legislation in which I introduced to assist the Federal Government in formulating a comprehensive drought management policy. As everyone here knows, the drought is not a weather phenomenon, that most would consider to be disastrous. We all associate the term ''natural disaster'' with floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards.
However, there's another type of disaster that can be just as damaging, without exciting the public's imagination, because of its slow occurrence and strangling effect, and that's a drought. It's the kind of destructive force that has ruined lives, bankrupted businesses, destroyed agriculture and caused mass exodus of people from region of the country to another. It's time we recognize the damage that is caused by this phenomenon, and develop a coordinated effort to address its effect.
My home State of New Mexico, along with the remainder of the southwestern regionArizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Kansaswas severely impacted by the 1995 to 1996 drought. New Mexico precipitation levels for that period were the worse in over 100 years that the state had kept records. Businessmen, both large and small, farmers, ranchers, and communities, are severely impacted, and many going into bankruptcy because of the drought.
Texas experienced over $2 billion in agricultural losses. Oklahoma incurred over $500 million. And overall losses for the region exceeded $5 billion. In addition, over 3 million acres of land were damaged by drought-induced fire, an amount almost three times the 5-year average.
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While I have illustrated the 1995 to 1996 droughts in the Southwest, droughts are by no means specific to that area. In the last 20 years intense droughts have stricken the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, California, the great basin states, and most recently western Maryland. These droughts not only caused billions in damages to agriculture, but were just as destructive to water systems and quality, aquifers, fish and wildlife, recreation, and small businesses, and our Nation's forests.
Unfortunately, in all instances of drought there is one common factor; a complete lack of the Federal Government's ability or authority to address and ameliorate the drastic circumstances that states and constituents find themselves in. This inability is strangely specific to droughts in comparison to the majority of other forms of natural disasters that strike various regions of the country on an annual basis. And while I'm no way belittling the effects of other forms of natural disasters, I do believe the Federal Government should respond to and treat drought disasters on the same basis as floods and hurricanes.
Currently, the Federal Government does not have a national drought policy, national climatic monitoring system, or an institutionalized organizational structure to address drought. Accordingly, every time a drought occurred the Federal Government was behind the power curve, playing catch up in a haphazard fashion to meet the needs of impacted states and citizens.
Accordingly, Senator Domenici and I have introduced legislation seeking to address this problem, and much of the need was illustrated by a drought task force created by the Western Governors Association in response to the 19951996 drought. The task force was chaired by Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, and issued his final report on November 1996, the WGA Drought Response Action Plan.
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The report contains several valuable recommendations, one of which, is to develop a national drought policy or framework that integrates actions and responsibilities amongst all level of government; federal, state, regional, and local. This policy should plainly spell out preparedness, response, and mitigation measures to be developed by each entity. This is contained within my legislation.
H.R. 3035 will clearly move towards the establishment of a concurrent and feasible national drought policy. My bill will form an advisory commission, whose purpose would be to make recommendations towards the establishment of a national policy. The commission will be charged with determining what needs to exist on the federal, state, local and tribal levels, with regard to drought, with reviewing existing federal, state, local and tribal drought programs, and with determining what deficiencies between the needs of drought victims, and those programs currently designed to deal with drought as a problem.
Most importantly, the commission will be charged with making its recommendations on how federal drought laws and programs can be better integrated into a comprehensive national drought policy, to mitigate the impacts of and respond to serious drought emergencies.
The membership of the commission was drafted to reflect agencies which have roles responding to a drought emergency, from the secretary of Agriculture, to the director of the FEMA agency, and the administrator of the Small Business Administration.
Most importantly, as a direct result of the unreflective biased recommendations of previously congressionally established commissions, I believe it is very important for the commission to contain the members representative of the non-federal entities affected by drought emergencies.
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My legislation requires that two persons nominated by the National Government's Association, one each from the state east and west of the Mississippi, and a person by the National Association of Counties. One nominated to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and four appointed by the secretary of Agriculture, representative of groups acutely affected by drought emergencies, such as the agriculture production community, the credit community, rural water associations, and Native Americans.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I believe this legislation is needed and thoroughly written. I also believe the commission it creates will provide comprehensive recommendations that will enable federal, state, and local agencies to provide rapid and thorough response to those in need.
Senator Domenici's bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support last fall, and I look forward to passing this bill out of the house, and having it signed into law in the near future.
Again, I appreciate your attention, Chairman Boehlert and that of the committee, in allowing me to testify, and more importantly, I look forward to your assistance in expediting the passage of this bill.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Mr. Skeen. I do note in Dr. Zirschky's testimony, he's got some recommended adjustments to the bill, and I want to assure you and he that we will work cooperatively with you both to advance a bill that I know is very important to those of you in the west who experience this phenomenon called drought. So we will work to expedite consideration.
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Mr. SKEEN. We appreciate that information
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you so much.
Mr. SKEEN. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. We appreciate your help.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. McKeon.
Mr. MCKEON. Chairman Boehlert, Mr. Johnson, Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity of appearing before a chairman, who's a member of the boot caucus. It makes me feel right at home. Thank you. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak before you today regarding FEMA reauthorization and hazard mitigation issues.
My experience with FEMA began abruptly on the morning of January 17, 1994. I had just completed my first year as a member of the House of Representatives, when a devastating earthquake occurred at 4:31 in the morning, which was centered in my congressional district. To this day, I have nothing but praise and gratitude for FEMA's efforts in the days, months, and years following the Northridge earthquake.
I particularly want to take this occasion to again commend Director Witt for his hands-on effort, and his involvement on behalf of my constituents, as well as others throughout southern California who were affected by this disaster.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Those of you who have not had the opportunity to get to know Director Witt well, I hope you don't have to, but I tell you, if you need him, if you have a disaster, it's great to have him there. He does an outstanding job. I just wish I didn't know him quite so well. He's great.
As many people here know, our Nation has witnessed a number of natural disasters in recent years. Hurricanes in the southeast, floods, and as you just heard, droughts in the Midwest, California, ice storms in the northeast, and wild fires in the west, in addition to the Northridge earthquake.
Each time FEMA and countless volunteers have responded to communities in need. We need to build on this success, and I'm hopeful that Congress and FEMA can work together to send a FEMA reauthorization bill to the floor this year.
While I have this opportunity to testify, Mr. Chairman, I'd also like to mention a bill that I have introduced, which you talked about earlier, which is currently pending before your subcommittee. This bill, H.R. 2741, clarifies existing authority under section 404(f)(1)(b) of the Clean Water Act, regarding the maintenance of flood control projects.
I became interested in this issue last year when it was brought to my attention that several counties in California were unable to clear vegetation and other debris and channels that were built specifically for flood control purposes. There was a particular concern because of the El Nino weather pattern that had forecast heavy winter rains in southern California, which under normal circumstances receives very little rainfall. I might also add that the most severe rains are expected to occur during the next 2 months.
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I believe that Congress has the duty to ensure that flood control professionals are able to perform their duties, which will ultimately safeguard lives and property from flood damage that might be caused by El Nino. Los Angeles County had attempted to clear its channels for 2 years before they finally received a federal permit in October 1997. Because the county was essentially seeking to perform preventive maintenance to maintain the serviceability of its vast network of flood control channels, I do not believe that waiting for a federal permit should have been necessary. This is the issue that H.R. 2741 addresses.
I also believe that it is important for members to realize under the Federal permit, Los Angeles County faces future mitigation costs, which may be as high as $30 million. In order to pay for these mitigation costs, the county will have to eliminate or reduce expenditures for other public services.
At this time, I would like to ask the subcommittee to include in the record, letters from Governor Pete Wilson and Los Angeles mayor, Richard Riordan, that articulate the difficulties with the current permitting process.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Without objection, so ordered.
Mr. MCKEON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to working with your subcommittee, and I'm available to answer any questions from you or other subcommittee members. Thank you.
[The information supplied follows:]
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Mr. BOEHLERT. I want to thank you very much, and point out that you have been diligent in bringing to the subcommittee's attention this issue. And I would say, at first blush, 2 years is totally unacceptable, in terms of a time period to wait for a response to a situation like that.
I would also point out that you have two very strong advocates on this subcommittee. One, your colleague from California, Dr. Horn, and the other who is not a California resident; she'd like everyone to move to Cape Girardeau, and that's Ms. Emerson, who has been particularly effective in discussing this issue with the committee. And to point out that it is beyond California. You've got the attention of others, and you certainly have our attention. We'll work with you on this very important issue.
Mr. MCKEON. Thank you very much.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Strickland.
Mr. STRICKLAND Chairman Boehlert, Mr. Johnson, and other members of the subcommittee, I want to thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with you about FEMA's mitigation program.
A year ago next month, FEMA assisted southern Ohio in its recovery efforts after a federally declared disaster devastated 12 of the 14 counties in my district. I would like to thank them for their hard work, and as others have spoken today, I would like to say that it was the most impressive undertaking of any entity of government that I have ever seen in my life. The concern and the compassion, which was extended to my constituents, was inspiring, and I am very thankful for what they did.
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However, almost a year later, southern Ohio is still struggling to make sense of several hazard mitigation cases. Today I would like to highlight one particular case in Lawrence County, Ohio.
In 1997 Ohio's Emergency Management Agent sent 56 letters to homeowners, whose homes were built in the flood plain after the National Flood Insurance Program went into effect. At the time of the purchase of their homes, these homeowners were unaware of the flood zoning classification. The letters sent to the homeowners by OEMA indicated that these individuals were required to comply with the NFIP, by raising the level of their homes, or by moving them at a cost in excess of $8 million. If they failed to do so, their names could be sent to the county prosecutor in 45 days, which could pursue a misdemeanor charge against the individuals, with fines ranging up to $300 per day.
At that time, Lawrence County was on probationary status with FEMA because of several factors. However, on occasions, FEMA officials apparently had indicated to Lawrence County officials that the county's probationary status would not affect its ability to obtain hazard mitigation grants.
Lawrence County was denied mitigation assistance, and to this day remains on probation. As a result of the decision by Ohio's EMA, the property owners now are in catch-22 limbo. The homeowners are in noncompliance with NFIP requirements, and they contribute to the probationary status of Lawrence County; however, because Lawrence County is on probation, the homeowners cannot receive mitigation grants to assist them in complying with NFIP requirements.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment addresses the effectiveness and efficiency of FEMA's hazard mitigation programs, I would suggest that three specific issues need to be considered.
First, the development of an integrated federal, state, and county network that ensures that communities and homeowners are fully aware of their classification as an area that has been declared as located in a flood zone area. Once an area has been declared a flood zone area, it is critical that NFIP outline the expectations and/or requirements of homeowners, business owners, property owners, with regards to forms, deadlines, and payments, so that they may fully comply.
Two. FEMA officials have considerable flexibility in assessing mitigation grant applications. I would consider this flexibility to be one of the strengths of the program. However, it can also lead to a catch-22 scenario, as experienced by Lawrence County, because some standards may not be clearly understood by state officials and local communities.
Third, and perhaps most important. Existing law does not clearly specify what HMGP funds can and cannot be used for. For instance, may HMGP funds be dispersed to assist communities whose counties are not on probation, so that they may comply with NFIP requirements and not be placed on probation? And, may funds be used to assist communities whose counties are on probation, so they may comply with NFIP requirements and eliminate their probationary status?
I strongly believe that if a community with probationary status acts in good faith to comply with NFIP requirements, they should be considered eligible for mitigation assistance.
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During the flooding in southern Ohio federal, state divisions of EMA were not fully coordinated in their understanding of FEMA policies. They often disagreed about the specifics of mitigation cases, which unfortunately contributed to the delay or denial of mitigation assistance.
Now, although this particular case represents just the tip of the iceberg of our hazard mitigation experiences in southern Ohio, I would be happy to answer any questions or speak to you in more detail about this, and other FEMA-related matters, such as H.R. 2257, the Disaster Assistance Fairness Act, which I introduced last year.
I look forward to working with the subcommittee on this matter, and would like to thank you very much for this opportunity to speak to you.
Mr. BOEHLERT. And I want to thank you very much for your thoughtful presentation. Obviously, you've had first hand experience, and you can't substitute for that. And secondly, you've given a good deal of thought, after consultation with others. And so, we very much appreciate it.
As you are aware, there's some jurisdictional issue here with the Banking Committee because of a flood insurance program, but we will take your counsel to heart, and we'll give it the very careful consideration it warrants. So thank you so very much.
Mr. STRICKLAND. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BOEHLERT. I'd like to recognize at this point Ms. Emerson, if I may.
Ms. EMERSON. Mr. Chairman, I just want to take a moment to thank you very much for taking the time to hold this hearing to talk about the different legislative proposals that deal with disaster mitigation, and the saving of lives, particularly as it pertains to the whole Nation, and not just Cape Girardeau, Missouri. However, let me also make a formal request to you, and other members of the subcommittee, that perhaps we could hold a subcommittee field hearing in my district, so that you all might see first hand, precisely how some of the preventive measures that communities can take to clear out channels, et cetera, don't harm habitat, and can in fact enhance it, as well as save lives.
So I'd like to make that proposal, and we could allthen you all could see how wonderful it is to live in Cape Girardeau.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Well, thank you very much. I think it's always beneficial when a committee gets out into the real America, beyond the borders of the Nation's Capitol. The invitation is pending, and we'll take it to heart. And I can assure you that there are a number of us that would like very much to get out in the field more than we do. And it's always a problem or scheduling, but we'll try to work it out.
Ms. EMERSON. Thank you.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now it is my pleasure to introduce to you the director of Federal Emergency Agency from Panel 2, Mr. James Lee Witt.
Now, in introducing him, I'll do two things; one, I'll be very short, and then I want a special request that we have from our colleague, Mr. Quinn.
But let me point out in 1993 when the announcement of James Lee Witt's appointment, I think there are a number of people in this town who looked around and said, well, there's another FOB, friend of Bill, coming to Washington from Arkansas, and we were a little bit skeptical, I must admit it. Boy, you have done something very special.
As you see, member after member, on both sides of this podium, talking from first-hand experience. You've provided some inspired leadership to your agency, and we are proud to associate with you and the agency. And with that, let me recognize Mr. Quinn, because he's had a personal experience that he would like to relay.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to, I guess, officially join the James Lee Witt fan club today, and point outand thank you and your staff for some help last year, here in Washington. My staff looked at some disaster relief for snow emergencies, and your folks here in Washington were very, very helpful; came over and helped us design a bill, and in the end, worked with us to actually change some regulations you had over at FEMA, which was exactly what we wanted right from the beginning, so we appreciate that.
And I also join Mr. Boehlert, on behalf of Congressman McHugh, who could not be here to thank you, and everybody who was involved in the upstate New York situation. While most of the destruction missed my district this time, I think all of us realize, on this committee and in the Congress, that any day around the corner it could be us. And I think that's the awareness you've brought to the whole agency.
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But I need to point out to you, about 15 years ago, I was just a town supervisor in upstate New York, in Hamburg, New York, a lakeside community, was absolutely devastated with a flood. I was in some of those homes with water up to my waste. FEMA stepped in, and that time Congressman Jack Kemp and Congressman Hank Noak represented the area; they helped me. But I saw the kinds of things that Joanne Emerson talk about seeing first hand, and lived it.
And more than anything, without getting into specifics, I think we all need to remember, that long after the TV cameras leave, long after the news reporters go on to other stories in these emergencies, life goes on. And it's the human people kind of effect that you can't forget after the news reports, that go on, as Mr. Strickland pointed out, weeks, and months, and years after.
And I think, Mr. Chairman, more than anything we now have this agency sensitive to people's needs. And after all, that's what we're all about. And I think the more that we can do that, and help you do that, we'll all be better off. And I wanted to say thanks for doing it.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Mr. Quinn. And I would tell my colleagues on the subcommittee, the Chair tries to honor special requests. We're all subjected to very demanding schedules, and I try to be as considerate as I can.
Obviously, we can't have special requests from every member, but Mr. Lobiondo has made a special request, which, with the indulgence of my colleagues, I would like to honor at this point for 2 minutes.
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Mr. LOBIONDO. Thank you very much, Chairman Boehlert, for your leadership on this issue.
Director Witt, first of all, let me join in the chorus of thank yous and congratulations for the job that your agency did in my district with a recent flooding in August. It had a tremendous effect in helping people. It's something that is very heartfelt with the response, and how that all came together. And it's a tribute to your leadership, so I'd like to thank you as well.
At the agreement with the Chairman, I had a number of questions, Director, that I will submit in writing, and hopefully you will have someone be able to answer them in the future, so we can shorten this up. But my questions and my concern have to do with a letter that we presented to you from the congressional delegation, which I hope you'll get a chance to look over, about the proposed rule change for a hazard mitigation grant program appeals process.
This is something that gives us a great deal of concern. We know that the folks in your agency are trying to say closely tuned to what's going on, but I'm concern that the adoption of the rule could have two effects. It could place too much authority in the hands of FEMA regional directors over applicants; and second, it eliminates due process for applicants who feel they have a legitimate claim for a grant. So I would ask you, please, to look at that carefully, and do your best to get back to me as soon as you can.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you, Chairman Boehlert.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. And without objection, not only your questions, but other written submissions by members of this panel will be presented to the agency, to Director Witt, for a response in a timely fashion.
Director Witt, the floor is yours.
TESTIMONY OF JAMES LEE WITT, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY
Mr. WITT. Mr. Chairman, thank you so much. Congressman Johnson, if you will submit a package for Green Bay, we'll be happy to look at it, and give it to Morrie Goodman.
Members of the committee, thank you so much for holding this hearing today on a variety of disaster-related issues. And I'm pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you today about our pre-disaster mitigation efforts.
We've experienced an incredible stream of floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, wild fires. Excluding the cost of the Northridge earthquake, FEMA's disaster cost and recovery efforts have climbed to an average $2.5 billion a year; this is just FEMA's cost alone. These costs and costs to other federal, state, and local agencies, the insurance industry, the private sector, and individuals across the country are unacceptable.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This committee took a very important step when it passed the amendment to the Stafford Act that increased the amount of money available for mitigation, after disasters. This has advanced our efforts and has enabled FEMA to help reduce the long-term cost of our disasters. But more needs to be done.
We have learned, since 1993, to pinpoint ways that we can improve the process of delivering mitigation funds after a disaster. States now can use hazard mitigation money statewide. It will give the states an opportunity to better plan, and to recognize projects that they need to do that are cost effective projects.
We have streamlined the application process. We have now established disaster close-out teams, and we need to further streamline delivery of post-disaster assistance, and clarify for communities which agency is responsible for them.
A specific example is levees. We do not believe FEMA has expertise in rebuilding levees. Other agencies, such as the Army Corps of Engineers and Natural Resource Conservation Service of the Department of Agriculture, should be given clear congressional authority to be the only federal agencies with this responsibility. This way local government does not have to try to shop around to see who is going to fund the rebuilding and emergency repairs of levees.
These changes make a big difference for local government, but even they are not enough. Our goal is to reduce the cost of disasters. We need to refocus our work on mitigating the loss before that disaster strikes.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Congress has recognized this, and has supported our efforts, providing pre-disaster funds in fiscal years1997 and 1998. As a result we developed ''Project Impact.'' This initiative is based on several principles.
Mitigation is local. Strategies must be locally responsive and they must be driven by grassroot level. The private sector really wants to be involved in this. They realize that the investment that they have in the people who work for them, and the investment that they have in that small business are important. They realize they must help make a difference in protecting that investment.
A partnership approach must be taken. It has to include the Federal, state, local, academic, private, and nonprofit sectors. Public awareness and marketing are critical to the long-term success of prevention. Incentives must be part of the approach.
The reception of ''Project Impact'' in our pilot communities has been outstanding. Since November we have launched Project Impact in four pilot communities; Deerfield Beach, Florida; Pascagoula, Mississippi; Wilmington, North Carolina; and Oakland, California.
Three additional pilots are also planned in Seattle, Washington; Tucker and Randolph Counties, West Virginia; and Allegany County in Maryland.
Let me take a moment just to talk about some of the exciting things that are occurring in these communities. In Pascagoula, Mississippi the Merchant's Marine National Bank joined as a partner to make below the market rate loans to small businesses and homeowners, so they can do hurricane prevention.
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In Wilmington, North Carolina General Electric Corporation has joined as a partner. They retrofitted their company in Wilmington, North Carolina against a hurricane threat before Hurricane Fran hit. They were ready to reopen and put their employees back to work the day after the hurricane because of what they had done.
But they found they had one problem. Their employees couldn't come back to work because of all the damages, and homes destroyed, and having to take care of their families and their homes. So General Electric is now putting in place a program to help their employees do prevention in their homes.
With ''Project Impact'' we're supporting a growing change in the way Americans address disasters. Communities want to change the way they address the risk that they face in their community.
A week and a half ago, I went to a breakfast at 7:30 in the morning at Evansville, Indiana. Evansville, wants to become a'' Project Impact'' community, but they're not waiting on the Federal Government. They have initiated a program themselves called Impact. They had over 200 businessmen and women at that breakfast. They have contributed $184,000 to hire a planner to do their planning, and to do earthquake prevention and flood prevention in Evansville, Indiana.
''Project Impact'' is creating an excitement within these communities. Disasters have enormous effects on the business community. In most cases that we have seen nationwide, over 20 percent of small businesses that have been impacted never reopen. Most that I have found have a mortgage on their business, have a mortgage on their home, and when they're devastated by a disaster, it's very difficult for them to recover. And then that's a loss of jobs in their community.
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In 1993, we had 9 states and 500 counties affected by the Midwest flooding. In Des Moines, Iowa we had to furnish water, with the help of the Corps of Engineers, to 250,000 people and furish port-a-potties because their treatment plant was shut down as well.
Des Moines had the majority of its business district shut down for 11 days with an economic loss of over $300 million. It cost $14 million to rebuild their water treatment plant, where it would never be flooded again. But the overall economical loss that those businesses and that community experienced, was over $300 million.
Under ''Project Impact'' we're implementing incentives that help people take a greater responsibility for the natural hazards that they face. Our goal is to have at least one ''Project Impact'' community in all 50 states by September 30th, and that's just the start.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, let me just emphasize again, pre-disaster mitigation makes sense, and it is good public policy. This committee has taken the leadership role on this issue, and I really look forward to working with you to make pre-disaster mitigation a reality. And I'd like to introduce my Associate Director for Mitigation, Michael Armstrong. He joins me here.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Armstrong, welcome. Thank you for the introduction.
Director Witt, how can we better track federal mitigation measures to make certain we're dealing with the most cost-effective manner to handle mitigation. We all want to do everything we possibly can do, but obviously we can't do everything. And GAOthere's some question aboutin its study, there's some question about our ability to track and determine cost effectiveness of various efforts.
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What are your thoughts on that?
Mr. WITT. We have tried to basically do a cost benefit analysis of what we spend on mitigation, from the 1993 floods, after you gave us a change in the Stafford Act, in increasing the mitigation dollars.
In Missouri alone, us do this in mitigationabout over 4,000 pieces of property were bought out, and relocated, out of harm's way. This land was turned back into open space management, which is environmentally good as well.
Every dollar that we spentwhich was about $150 million on Missouriwill save in 10 years $350 million. What was interesting in Missouri, was that in 1995 some of the same areas that we bought out and relocated, flooded again, but it did not cost us one dime of disaster cost. And it absolutely saved an enormous amount of pain and suffering that those individuals had gone through before.
Mr. BOEHLERT. What do you think is going to happen with Project Impact once the federal funding stops? Do you talk to the states? Are they going to be partners to this whole effort, and do you think they will continue the program?
Mr. WITT. In Evansville, Indiana, what was interesting about that community is that the state came in as a partner with Evansville and provided a $10,000 grant to help them initiate their prevention program.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I have seen States and communities that are so excited about this. The State of Florida has done unbelievable things, and put money into projects like this to do prevention. So I think the states will come around, and will do more in prevention, because it not only costs the Federal Government, it costs the states and local governments in tax dollars too which takes away from what they need to do in other special programs of education and health care.
So I think it is really important that we all focus on this, but the amount of money that we're putting in for ''Project Impact'' is very small in a community. It's basically seed money that will help us to work with them on technical assistance, and working with them incorporating private industry and local government, and other federal agencies.
And what's interesting, Mr. Chairman, is that we're trying to focus ''Project Impact'' in every single program in our agency, without asking for funds to so. Other federal agencies can do the same thing. Because we all put federal dollars in different programs in the communities. And every single one of us can include prevention as part of our normal program dollars.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Well, I'm very impressed with this handout you have on ''Project Impact,'' and I'm sure my colleagues will profit a great deal from looking it over, and sharing it with the people back home. That's very important.
With that, let me thank you, and turn to Mr. Johnson.
Mr. JOHNSON OF WISCONSIN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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Director Witt, I want to get back to Congressman's Ted Strickland's testimony. Some of the questions he brought up, the communities and homeowners, as he said might not be aware, that the communities were designated as part of a floodplain by FEMA.
Can you tell us what mechanisms are relied on right now, currently, to inform homeowners, or potential home buyers that the properties are in fact located in designated floodplain areas, and that they should purchase the needed flood insurance policies?
Mr. WITT. Every single community that joins the National Flood Insurance Programwhich now is up to 19,000 communities in the United States. Every single one of these communities that have a high flood risk or 100-year flood plain, we go into that community. We hold town hall meetings to make the public aware of the flood elevation maps.
Every single one of the communities that are in the program have the flood elevation maps in their city hall to advise their constituents of the flood elevations. If a person wants to borrow money, and they own a home that's in a high risk flood area, or the 100-year floodplain, then the mortgage company, now by federal law, is required to advise them that they have to purchase flood insurance. There are all kinds of things that we do for the public awareness, to make a community aware as well.
Mr. JOHNSON OF WISCONSIN. Having bought a home right next to a flood plain, I'm aware of that.
Earlier Congressman Strickland spoke of this catch-22 situation that he has in his district, and I assume that probably some others. Now, under the FEMA regulations, may the hazard mitigation grants money be dispersed to a county or property owners of a county that's on probation with FEMA?
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Mr. WITT. A county or an incorporated city that's on probation from the National Flood Insurance Program can receive hazard mitigation funds. First, let's understand how the hazard mitigation funds are administered. The state office of emergency service or emergency management in that state administers this program. The state sets the priorities of what hazard mitigation programs or projects they would like to fund that's on a priority list for them. FEMA reviews the project after they submit it to us.
But it's important to note that the community the Congressman was talking about has been on probation for a very long time. We have asked the community to come in with a letterjust a lettertelling us what they're going to do to get off probation, and describe their efforts in doing this. We have not received that letter yet, and we're going to be meeting with the Congressman tomorrow to go through some of this process, to get him to help us, to get the community to help themselves.
But you know, a community and an individual has a responsibility to make sure that, where they build, or where they put a business, that they have the responsibility to know what their risks may be to protect themselves. And we have a responsibility too, to help them to be aware of it, as well as the state and local emergency management, and local officials.
But they can still get hazard mitigation funds. If the state submits it to us, then we will review it.
Mr. JOHNSON OF WISCONSIN. Is this a common occurrence? Are there other catch-22s in the country as was described in Congressman Strickland's district?
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Mr. WITT. Congressman, I haven't experienced this anywhere else, but we'll work with Congressman Strickland, and try to clear it up and clarify what we can do to help him on it.
Mr. JOHNSON OF WISCONSIN. You've received some modest funding to date, $2 million in fiscal year 1997, and $30 million in fiscal year 1998. What's the funding level for ''Project Impact'' in the new budget the President's proposing?
Mr. WITT. President Clinton has made the ''Project Impact'' part of his presidential initiative in the 1999 budget, and supports a $50 million program. When you look across the country, it's very minimal, in comparison to whatthe benefit that we're going to get out of this and what communities are going to get.
Mr. JOHNSON OF WISCONSIN. Thank you, Director Witt.
Mr. WITT. Congressman, I want to tell you this. I was in California last week, where we launched the City of Oakland as one of the pilot projects. While there, I met with the mayor of the City of Berkeley. I learned that this city, with a population of 105,000 people, passed five bond issues, which required two-thirds of this the vote to pass it. They have taxed themselves over $260 million in that community because of the Hayward earthquake fault. They are retrofitting all 17 schools in their community. They are installing an alternate water system because they know that the 72-inch water trunk line coming into their community, will probably be broken. And they're doing this to make sure they have water to fight fires, make sure they have water for critical facilities.
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A lot of communities are doing a tremendous amount of work, and ''Project Impact,'' will help pull more energy and more dollars from private industry into the communities to helpto keep the communities having to tax themselves so much, but yet help them to be better prepared in prevention.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Mr. Johnson.
Mr. HORN. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And Director, I'm obviously delighted to see you here. You've been a good friend of southern California, and very constructive in the suggestions that have been given by the grassroots and your agency's advice, we appreciate.
I've got a real problem, and that problem is shared by the bipartisan delegation in the City of Los Angeles, L.A. County. 500,000 people are affected by this problem. That's the 20 to 30-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River.
Are you ever consulted by the OMB or the President when the budget for particular flood control projects to mitigate, solve some problems, are involved? How does that work? Does the Corps ask you for your priorities or is it just their priorities?
Mr. WITT. Most of the time we're consulted on projects that you're speaking of after we have a disaster.
Mr. HORN. Well, as you know, we don't have one yet, but we havemandatory flood insurance will be imposed as of July 1st, and the rumor is, the administration is going to recommend underfunding this project. I don't know if that's true. If it is, 500,000 people, more than any area in the United States, will suffer. Because if we can complete that project to the 50 percent point, we wouldn't have to have millions, tens of millions of dollars, come out of the people. And that would go to solve the problem, rather than just drag it out forever.
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Now, we've had legislation pass the Congress that said the local partner can forward funds, and the Federal Government would pay back to them. I will get into some of these with the Assistant Secretary of the Army. But I think it's just an irony, that when we're trying to solve the problem, we have flood control insurance hitting us on the one side, under-recommending on the other side, facing up to the problem, and that bothers me.
And on top of that we have the following problem, which I didn't know until recently. As you know, when the Corps of Engineers build something, in construction, they can turn it over to the county for maintenance, or they can authorize by the Corps just to maintain it by the county.
But we've, not only had significant delays in obtaining permitsand that isn't your problem; that's the Corps problem, and we'll get to that with them. But what we need is a policy by the administration, and it seems to me you're the key person to pull a lot of these people in with these various agencies that have conflicts. And after this 2-year effort to obtain permits, they became enmeshed in a new problem in the County of Los Angeles.
In other words, FEMA notified the county that if FEMA was forced to pay out damages due to flooding cause or compounded by blocked flood control channels, the county had not cleared yet, FEMA would then bill the county for those damages, when it isn't the county's fault. The county wants to clean it. The Corps of Engineers delayed for 2 years. It's the Corps of Engineers fault, and it's the fault of those other agencies that are perhaps confusing wetlands, and a soft bottom in the river as being similar.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I'm all for wetlands. Heaven knows, I've helped pass bills, authored bills, you name it, to try and solve this problem. But this, whether we like it or not, basically a cement sort of flyway, if you will, for water, and we learned from the Mississippi floods of the early 1990's that's a crazy thing to do, but there it is. It sits there. This generation has inherited it.
What do you have to say on the fact that FEMA would bill the County of Los Angeles, when they're trying to solve the problem, and the delays in permits being granted are extending the problem?
Mr. WITT. Well, I haven't heard about us billing the county, but I will absolutely look into it.
But addressing what you're talking about, of pulling the agencies together with an administrative effort into looking at the permit issue, I wholeheartedly support that, and we will be happy to do that.
Mr. HORN. Yeah, I think it's a nationwide problem, and I think a cabinet subcommittee would solve the problem of getting a policy developed.
Mr. WITT. I wholeheartedly agree.
You know, Congressmanand we've talked about the AR zones before, and many other communities across the county are in this same situation as some of California. But I had an opportunity to meet with a lot of the mayors from Orange County in my office, and they expressed to me some concern because of the decertification or the protection in those communities on some of the drainage projects there, that the Corps has to go in and reinspect, and then, whether they certify or decertify.
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One of the mayors expressed to mehe said, ''You know, Director...'' he said, ''I know our people need protection and the flood insurance.'' He said the problem I have with this, it's going to take $132 million out of the economy in our community to buy the flood insurance.
The other problemand I have to say this. The Corps of Engineers has done a fantastic job working with us in every disaster that we responded to, but the Corps' hands are tied in many ways. The initial intent on one of the projects in California that you're referring to was to finish that project within 2 years. And the Corps didn't get the funding, and it stretches out to 10 to 15 years. That puts a huge burden on those communities and individuals, that are required to buy flood insurance, because of the lack of protection. And we find that similar problem in many other places.
So I will be more than happy to pull a group of the agencies together to look at this and make some recommendations.
Mr. HORN. Just one last comment, Mr. Chairman.
I wonder, Director, if you do pull the group together, could we work a phased return of the money on just that point that the mayor made. That's my point also, that if we could workif it is going to be taxed out of the community, and that's what it is, could we not make sure these projects finish on time, or at least get halfway through it, where they don't have to have that ax fall on them anymore.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WITT. I agree, because in reality if you look at this, a lot of people that live in houses in these areas are low income people. And a lot of them are renters. And if we have a flood disaster, it is going to cost us a tremendous amount of disaster funds for individual assistance, and temporary housing. And not only that, but when you go in and have over a 50 percent loss in an area, then you're going to have to either relocate or elevate some people.
So the cost rises if we have a flood disaster there. So this makes good sense to do it before we have the disaster, and put the protection in place. And the faster we can do it, the better.
Mr. HORN. Well, I thank you. I completely agree with you.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you, Dr. Horn.
Mrs. TAUSCHER. Thank you for your leadership on this issue.
Director Witt, I only have good news. You have done a spectacular job in my area of northern California. We have in the central part of Contra Costa County in the communities of Lafayette and MaragaI've worked with you and the Army Corps of Engineers most recently to help mitigate our flooding potential problems.
Late last year, before we closed our session, we had in our district a disaster preparedness forum in our biggest city of Walnut Creek, and we had hundreds of constituents. In my district 53 percent of the people haven't lived for 20 years, and 35 percent haven't lived for 10. And we are coming upon the anniversary of the 1989 earthquake, the Lomaearthquake, which obviously had a great effect on the Bay area, and many of my constituents didn't lose their homes, but they certainly had their employment interrupted, and their job and their work situations really put in a precarious position because of that.
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So we had this disaster preparedness fair, and it was a fantastic success. People just didn't know, if they've come from different parts of the country, what to do to prepare themselves and their families. You were very good at that.
I also spent the weekend when I was back home last week, and watching you on television during your El Nino spot, and it was I think very well received. Certainly the people in my area appreciate being told how to do things in a forward-looking way. They want to be responsible. They want to know what to do to protect themselves and their communities. And I think those are very positive things, and I thank you for your leadership on that.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. WITT. I want to thank you too for sending out the disaster preparedness kits that you sent out. That was great.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Mrs. Tauscher. Mrs. Kelly.
Mrs. KELLY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I also want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for having this hearing.
Mr. Witt, I want to thank you from the people of my district 19 and New York. Again, when Mr. Quinn was speaking of the snow disaster that hit his area, it hit my area also. And when you have a disaster where the roofs of supermarkets cave in, and things like that, people just don't know what to do. And that is really what I wanted to say.
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In your ''Project Impact'' I was looking at the checklist you have for small businesses. You had stated that 40 percent of small businesses that are affected by natural disaster never reopen. Quite frankly, I think that's an unacceptable number in today's age. If we can do anything to enhance the ability of small business to reopen, it's very important for the Nation's economy.
So I would hope that what you're doing with ''Project Impact'' is focused very heavily on allowing those small businesses, who are mostlythe small businesses are mostly individuals, and just a few people involved in something. This is the generator of our economy. So please, I would hope that you would focus increasingly on that aspect of what you're doing here. And I applaud you on ''Project Impact.'' As the mother of four kids, I believe in prevention.
Mr. WITT. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, the State of New Yorkworking with the State director, Ed Jacoby and Governor Pataki, the State of New York has taken the initiativethey have broken the State out into five districts. They are working with industry. They're working with the elected officials in the small communities, and the other communities across the State. They are prioritizing what type of projects and prevention projects they need to do in those areas. They're really putting together a good plan, so you can be very proud of what they're doing.
The small businessand I have to tell you the story. In Pascagoula, MississippiCongressman Taylor, you may know the businessthe Gibson's Electric Rewinding Company, motor rewinding companyvery small businessa mom, pop and son operation.
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I was there. I asked, ''How many customers do you have?'' They said, we have 600 customers, but we want to build our small business where it's hurricane proof, because it's essential that we reopen for business after a disaster.
I said, ''Well, who are your customers?'' The city water department, the city sewer department, the hospitals; all of the critical facilities of that community, they do all the motor rewinding and rebuilding for it. And they want to step out and do this, and that's what it's going to take.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
Mr. Taylor, that's a good lead in.
Mr. TAYLOR. I was going to ask you about a different disaster in Pascagoula. But, since you are familiar with that region, you know it's fairly low line.
First, as a request to your agency. A recurring complaint that I'm hearing with regard to wetlands regulations, is that I have time and time again, I'm in 26 feet above sea level. How can this possibly be a wetland?
I really don't think FEMA and the Corps are working together as close as they could, to explain to me the difference between a wetland and floodplain. And I think we may well be the Nation's largest insurer through the Federal Flood Insurance Program. Like every insurer we have a right tell people, if you want to buy our policy, you're going to take these precautions.
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I don't think you all are spelling that out well enough. I'm amazed at how many town meetings, when I say that, I start seeing heads nod, like why didn't somebody ever explain it to me that way. And we're only doing it, just because the private sector won't sell insurance to those people. And again, I think you need to say that on a regular basis. We're doing this to fill a void that the private sector has chosen not to get involved in, because it's going to be a lost leader. Okay. First request.
The second is going back to Pascagoula, Mississippi. You know the other disaster down there involving the cotton insecticide. To the best of my knowledge the taxpayers spent about $60 million down there, fixing people's houses, who went and hired an unlicensed exterminator to spray a cotton insecticide in their home.
I want a few people to say, wait a minute. Why is that the Nation's responsibility. I'm told that it's because Super Fundit fell under the Super Fund laws. I would certainly hope that you'd work with the chairman and others, to see to it that this mistake doesn't happen again. This is not a case of a chemical plant nearby exploding; this is a case of people making a mistake on their own.
And as you know, in many instances, rebuilt houses, refurbished houses, changedno telling how much carpet, et cetera, et cetera. And again, these are the same folks who one day will tell me they want less governing.
And againand what I'm really afraid of, is unscrupulous landlords across the country. I'm scared to death of this. They're going to see what happens. They hire some bubba to come spray their building. Say they didn't know that the man wasn't licensed, and suddenly, all across the country, based on the experience there, and a couple of other places in the Delta, the taxpayers are being called upon to refurbish apartment buildings and apartment house all over the country, and it not fair to the taxpayer. And if it's a mistake in the law that needs to be addressed, I hope you would supply us with the way to fix that. Because I've seen too many people abuse federal programs, and I think it's already being abused in areas. Why on earth would there be cotton insecticide in some of these places that they have a problem.
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Third request would bethat's it. I was just going to remind youI would like to know. Are we the Nation's largest insurer? Is the National Flood Insurance, if you had to single it outare we the Nation's largest insurer? I've got to believe we're very close to it.
Mr. WITT. I don't know if we're the largest insurer, but you know, it's very interesting what you said about the flood insurance program.
We now have $442 billion insurance inforce.
Mr. TAYLOR. If I may, Mr. Witt. And again, I know I'm trying to micro-manage, but I'm micro-managing in response to things I hear everyday from my constituents.
I can't emphasize enough. People yell at me on one hand, saying the government has too many regulations. On the other hand, every time something goes wrong, every time there's 6 inches of rain back homeyou know how flat that district isthey're saying, okay, now who's going to pay for my car.
I would really encourage your agency, and really encourage the Corps of Engineers to explain to people. We're telling you shouldn't build here because we think this place is going to flood. We're asking you to build your house X number of feet above the ground, because we presume this area's going to flood, and we are your insurer. And if you really want a laissez faire society, then don't come to us for flood insurance.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC You can have it one way or the other. You can do anything you want, anyplace you want to, but we're not going to insure it. If you want us, like any reasonable insurer, to take the risk, then you have to work with us to minimize those risks. And I don't think you're doing that well enough. And I don't mean this as criticism, because you do a wonderful job of helping my State and every state after there's a storm. But as you said before, if your goal is to minimize the occurrence of these disasters, I really think you accomplishyou go a long way towards that goal, by explaining to people why you're doing what you're doing.
Mr. WITT. Let me answer just the last part of your question about the people in the floodplain area, and building in the floodplain area.
In 1994 Congress passed the National Flood Insurance Form Act, which limits what people will get in a flood disaster if they do not have flood insurance.
They might get one free flood, but if they get flooded again and don't have flood insurance, then they're not going to get an individual and family grant. The only things they might get would be an emergency home repair grant or temporary housing for 3 months, period. And that's good.
The other thing is that the communities that have joined the Flood Insurance Program, have to agree that they will comply with the building standards, that's part of the program. Before Congress put in place the Flood Insurance Administration, we inherited a traditional building stock, that has been built over the years in high risk flood areas. And we're trying with our mitigation programwe only do that after the disaster happensis to relocate people out of those areas, where it can be used for open-space.
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The difficulty is trying to overcome a history of just bad building, over the many, many, many yearsI think we're getting there. I think people are becoming more aware of it.
Mr. TAYLOR. Mr. Witt, here's a follow-up question.
I was very surprised to learn in the closing days of the last session, that some Members of Congress have succeeded in literally drawing out a tract of land by legislation, and legislating that tract as no longer a wetland, regardless of what God did to create it. And I know this to be a fact.
My question to you is, how does that affect what you're doing to those people who build any tract of line that some legislator has decided, it's no longer a wetland, even though God created it otherwise. How doeswhen you make your reference to one bite at the apple. Because I wondering where these ''60 Minute'' stories are coming from, when some people literally every spring were getting a new set of carpet, courtesy of the American taxpayer.
And how does that fit into that. And my second question is, will there be any federal agency when this happens. I think you ought to think about the repercussions of doing that, because you're getting read to screw up the whole formula for federal flood insurance in particular.
Mr. WITT. Well, I think building in wetlands is a terrible idea. We have destroyed a lot of our wetlands. You can see a good example in the upper midwest floods this past year with flat land flooding, as well as the Red River flooding. Wetlands are a critical component of what we all dohave to live with and survive. I haven't heard of the legislation you're talking about. But it's important, and I think where you're going with this, is that it's important that EPA, Corps of Engineers, and FEMA, sit down together to seriously look at what each of the agencies are doing to make sure that it's a consistent policy, and what we're all doing, and also the cost of that policy, and how it would affect people building and destroying those wetlands.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Thune, the distinguished vice chairman.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I have a statement that I would like to have included in the record.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Without objection so ordered.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Thune follows:]
Mr. THUNE. South Dakota is of course no stranger to disaster. We've had drought and floods, and sometimes alternatively in the same season. In fact, I think probably last winter I may have spent as much time with James Lee as I do with my wife and family.
We appreciate the way that your organization was on the ground, assisting our people in getting back on their feet. And I always associateI think association when I see you though is normally something bad has happened in South Dakota. So I was watching the Super Bowl last Sunday, and you came on, it was like deja vu all over again.
But, I appreciate the interest that you've expressed in allowing for my state and local decisionmaking. That's something that we worked very hard in this last year in our state, to try and give our local governments the opportunity to respond the best way possible, and would hope that we could continue down that road.
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The extent that we have heard of problems in our state, in most cases it has been, in some way, form, or fashion, due to a lack of flexibility. So I hope that's something we continue in reviewing the legislation that you have brought up here.
Just one thing. You had indicated I think in your testimony efforts, that FEMA had undertaken regarding expediting obligations for older disasters. South Dakota I think has like eight open disaster periods. And one thing in visiting with our officials out there, has expressed some concern about the time it takes to process mitigation grants.
Can you give us some sort of an idea about the estimate of the time it takes to process on average those types of requests.
Mr. WITT. Congressman, this is a long story, and I'll be happy to share it in a brief way, hopefully.
When I became director of FEMA, I tried to look at the agency in a way that we could reorganize, streamline, cut costs, and serve our customers better.
The purpose of putting in the close-out teams was to close out 447 old disasters. Because what happens when you have a declaration is the state and FEMA responds with local government. After that disaster field office closes, our people come back to the region and to headquartersand the state goes back to working on their day-to-day programs, as well as their disaster response, or the long-term recovery part of it.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It seems like the ball gets dropped many times. Not only has it been some on our part, but as well as on the state and local part. So it's kind of a 50/50 responsibility here that has not been followed through.
So what we've tried to do is streamline the mitigation program. Give the States more flexibility in prioritizing their projects statewide. Give the States the 5 percent for flexibility, for projects that they want to say, this will make a difference; that they can identify and fund, and help make a difference in a local community.
We are also giving the states the opportunity to prioritize their mitigation projects through their 409 state mitigation plans. For this years budgets in 1997, 1998, Congress allowed us to put in place the funding for a state mitigation officer, which has never been done.
And a lot of the States did not have a mitigation officer, who was trained to deal with mitigation now FEMA can work better with the State, and in turn they can work better with the local community to get these projects finished and closed out.
We continue to work with States on establishing timelines in which projects are funded in the communities. In order to meet our timelines, we are working with States to streamline some of the program processes, and providing more authority and responsibility to those States that want to have a more active role in running the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.
So this way, with everything we're doing in trying to streamline it, even going as far as putting in trained environmental officers, in our regional offices, where they can work with the states, do the environmental impact statement, and study and review it right there with the state, instead of coming to Washington. Many times when it gets to Washington, it seems like it goes in this big black hole and it doesn't come out we are trying to streamline this to move it faster.
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In working with the states, we also put a stipulation here, a little incentive, that if the state doesn't have that money obligated for that mitigation project with that local government within a period of two years, then they're going to lose that money.
Mr. THUNE. Do you see any role for Congress in helping streamline that process? Is this something that you canI know you're doing your best to handle. Is there anything that
Mr. WITT. We're looking at the streamline process and some of the areas that we might need to change in legislation as well, not only in mitigation, but the public assistance program. We're doing a re-engineering of the public assistance program to not only better serve our customers but to close out these disasters much faster.
I'll give an example of what we're looking at. When the President makes a declaration for a State and designated local community, we have a team of Federal and State inspectors that go out to the local community; they write the damage survey report based on preliminary estimates of eligible costs of damages. That process is very cumbersome. That's where we get into so many appeals.
What we want to do is go in and write the Disaster Survey Report based on actual construction cost estimates. It will be signed off and agreed to by the State and local government. We will not have as many appeals. We can fast-track the process as well as cut disaster costs because we can close out the disaster much faster.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. THUNE. My time has expired. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. Mr. Gilchrest?
Mr. GILCHREST. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to ask my good friend from Mississippi, maybe after the hearing, where was that legislative proposal to carve out wetlands and make them uplands? That would be very interesting. I certainly hope they're not in Maryland or Mississippi.
Mr. Witt, welcome to the committee. I'd like to ask two basic questions. One is about the mitigation aspect of your programs with the understanding of the pre-disaster part of that. It seems to me that we've created a lot of places for people to live around this country without fully understanding in years past the mechanics of natural processes and how we interfere with that. It seems that, as an intelligent group of adults, we shouldn't keep making the same mistakes decade after decade, and then try to bring in resources to fix what we knew was going to happen to begin with, with technology that's as old as the Egyptian civilization 5,000 years ago. It's not your responsibility to sweep that away and develop a policy, but I think somehow we have to do that.
In part of your mitigation program, you have some money set aside, it says, for land use planning, for wetlands restoration, and for a number of other things. Is that a useful program? Would you like to continue to pursue the non-structural mitigation aspect? How much money would you need, do you think? Just come out and say it. You only live once. You're under no restraints except by God, and He wants youor She wants youto speak up.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Is it a good program? How much money would the country need for you to do that in the areas that you are aware of? And how would you do that? Do you talk to the planning and zoning commission about zoning and land use? And how do you restore those wetlands?
Mr. WITT. First, let me address the wetland issue just for a moment and tell you something that we did in South Dakota. The State has a wetland project called the Mickelson Memorial, named in honor of former South Dakota Governor George S. Mickelson. This area had a tremendous flooding problem below it. There was some land that came available to purchase. Through the South Dakota Game and Fish Commission, through the State and through a mitigation project, we all joined together and acquired about 1,100 more acres for that wetland.
Mr. GILCHREST. Where did the money come from?
Mr. WITT. Through the mitigation program.
Mr. GILCHREST. So FEMA used the money to acquire 1,100 acres?
Mr. WITT. Well, in conjunction with the Game and Fish, State dollars, and
Mr. GILCHREST. So they put money up as well?
Mr. WITT. Oh, yes, sir, a lot of money. But the impact of that was it created a larger wetland, which was not only good environmentally, it was good for the waterfowl and the migrant route of the waterfowl, but also what it did, it saved the flooding of thousands of acres below it.
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Mr. GILCHREST. Now how did it save thousands of acres of flooding? Why didn't it do that before?
Mr. WITT. Because that land had been farmed.
Mr. GILCHREST. Oh, I see.
Mr. WITT. And the runoff was creating the tremendous flooding problem. So the wetland was expanded by
Mr. GILCHREST. Was that because of the way in which the farm had been ditched, drained?
Mr. WITT. Well, it was the way it was irrigated, the way it was utilized, and the runoff of all of it during particularly wet years. It created a tremendous flood risk below it.
Mr. GILCHREST. So this area, which may have been a wetland before, the natural process was restored and then it was effective?
Mr. WITT. Yes, really effective.
The other issue you raised centers around the levees. We get involved in rebuilding levees, with emergency repair funds after a flood, and it gets very confusing for local government. You know, FEMA will pay for emergency flood fighting on levees which may be eligble for permanent restoration from the Army Corps of Engineers or the Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation. There are three different agencies with three different responsibilities with different authorities and for different funding. It's very confusing to the local government.
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The Corps of Engineers and the Natural Resource Conservation Service are the ones who have the capability; they're the ones who really and truly deal with this every day. What we would propose is that they're the ones who should have the funding authority, or expanded authority, to do this with local government.
A good example was in the upper Midwest. In Grand Forks and Fargo and through there, the Corps of Engineers fought that flood back from day one with those communitieson emergency repairs and everythingand did a great job and worked hard. That's the kind of thing that they need; that's what the local community needs to know, who the agency is that will be responsible for this.
Mr. GILCHREST. Right. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Mr. BOEHLERT. We have a vote on on the floor, but we'll try to conclude the questioning, so you can debate, with Dr. Ehlers.
Mr. EHLERS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In view of the impending vote and other time considerations, I will have no questions at this time. Thank you very much.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
Director Witt, we wish to thank you; Mr. Armstrong, your entire team, keep up the good work.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WITT. Thank you, sir.
Mr. BOEHLERT. The committee stands in recess subject to the call of the Chair of the House. We'll be back in 15 or so.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Dr. Zirschky, as you know, we're responding to a call, and I would imagine other Members will be coming back momentarily, but without imposing too much on your time, we'll let you go forward.
TESTIMONY OF JOHN H. ZIRSCHKY, ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE ARMY, CIVIL WORKS
Mr. ZIRSCHKY. Okay. I would be delighted, Mr. Chairman, for any Members who don't make it back, any questions for the record, we will answer them very quickly.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to be here today and to testify. I'm pleased to be here representing the Army and its Corps of Engineers. We have a 200-year-plus history of service to the country, including disasters, and we, too, share a great deal of respect for Director Witt and appreciate the kind remarks he had for us.
We like to think of ourselves as the Nation's problemsolvers. When it comes to engineering, scientific, or planning problems, we've got a proud history.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I'll make only a very few number of points. First, we support FEMA's focus on non-structural mitigation. Money is tight, and we believe that agencies need to focus on key areas. We are the experts at flood control, including structural flood control, and we need to stay in the construction business. So we appreciate Mr. Witt's remarks about keeping the Army in that business. Our engineering efforts in flood control help keep us prepared for other disasters and for wartime.
Secondly, we think further legislation on wetlands is unnecessary. If there are problems regarding specific permits, I'll be happy to work with the committee to address them. Three years ago, Mr. Chairman, you raised the issue of our huge backlog on old permits, and we responded by cutting back 90 percent.
I was sorry to hear that it took us two years to deal with the issues in California. Apparently, that's correct. It should never have happened.
I was born in California, so I'm familiar with those problems. I would be delighted to talk with Mr. Horn about LACDA, the Los Angeles County Drainage Flood Project. That was one that I worked very hard on in 1995 to get started, and money is a significant issue. Indeed, next week, Mr. Chairman, we'll announce our 1999 budget, and that will probably be the issue, is the money available to us.
With the deficit reduction, our budgets are very tight. We are delaying projects across the country in order to make our cash flow work. We have some projects delayed 23 years.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The large increase in our budget in Fiscal Year 1998, we are not going to be able to expend it all. Some of that money is going to carry over into Fiscal Year 1999, and that's required us to squeeze our budget in 1999 to stay within our outlay ceilings. But the administration does want to work with this committee, and with the Appropriations Committee, on our budget, but it is going to be a very austere budget in the construction program.
Fourth, we applaud the committee's focus on droughts. I have a farm in Maryland that was devastated by last summer's drought. In 1996, we proposed to do a nationwide assessment. That, unfortunately, was not funded. That assessment would have covered national availability of water and drought needs.
Myself and a number of members of this committee have served on a western water policy review advisory committee that has highlighted this problem. It's a timely problem. It particularly affects agriculture, and the Corps supports agriculture having a strong role. We would hope that we would also have a strong role in any legislation, because we own the water supply and have to basically find where to get the water out of our reservoirs.
There's a statement in my statement that may imply that the Army does not support State water rights. We do strongly support State water rights. The statement in there is to perhaps not specify that, to allow a freer debate within any commission that is set up, but I do not want to imply that the Army is not supportive of State water rights.
And that concludes my statement, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thanks, and I appreciate that, because we want to get right to the questions, and I know I have some and Mr. Johnson does, and other members who will show up do.
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But let's start by saying, I think all of us agree that preventing floods and saving lives are important, and given circumstances, must rise above regulatory permitting requirements intended to protect the environment. But the key question is: When and under what circumstances?
Do California membersand you've heard a lot about Mr. McKeon's billand flood control officials have a legitimate concern about the situation surrounding El Nino and leading to the introduction of H.R. 2741? I'd like you to elaborate, if you will, on your testimony's reference to emergency permits for such situations. I know the situation is outlined to me. They want to get moving, but then they say, well, we're getting this long, drawn-out permitting process. In the meantime, we're going to have to tell a lot of people that they're at risk. So talk about that, if you will.
Mr. ZIRSCHKY. Frankly, sir, we brought this problem on ourselves by taking two years to process some of the permits; that was raised here. That should never have happened.
It's difficult in an emergency permit because you don't know when the emergency is going to occur, and by the time you're pretty certain that an emergency is going to occur, it's often too late to do anything to stop it from happening.
I believe now we have issued permits that will allow the flood control districts to get in and do their maintenance. The problem that we have with the waiver of requiring permits for maintenance of flood control projects is we believe that will encourage the local entities to stop doing maintenance, figuring that, well, they can just do it the next time they think a flood is coming, the next time there's an El Nino event.
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I mean, there's a lot of focus on El Nino now, but the real problem is going to be the year when we're not expecting it. What we want to do is encourage local flood control agencies to do their job and maintain the channels. Had they done their maintenance all along, there wouldn't be a need for emergency permits. The channels would be ready. And if we exempt people from their routine maintenance, so that they think they can wait until they know the next disaster is coming, they're going to get caught, because nobody can predict when that's going to happen.
Our main goal is not to make it hard for people to do maintenance in the channel. What we want are those local agencies to do their routine maintenance, so there isn't the need for an emergency action.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Are there examples of where routine maintenance, to the objective observer, wouldan objective observer would conclude it's a waste of money to do some of this routine maintenance? It's going to cost a lot of money, and it's only marginal what you're going to achieve.
I'm trying to put myself in the position of local governments trying to minimize costs to the taxpayers. I understand that because they raise their money by property taxes for the most part.
So address that, if you will, because I can appreciate what some of my colleagues have been telling me, but, on the other hand, I can appreciate what you're telling me, and situations are never black and white; they're always shades of gray. But for the most part, routine maintenance of these channels, is that a very costly enterprise?
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Mr. ZIRSCHKY. Okay. The first question about, are there cases where objectively we're requiring things that are probably unnecessary, I would say almost certainly there are instances like that. And if the committee has one that they know of, please bring it to my attention. I know, Mr. Chairman, you've brought some cases where we were taking some rather absurd positions. We're a large organization, and sometimes we make mistakes.
Yes, the routine maintenance can be costly, and local governments do have a problem affording that maintenance. Unfortunately, if they don't do it, then they risk incurring even larger costs for their citizens, when that unexpected flood comes, when there's a flood during a non-El Nino year, for example. But we think, in net, local governments would save money for their citizens by doing the maintenance, but if there is a specific case or an instant, I would be delighted to work with any member of your committee, Mr. Chairman, to try and resolve the issue.
Mr. BOEHLERT. In the instance in question with the El Nino, when an emergencywould you characterize this as a potential emergency situation?
Mr. ZIRSCHKY. The definition of an emergency has caused a lot of debate within the Corps in recent months. There's been a number of such cases across the country. There is a greater potential for flooding, but I would not characterize El Nino as an emergency.
Mr. BOEHLERT. All right. So under normal circumstances, if the local government characterizes it as a potential emergency situation, and they apply for a permit under your normal permitting process, and you wouldn't give it emergency consideration, what can they expect in the turnaround time?
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Mr. ZIRSCHKY. Well, depending onwe have some nationwide permits that they could get turnaround within 30 days. It would depend on the specific situation.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Would you say 30 days in the overwhelming majority of cases or just you've got some that you'll go 30, some you do 60, some you do 90, some you do in a week, and you average them out and it comes out to 30?
Mr. ZIRSCHKY. Over 85 percent of our permit decisions get made within 120 days. We have 25 permits currently that are over two years old. That sort of gives you a breakdown on the two ranges. I would hope, and I believe our districts have gotten the message, that if it's in a flood control system, that they'd better be acting a lot faster than 120 days. But, obviously, we
Mr. BOEHLERT. The red light's on for me, and it applies to the Chair as well as to everyone else, but just let me leave you with a thought. I know how I operate my office, and we have a specific turnaround time for mail which we consider very, very important. And if that turnaround time slips, then guess who is working on Saturdays and perhaps even Sundays? It seems to me that it would be difficult for anyone to sit where you are and in good conscience tell this subcommittee that we have over 25 permit applications that have been in the works for more than two years. Isn't that unconscionable? Are there any mitigating circumstances?
Mr. ZIRSCHKY. Yes, there are, I would say, two. It used to be 202, when you first brought this issue to our attention, Mr. Chairman. We reduced it down to the 20s, and, unfortunately, it's creeping back up. So it's an issue we have to get working harder on.
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But not all the permit actions are within my control. We have to coordinate with other agencies. There's Endangered Species Act concerns, and that's what usually drags them out, is working with other agencies. If it were all within my power to make other agencies do things, I'd probably be a lot more popular in my own agency, but we wouldn't have that backlog.
Mr. BOEHLERT. But you are satisfied in terms of that over which you have control is moving expeditiously, and so in those instances where there are cases of applications pending for more than two years, you in each instance are not responsible for the delay?
Mr. ZIRSCHKY. No, I would beI would probably be inaccurate to say that. I'm sure that a good at least significant number of that 25 are our fault, and I'll make sure that we get a listing of what those are and get those fixed.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Okay.
Mr. ZIRSCHKY. I'm not going to blame them all on other agencies.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Well, thanks. I mean, you can understand it, overcome it. I mean, people expect government to be responsive in a timely manner, and no one that I know of would interpret more than 2-year delay as a timely response.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you very much. Mr. Johnson?
Mr. JOHNSON OF WISCONSIN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Doctor, you outlined the Corps' efforts to expedite authorization of these flood control, facility maintenance, and preparation for potential flooding due to El Nino. I wonder if you have with you, or you have any evidence that efforts have been successful and are sufficient to deal with this situation in the region of the country like California that may be affected by that weather phenomenon?
Mr. ZIRSCHKY. Let me divide my answer into two parts, about the wetlands part and about the money part, because Congressman Horn and Director Witt raised the financing part.
I cannot assure the committee that all of the wetlands permits that are needed have been issued for all the flood control projects. I believe that all of our California districts have recentlyfrankly, last weekfinally issued permits to let people get in and do some of the work. It should never have taken that long.
But a number of people raise the issue about funding for our flood control projects; for example, the Los Angeles County Project, which is a major project that worked very hard in 1995 to get started. Because of our budget situation and the roughly 360 congressional adds that we had in for Fiscal Year 1998 and the huge increase in our budget authority, or in our appropriations, we have outlay ceilings that we have to stay in in future years. Under formulas agreed to between the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, we roughly assume that 40 percent of any money appropriate in 1998 is going to get carried over into 1999, and because of that, that has significantly lowered the amount of money we were able to put toward projects in Fiscal Year 1999, and we'll announce the specific numbers on Monday. But that's going to cause a delay in every project across the country. Rather than picking some winners and losers, we made the decision to spread the pain and not pick winners and losers to the extent possible.
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So new projects that we're building that would protect people, such as in California, are going to be delayed because I can't make my cash flow, and that to me is a much bigger issue for providing protection than wetlands, than the wetlands regulations.
Mr. JOHNSON OF WISCONSIN. So it's a cash flow problem that's causing a water flow problem?
Mr. ZIRSCHKY. Well, obviously, rain causes flooding, but in our efforts to deal and protect the people from the flooding, we're trying to build projects, do any work on our own systems, and in order to make the monies work, we're stretching out our projects. If a project could have used $100 million next year, for example, we're giving them $50 million, which means it will take two years to do the work of one year, and that's going to happen across the country.
We need to get an agreement with Congress on the size of the civil works program. OMB would like it to be about a billion dollars a year in new construction. Our 1998 construction program is about $1.4 billion, and to stay within the Balanced Budget Agreement, we have to come to some kind of resolution with the committees on how big the program is, so that we can get our cash flow under control and stop delaying people's projects. There are going to be a lot of people mad at me come Monday, madder than they probably are now over wetlands.
Mr. JOHNSON OF WISCONSIN. We know the construction projects take a long time. I wonder what the Corps is doing today to deal with El Nino, because you can't sometimes wait for construction projects; you have to deal with the situation today or as close to today.
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Mr. ZIRSCHKY. We've hadhopefully, meetings with our districts I believe have been actually starting in the fall with all the local emergency management agencies to begin preparation, coordination, and tests of the system. We have gotten a lot of pressure from some flood control agencies over maintenance. We also have that problem over dredging, for example, of some rivers. I believe those matters have largely been dealt with. We've also repaired all the damage from last year's flooding in northern California to get ready for any future flooding. We've also changed our policy to do further upgrades to correct pre-existing conditions on some of the California flood systems to get ready for El Nino.
I believe we're as ready as we can be, as far as the Corps is concerned. I would like to see us long term make better use of our advance measures authority, where we have the authority to build whatever we need in advance of flooding. I would like to see us use that authority to do more contingency planning, particularly for projects like beach projects, where we know we're going to have a wash-through, and if we do a little bit of advance planning, we can protect the shoreline from flooding and we can close the beach a lot faster and save the taxpayer a lot of money.
I would like to work with this committee, and we'd be happy to brief the committee on any proposals to use the authority we have under our disaster relief to do more planning work in advance than we currently do under current policy.
Mr. JOHNSON OF WISCONSIN. Thank you, Doctor, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Kim? Do you have any questions, Mr. Kim?
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Mr. KIM. No, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. All right, thank you. Well, guess what, what we will do, we'll haveI'm sure some of our colleagues will have some questions that we will submit to you in writing, and we would request a timely response, which I define as less than 2 years.
[The information follows:]
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Dr. Zirschky.
Our fourth and final panel consists of Mr. Joseph Myers, director, Florida Division of Emergency Management, representing the National Emergency Management Association; from Los Angeles County, the chief deputy director for public works, Mr. James A. Noyes; the director of floodplain programs, Mr. Scott Faber, representing American Rivers, and from the University of Nebraska, the director of the National Drought Mitigation Center, Dr. Donald A. Wilhite.
We will ask that you summarize your statement in five minutes or less, if you can, and your statement will appear in the record at this point in its entirety.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We welcome you all, and I would ask that you present your submissions in the order you were introduced. So, Mr. Myers, you're first up.
TESTIMONY OF JOSEPH F. MYERS, DIRECTOR, FLORIDA DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, ON BEHALF OF THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION; JAMES A. NOYES, CHIEF DEPUTY DIRECTOR, LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS, AND CHAIRMAN, CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF FLOOD CONTROL AGENCIES; SCOTT FABER, DIRECTOR OF FLOODPLAIN PROGRAMS, AMERICA RIVERS; AND DR. DONALD A. WILHITE, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL DROUGHT MITIGATION CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA
Mr. MYERS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. I will be representing the National Emergency Management Association today, and I serve as the mitigation chair of that organization.
States are concerned, as much as Congress is, and others, over the spiraling cost of disasters, and we are searching for ways to reduce that trend. I've been in emergency management for 23 years, and I've experienced what I call some defining moments in the business, where we, the States, Congress, FEMA, have come together to improve the system.
If I could reflect back, in the seventies it was to have a better response in preparedness from Three-Mile Island radiological events; the seventies, it was the chemical program and the events from Bhopal; in the nineties, it was to improve the response from Hurricane Andrew, the top situation. And I think we're at, even though not as visible, I think we're at that same defining moment in our history of emergency management now with the hazard mitigation program, and as we go into the next century. So I think it's very, very important, and NEMA believes that.
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We believe the most effective way to reduce the vulnerabilities of communities to the impacts of disasters is through a healthy pre-disaster mitigation program. We support FEMA's Fiscal Year 1999, $50 million pre-disaster mitigation program, and we would hope that the numbers would continue to increase over the years, as these project impact communities, reductions in future costs are looked at.
But we contend that the mitigation program should not come at the expense of preparedness and response programs because we've worked so hard to develop these over the years, and these dollars should not be reprogrammed, because we've got to continue having a good response program and have a balanced program.
I'd like to address two of the FEMA programs that we think can meet the mitigation challenge. First of all, the project impact in Deerfield Beach, Florida, which I was involved in, was the first disaster-resistant community. Assisting project impact efforts, the NEMA Mitigation Committee is going to be working with FEMA to better define what the roles of the states will be, how to select future projects, how to maintain, I think it's important, the project impact initiative, incentives. I think a key part that needs to come out is how to involve other state and Federal agencies that are involved with mitigation missions, and to develop an overall state and Federal mitigation initiative or strategy.
And we'd also hope that we, NEMA, would become part of FEMA's efforts, the panel they've established, that is set up to look at the appropriations that were given last year. I think it's a $25 million to look at project impact communities.
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The hazard mitigation grant program, basically, the program was not designed, in 1988 when it came out, was not designed to handle the catastrophic disasters this country's had since starting with Loma Priada and Hugo, and on and on. The system is bogged down. There's been millions of dollars stuck into the system.
As was brought out earlier, we did some surveys. It showed from the beginning of the disaster to the end it was taking 36 to 42 months to get grants approved. But I will say for FEMA, we have been working very closely together to streamline that process. We do believe there's a couple of things we need to do to further that.
First of all, we need to develop local mitigation strategies within all the communities of this country because everybody won't be a project impact community, but by using some of this 404 money, we can develop the team that the project impact lays out in these and other communities, and we can get this process going of pre-identification programs.
And I think that some of the states were ready to become management states, to where the programs can be devolved to us. It was mentioned like some of the environmental programs that process has taken a long time. We can become a management state.
So in conclusion, we're working hard with FEMA to create a pre-disaster hazard mitigation program, project impact, and to refine the HMG program, and we believe that pre-disaster mitigation is the solution to a meaningful impact on reducing the cost of future disasters.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
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Mr. NOYES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting me here today. In addition to my role with LA County, I'm also currently the chairman of the California Association of Flood Control Agencies.
The testimony I submitted for your packages addresses H.R. 2446. However, my oral comments today will address H.R. 2741, Representative McKeon's bill.
The Federal Government is an essential ingredient in the ability of local agencies to respond and recover from catastrophic events. H.R. 2446, in its present form, changes the nature of FEMA's relationship with local governments from reactive to proactive. The benefits of this proposed approach are obvious. Perhaps we can prevent damages rather than merely fix them after they occur. Our county has not taken a position on the bill yet, but I do have some comments.
Provisions of the bill provide for punitive measures when facilities not enrolled in a proposed mitigation program are damaged by disasters. Under the new pre-disaster mitigation program, less Federal funding will be available for the repair of nonparticipating facilities. We have seen that the recent Federal belt-tightening has caused FEMA to distort its interpretation of its own regulations in its effort to reduce its funding outlays. We fear that the carrot-and-stick approach created by a pre-disaster mitigation program could be used by FEMA as a pretext to reduce or deny reimbursement for legitimate expenditures currently eligible under the Stafford Act.
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Pre-disaster mitigation is also something that will be very expensive. For example, there is currently a large Corps of Engineers project to increase the capacity of the Los Angeles River. This is the project that Congressman Horn spoke of earlier. That problem first became evident in the storms of 1980; yet here we are 18 years later and we've barely begun to take care of it.
The enormous expenditures necessary to affect meaningful improvements can severely delay these types of projects. Under the current funding climate, we fear that FEMA will be tempted to use the slow progress of mitigation projects as a pretext to reduce the response of recovery funding to local agencies. Any amendment to the Stafford Act that includes the carrot-and-stick of mitigation funding must contain safeguards to prevent arbitrary denials of FEMA funding based on the pretext of insufficient pre-disaster mitigation efforts.
Let me turn my attention now to Congressman McKeon's bill. In Los Angeles County we have many flood control channels that were designed with natural earth bottoms. For the most part, this was done to achieve groundwater recharge goals and is very important in our semi-arid climate to retain as much local rainfall as possible. Some of these projects were built by the Army Corps of Engineers with the county being the local sponsoring agency.
Until 1994, the county was very proactive in keeping these channels cleared of vegetation and sediment buildup. However, in 1994, because of the Tulloch Rule, many of these activities fell under the jurisdiction of the Corps of Engineers and required a Clean Water Act section 404 permit. After a series of initial discussions, the county began the formal permit process in November 1995. In August 1997, after 22 months and an expenditure of nearly $200,000, the county received a letter from the Corps of Engineers and other regulatory agencies requesting additional information. Because we were expecting a draft permit, not another delay, this was very frustrating to us.
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Our county and several other California counties and flood control agencies met with Colonel Davis in Los Angeles and General Capka in San Francisco this fall to discuss the issues of responsiveness and timeliness. After much hoopla and media attention, a permit was finally issued by the Corps to us last October. Since no work had been done on the channels since at least the introduction of the Tulloch Rule, we have probably spent in excess of $5 million in recent months in vegetation removal. We have informed our board of supervisors that the final bill for mitigation could exceed $25 million.
Congressman McKeon has introduced H.R. 2741, which would exempt us from the need to require the section 404 permit from the Corps. Our board of supervisors has not yet taken a position on this bill, but has consistently supported the streamlining of Federal regulations while maintaining adequate environmental controls.
In my capacity as chairman of the California Association of Flood Control Agencies, I can report that our association supports this legislation as a necessary means to providing California residents a full service level of flood protection without having to endure extensive and costly permit requirements.
H.R. 4721 has also been supported by the National Association of Flood and Storm Water Management Agencies, as well as the County Supervisors Association of California.
Thank you very much.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much.
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Mr. FABER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to testify today. Like many of you, I've witnessed the devastating effect of floods firsthand. Unfortunately, despite our efforts to reduce damages associated with natural disasters, the costs continue to grow.
From 1989 to 1993, the average annual losses associated with all disasters were $3.3 billion, but in the last four years average annual losses associated with disasters have quadrupled to $13 billion a year. Whether we live in disaster-prone areas or not, all Americans have felt the effect of these devastating disasters as FEMA's disaster costs have topped $22 billion since 1989, a 550 percent increase over the previous 10 years.
To reverse this trend, our flood control experts have urged us to place greater reliance on hazard mitigation. We've already seen the benefits of post-disaster hazard mitigation in places like Valmeyer, Illinois. Most of the town, 325 homes and businesses were relocated after the great flood of 1993. Valmeyer was part of an exodus which ultimately resulted in the relocation of more than 10,000 homes. And since 1993, 10,000 more homes have been voluntarily relocated, elevated, or acquired in places like Guernieville, California; Montgomery, Texas; Albany, Georgia; and Grand Forks, North Dakotaall across the country.
The economic benefits of voluntary relocation have been dramatic. Consider those towns in Illinois and Missouri with the highest number of repeatedly flooded homes in the Midwest. After the great flood, 5,100 homes were relocated at a cost of $66 million. Between 1978 and 1995, these same properties had received $191 million through the National Flood Insurance Program. Though these towns represented only 3 percent of the 774 flood-prone communities in the Midwest, they included more than 56 percent of all repetitive-loss properties and received 65 percent of the payments made in states impacted by the great flood.
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Across the Nation, just 2 percent of our flood insurance policyholders account for 52 percent of the claims paid by the NFIP. Arnold, Missouri is a wonderful example of the savings achieved through hazard mitigation. Disaster relief for Arnold's flood victims topped $2 million in 1993, but following a voluntary relocation program, Federal assistance was less than $40,000 when flood waters returned in 1995. Unlike most flood-prone communities, Arnold had completed a long-term mitigation plan in 1991, before the flood waters arrived, and was prepared to move quickly.
Unfortunately, few communities are as prepared as Arnold. In fact, state and local officials surveyed last year by a panel of FEMA experts echoed a common theme: that our disaster relief programs discourage pre-disaster planning by local government.
When the flood waters arose in 1993, this subcommittee moved quickly to set aside 15 percent of all disaster relief for hazard mitigation, giving people a real choice between relocation and returning to the river bottoms. But we do not need to wait until the next disaster to permanently protect our flood-prone communities. Instead, Congress can give our pre-disaster mitigation efforts a boost by giving FEMA the tools they need to relocate vulnerable structures before disaster strikes.
As you know, the flood mitigation assistance program, created by Congress in 1994, allows FEMA to target high-risk areas and invest in mitigation measures before the flood waters arrive. But despite the dividends paid by voluntary relocation, these efforts are sorely hampered by a lack of resources. One of the most significant constraints on hazard mitigation is not just the amount of money available, but also the time it takes to organize a relocation effort in local communities. Creating a $100 million pre-disaster mitigation fund would permit communities to develop pre-disaster mitigation plans and to relocate vulnerable homes and businesses before disaster strikes.
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I'd like to take the remaining few moments to talk about Mr. McKeon's bill and perhaps share a little bit of information that I received this morning from the regulatory branch of the Army Corps of Engineers in the Los Angeles District. According to the personnel who personally handled the permit, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works was offered a permit in March 1997 to clear six serious areas that were facing significant debris problems. That permit was rejected by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works because it required mitigation. The reason it required mitigation was because the county had not performed regular maintenance activities, and scrub-brush vegetation and other kinds of trees and what-not had grown up in the time that the county had not done the usual maintenance that the county is required to do.
Unfortunately, that forced the county to return to the Corps with another request for a permit in September 1997. That request was granted for 95 sites in the Los Angeles District of the Corps of Engineers in 24 days. So I hope that sheds some light on exactly how long it has taken the Corps to turn around the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works permit request.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much, Mr. Faber.
Dr. WILHITE. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I would like to thank the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment for this opportunity to testify on behalf of H.R. 3035, the National Drought Policy Act of 1997. In addition to my role as director of the National Drought Mitigation Center, I also serve as administrative director of the Western Drought Coordination Council. The council was formed in 1997 as a result of a memorandum of understanding between the Western Governors Association, the Department of Agriculture, FEMA, the Departments of Interior and Commerce, and the Small Business Administration. WGA had proposed the MOU after many western states were frustrated in their efforts to respond to the severe drought that plagued the Southwest and other portions of the West in 1996. Congressman Skeen spoke about that frustration earlier today.
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Since the late 1970s, many organizations have called for the development of a National Drought Policy as a means to improve drought management and reduce societal vulnerability to drought. Until the introduction of H.R. 3035 and its companion bill, S. 222, no action had been taken on these recommendations. The National Drought Mitigation Center and the Western Drought Coordination Council fully support H.R. 3035. Additionally, the bill enjoys the support of the National Governors Association, the Western Governors Association, and the National Emergency Management Association.
Drought is a recurrent, normal, and inevitable feature of the climate of virtually all regions of the United States. Drought results in devastating impacts on agriculture, forestry, water supply, transportation, energy production, recreation and tourism, and the environment. These impacts are comparable to those incurred as a result of other natural hazards such as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. The severe drought of 1988, for example, resulted in impacts estimated to be nearly $40 billion nationwide. In 1996, impacts in the State of Texas alone totaled nearly $5 billion.
FEMA estimates that annual losses because of drought are in the range of $6 to $8 billion. This is a tremendous increase since the mid-1970s when those estimates were about $1 billion per year.
Historically, drought response efforts by Federal, state, and local governments have been ineffective, untimely, and poorly coordinated. This crisis management approach to drought management has been extremely costly and has not reduced societal vulnerability to drought. Many of the programs implemented in response to drought have been politically-driven and programmatically misdirected because they have been implemented at the peak of crisis with no real formal Federal response capability. Relief is often poorly targeted as a result.
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These problems occur largely because of the lack of emphasis on mitigation and planning at all levels of government, the lack of a coordinated Federal response effort and lead agency, and the insidious nature of drought, which complicates monitoring and early warning of the severity and the likely impacts of an extended period of water shortage.
Although the National Drought Mitigation Center and the Western Drought Coordination Council are recent initiatives designed to better coordinate existing programs, the need for a comprehensive evaluation and review of these programs at the congressional level is still needed. H.R. 3035 would be an important first step in such a review and evaluation.
In the past few months, we have been exposed to an increasing amount of information about El Nino and global warming and the potential impacts of these climate-related phenomena. Although the potential for floods in association with El Nino has seized most of the headlines to date, drought is also linked to El Nino events in other portions of the Nation, particularly the northern Rocky Mountain States, parts of the Great Basin states, as well as in the Ohio River Basin and parts of the Pacific Northwest. Significantly below normal snowpack figures in the northern Rockies have been reported in recent weeks, which is raising the concern about the possibility of drought in the region during 1998.
In summary, let me just say that drought inflicts considerable pain and hardship on society. The impacts of contemporary droughts in the United States have demonstrated this fact again and again. Drought illustrates in innumerable ways the vulnerability of economic, social, political, and environmental systems to a variable climate. It also illustrates the dependencies that exist between systems, reinforcing the need for improved coordination between and within levels of government. A national drought policy will help ensure a coordinated, integrated approach to drought management that encourages and provides incentives for developing drought plans and implementing mitigation actions. This risk management approach should be the tenet of a national drought policy.
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Again, I'm in full support of H.R. 3035. The National Drought Mitigation Center and the Western Drought Coordination Council welcome the opportunity to assist the commission created by bill in the conduct of a thorough study of drought policy in the United States. Thank you.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. Because of a scheduling requirement, the Chair will first recognize Mr. Blumenauer.
Mr. BLUMENAUER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your courtesy.
I had a brief question, if I could, for Mr. Faber and Mr. Noyes. In your written statement, Mr. Noyes, which will be a part of the record of the committee, the next-to-the-last paragraph talks about your concern about adding another layer of bureaucracy for local governments; that your perception is that local governments need our money, they don't need our direction; that they're best equipped to decide how to mitigate, what to do, where it should go. And I wondered if both of you could respond to my concern that it wasn't the Federal Government that demanded that people build in places that God doesn't want them, and that continually, as Mr. Faber's testimony documents, we continually spend Federal tax dollars relocating people, and relocating people, and relocating people back where local governments have permitted construction to take place, have encouraged it, have put the public at risk, frankly. I'm a little concerned with the tenor of your testimony that a lot of what we're dealing with is a failure of state and local governments to adequately plan infrastructure to control growth and development and to do something before the fact. So I'm wondering if both of you could elaborate a little bit on this notion that we shouldn't have Federal standards and encouragement, but just trust that the local governments now will get it right, and all they need is Federal dollars, and we can sit back and it will be taken care of.
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Mr. NOYES. I guess let me respond first, Congressman, by saying we do believe strongly in the pre-disaster mitigation program. In our county that is of particular concern to us when it comes as seismic activity. We are not where we should be in that regard.
With respect to our flood control system, we do not have the problems that are experienced in a lot of the midwestern and eastern parts of the country. The flood control system that we in the Army Corps of Engineers have built in our county down through the last 60 years or so basically protects most of our people. You do not see in our county the situation where it's necessary to relocate people, because our people are generally protected by the system that we have built.
However, that's not to say that we don't have some situations in our county where it would be advisable for us to take a look at the relocation of some folks who are on a floodplain. We've practice floodplain management for the last 25 years, and in fact have 61 ordinances in the county codes these days that prohibit or limit or dictate how development is to occur in any floodplain, such that it happens without creating a flood hazard to the builder, to the developer, or to his neighbors.
Mr. FABER. Well, I don't think there's any question that our Federal policies have gradually over timeand I think inadvertentlyencouraged people to build their homes and businesses in harm's way. There is a fair amount of historyin fact, Corps of Engineers historythat documents that few people built permanent structures in floodplains prior to the turn of the century, primarily because they couldn't obtain insurance for it. When disaster relief became a Federal program around World War I, and then was expanded throughout the New Deal Era and through the forties, we began to, in a sense, encourage, create incentives for, inappropriate development. Unfortunately, in many cases local communities allowed development in places that are very subject to flooding.
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Today the question is: How do we continue to protect communities without continuing to encourage development in very flood-prone areas? And the answer, I think, is by using cost-sharing and incentives and pre-disaster mitigation to reward communities who have done their part, who are restricting development in very flood-prone areas or elevating homes, and to not encourage the sorts of behavior that leads to greater losses for the taxpayer.
Mr. BLUMENAUER. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, again, I appreciate your courtesy, and I know that no legislation would leave this committee without having adequate provisions to make sure that it isn't an abusive, bureaucratic structure. But I guess I would just say, for the record, that I am concerned that there is enough blame to go around in terms of what we're trying to fix in terms of Federal policies, local policies; that government and citizens have made this worse than it needs to be, and I'm looking forward to having a system that provides the right mixture of incentives and cost-sharing, so there's no longer an incentive to get into the Federal taxpayers' pocket or to encourage people on the ground to do things they simply shouldn't do. And I wasn't just referring to floodplains, but I'm talking about wildfire, mudslides. A number of things in southern California appear to me to be disasters that are born from a lack of sound local land use planning in southern California, and I'm hopeful that something we craft would be able to be a sound provision that provides that partnership. Thank you again.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Thank you very much. I'm looking forward to your contribution in developing just that kind of policy.
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Mr. KIM. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I do have some questions to Mr. Noyes.
Welcome to Washington, D.C.
Mr. NOYES. Thank you.
Mr. KIM. You know, I represent a big portion of LA County. I was shocked by your statement about this particular area, this permit process from the Corps of Engineers. It took 22 months, and after 22 months, they're asking you to furnish additional information. What kind of additional information are they looking for after 22 months later? What was it? Do you remember?
Mr. NOYES. It, basically, sir, had to do with more detailed information as to the biological water quality-type information as to the habitats and the type of vegetation that had grown up in the channels since the adoption of the Tulloch Rule.
Mr. KIM. And then two months after that, they issued a permit anyway?
Mr. NOYES. Well, I indicated in my statement that that was a watershed moment for us; it was a turning point because, quite frankly, we got so frustrated, so angry, we elevated the discussion, along with several other counties, to Colonel Davis, who's in charge of the LA District. All of those entities met with the colonel at the end of September, and he promised us that he was going to take care of this situation through Nationwide Permit 31, which is what he did issue 24 days later, as Mr. Faber indicated, at the end of October.
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When Nationwide Permit 31 had come out in draft form in 1996, I reviewed it, and I said, this is perfect; this is exactly what we need; this fits us to a tee. But the Corps said, no, this is not for you guys; we're not going to use it for Los Angeles County. It wasn't until the colonel got actively involved that it's my perception that the Corps made the decision to use Nationwide Permit 31 and expedite the process.
Mr. KIM. I understand that they could have spent only $5 million, but now end up spending perhaps $25 million because of delay.
And I also read a letter from the mayor from Los Angeles. This cleaning up of this channel, which you call a special permit process because it's considered temporary habitat for our plants and animal life, and he says normally it takes two years. Now I didn't know that it took such a long time to get a permit. In the meantime, if we've got a flood that occurs, a disaster is now.
This H.R. 2741, does that eliminate this unnecessary time-consuming permit process?
Mr. NOYES. H.R. 2741 provides an exemption in section 404 of the Clean Water Act that would exempt flood control agencies from having to get those kinds of permits from the Corps of Engineers for facilities that are built and designed for flood control purposes.
Mr. KIM. Well, that's partially good news.
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Going back to this 2446, I'm familiar with the Los Angeles River. That construction began way back in 1980, and 18 years later still is far from complete. That's also shocking18 years and still a long way from completion.
Mr. NOYES. Yes, let me expand on that
Mr. KIM. This House Resolution 2446, this will solve the problem orobviously, you're supporting this? Tell me about this relationship.
Mr. NOYES. The flood control improvements that are currently under construction by the Corps on the LA River would be an example of pre-disaster mitigation where the Corps, where the Federal Government is proactive, with the county as a local sponsor, a financial sponsor, in raising the level of flood protection such that there would not be a hazard relative to Federal standards.
What we're concerned about is if it takes so long to get that project built, we're going to have the situation of imposing flood insurance criteria and policies and premiums while at the same time we're not making as rapid of enough progress as we should on the construction of a facility to eliminate the hazard in the first place.
Mr. KIM. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Horn?
Page 94 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HORN. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate the testimony you all contributed today. Mr. Noyes, I'm just curious, do you want to reply at all to Mr. Faber and his sequence of how the permitting and the time elapsed work, and what have been our problems there in terms of regular maintenance going on and then ultimately things piling up that you just couldn't get a permit to clean the place out to help the 500,000 people, most of which are low-income people, along that river.
Mr. NOYES. I'd be glad to do that, sir. We started the process, as I testified, in November 1995, trying to get what the Corps calls a regional general permit. About a year later, in the fall of 1996, we went to the Corps and we said, ''Look, we've got these six projects that are very critical. Can we handle those separately?'' And the Corps agreed, and they did do that, and they issued a permit.
But you have to understand that the permit they issued is conditional. It's not final until we meet section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which requires a water quality certification from the State regulatory agency. We went after that. By the time that was met, or by the time we got the requirements of the Water Board, the storm season had passed; there was no reason to do the work. We went back to the Corps and said, ''We don't feel it's appropriate to follow these permits anymore now because we're going to get this regional general permit from you,'' and the Corps agreed; and they said, okay, we won't pursue them. There was a mutual agreement between ourselves and the Corps not to pursue those six because we were in the midst of this 22-month process to get the regional general permit.
Mr. HORN. Well, do you think that's the regular procedure or was that just by happenstance and irregular procedure?
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Mr. NOYES. I think because of the multiplicity of agencies involved at both the Federal and State levels, because the State government is involved as well, it took that long. I don't think that there was a sense of urgency on the part of the regulatory agencies; that flood control agencies, not just in Los Angeles County, have a very serious problem in this regard, and we can't afford to wait for the protection of our citizens 22 months to get a permit from the Federal Government.
Mr. HORN. When you look at these patches that I've seen in your attachment of greenery, does that make much of a wetlands?
Mr. NOYES. It varies depending on the type of habitat it is, sir. I understand that there are some portions of that vegetation that everyone agrees shouldn't be there, and we want it eliminated. There are other portions of it, which I think is relatively small, that does have perhaps some significant value from a habitat standpoint.
Mr. HORN. Are there any wetlands up the river that are adjacent to the channel that, in essence, benefit from how water is moved through that area?
Mr. NOYES. There are some, sir, but not very many in our county.
Mr. HORN. How much does thisto me it just looks like it's sort of setting up the river so that all of that stuff that comes down, a tremendous velocity because of the cement walls and all, that it's just something that clogs up everything and creates damage all the way down. Now I realize that it's nice when there's no water around to look at the green patch occasionally down there, but what obstacle has this continued growth prevented? Has it prevented you from opening upon that channel?
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Mr. NOYES. We have completed the work that the Corps authorized on their October 24th permit. We're looking now to see if we need to go back and finetune any of that. The problem with vegetation is twofold. No. 1, it reduces the capacity of the system to carry flood waters, which increases the flood hazard to the adjoining communities. No. 2, exactly what you said, when the big storm does come along and rips that material loose, it will clog up at bridges and the peers and create a damming effect which can cause water to rise and flood adjoining communities.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Excuse me. Mr. Horn, would you yield just a moment to me?
Mr. NOYES. Sure.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Pardon the obvious question, but why isn't there routine maintenance of these channels?
Mr. NOYES. There always has been, sir, but that was stopped in 1994 with the introduction of the Telegrow. We have not been able to go into these channels since 1994 to do that.
Mr. BOEHLERT. To do routine maintenance?
Mr. NOYES. To do the routine maintenance relative to the removal of sediment buildup and the removal of the vegetation.
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Mr. BOEHLERT. But there wouldn't be much vegetation or sediment buildup if you had routine maintenance, would there?
Mr. NOYES. But we weren't allowed to go in and do that routine. But there wouldn't be, right, if we were allowed to do that routine maintenance. What I'm saying is since the Tulloch Rule was introduced in 1994, we have been prevented from going in and doing that because we needed a 404 permit first, and that was the dialog that began with the regulatory agencies in our case in November 1995.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Faber, excuse meand I'll get back to you, Mr. Horn.
Mr. HORN. Yes.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Do you see it the same way?
Mr. FABER. I'd be happy to maybe elaborate on that a little bit. According to the
Mr. BOEHLERT. Not too much because we've got to drawn this hearing to a conclusion.
Mr. FABER. According to the regulatory branch of the LA District, this problem of routine maintenance precedes 1994 and was exacerbated by some changes in the rules, but that there was a period when the Corps did, indeed, offer, through the Los Angeles District, a permit under Nationwide Permit 31, to go ahead and proceed with routine maintenance.
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I'd just like to point out that I don't think anybody here is opposed to routine maintenance, or maintenance in this case where we have the threat of significant flooding. The problem here is that this bill would essentially exempt all future routine maintenance from any overview by the Corps. That creates several additional problems, one being that the Corps is unable to work with Los Angeles County, and other permit applicants, to figure out how to minimize the impacts of routine maintenance. There are ways that we can retain some vegetation in the soft bottoms of these channels without significantly reducing the conveyance capacity of these channels, and retaining permit authority gives the Corps the opportunity to try to figure that out.
Mr. BOEHLERT. It would seem to meand this is just a horseback opinion, but passage of Mr. McKeon's bill, and Mr. Horn is a co-sponsor, would sort of serve as a disincentive for routine maintenance.
Mr. NOYES. Absolutely.
Mr. BOEHLERT. I would go back to Mr. Horn foryour time was almost up, but I'm going to give you more time. I know how important this is to you.
Mr. HORN. Well, that's why I'm wondering if this is a one-time occurrence and we can suffer the rest, but why don't you, Mr. Noyes, explain what happened when the Tulloch Rule was issued, and what regulatory agencies followed up to issue the regulations in that particular time period? And are we still going to have to meet the Tulloch Rule guidance on this or are laws there to make some reasonable definition that has some common sense to it?
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Mr. NOYES. Well, the Tulloch Rule has been challenged in court, and we're expecting a decision probably within the next 30 to 60 days as to the legitimacy of the Tulloch Rule. However, prior to the Tulloch Rule, the only entity that we had to deal with when we wanted to remove vegetation from our systems was the State of California, and there was a time not too long ago when we didn't have to deal with the State of California, but only sense the Tulloch Rule in 1994 have we have to deal with the Army Corps of Engineers on a section 404 permit.
The Nationwide Permit 31, when we first saw it, we thought that was the answer. The Corps said no, and it wasn't until all the fuss had been raised last fall that the Corps decided to give us a Nationwide Permit 31, which is good for five years.
Mr. HORN. And I take it earlier you might have heard me mention this to the Director of FEMA, that you're responsible, as labeled by the Corps, to do the maintenance, even though the Corps might have built a good part of the channel with the usual local partnership, and the problem comes up now, because of all these delays in permitting and this court rule, the county would be billed by FEMA, presumably, if there were a flood and the costs mounted up; apparently, you get the tab. And yet you've been prevented from doing the routine maintenance, I gather, and certainlywell, is that correct, that you have been prevented from doing the routine maintenance?
Mr. NOYES. I wrote myself a note when you made that comment, sir, to look into the situation in our county. I'm not aware that in our department FEMA has ever said that to us, but I know that two of my colleagues in other parts of the State of California have reported to us that, in fact, a FEMA representative has told us exactly that: if they suffer losses that they have to pay out through flood insurance because those entities didn't do something that they should have done, they are going to go back and bill those entities for the losses they had to pay out.
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Mr. HORN. Mr. Faber, do you think that's a fair way to go about it, what FEMA is doing?
Mr. FABER. Well, I do. I think it's incumbent upon FEMA certainly not to stand in the way of regular maintenance and to make sure that regular maintenance is done. Here I think I'm in the strange position of defending the Corps. Usually I'm not. But here the Corps has certainly gone out of its way to make these permits available well before the El Nino phenomenon was even discussed. A permit was offered in March. Because of some circumstances, mitigation was required. The mitigation was not onerous. That permit was rejected by the county. When the county applied for another permit, they received it in 24 days.
In addition to that, they received a general permit which allows bank stabilization, lighter repairs, and so on, in the case of imminent threats of life or property. So I really think the Corps has gone all out to try to make sure that the people and property are going to be protected in southern California.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Well, this to me seems to be a classical example of the issue not being black or white. There's a large zone of gray. I am as committed as Mr. Horn as to having a satisfactory resolution of it. So I can assure all of you that what you have submitted to the committee for our consideration will be very carefully considered, and I think we're going to be asking a lot more questions before we come to a resolution of this issue. I know how important it is to you, and it's miles away from upstate New York, but it's very important to me, too.
Page 101 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I want to thank all of you for being very valuable resources for the committee and sharing your opinions with us. And I would hope that you would be responsive if the committee elects to submit questions in writing to you, with a request that we get a timely response.
[The information follows:]
Mr. BOEHLERT. But we're really trying to work this out, and you've got a difference of opinion between Mr. Noyes and Mr. Faber; I hope on occasion you two talk, and come let us reason together.
Thank you very much.
The hearing is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 3:08 p.m., the subcommittee adjourned subject to the call of the Chair.]