WASHINGTON — The Army Corps of Engineers does not have enough money in its emergency fund for needed repairs to the nation's flood-protection system after the Missouri River floodwaters recede, U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., told The World-Herald following a Wednesday meeting with top corps officials.
Nelson, Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, were among senators from seven Missouri River region states who met on Capitol Hill with Maj. Gen. William Grisoli, the corps' deputy commanding general for civilian and emergency operations, and Brig. Gen. John McMahon, commander of the corps' Northwestern Division, which oversees the Missouri River. An aide attended for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Nelson said he asked during the meeting if the corps' emergency fund could cover this year's damage to the Midwest's levees.
“The short answer was ‘no,'” Nelson said.
It may be some time before the corps can determine how much money it needs for repairs, Nelson said, but the corps expects to come back to Congress for those funds.
Wednesday's meeting was the first of what could be many for the “Missouri River Working Group” of 14 senators from states affected by this year's controlled-release flooding.
In the past, upriver and downriver states have engaged in heated disagreements over management of the Missouri and its competing purposes, such as recreation and water for barge traffic.
But senators leaving Wednesday described the gathering as calm, even “somber,” in light of the crisis at hand.
“When it comes to flood management and flood prevention and controls, we are all in it together — from Montana on,” Nelson said.
Johanns used the opportunity to pitch to his fellow senators a proposal to help people whose flood insurance policies have been deemed invalid because of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's “flood-in-progress” rules. That proposal passed the House of Representatives this week.
A primary topic of the meeting was the emphasis given to flood prevention and control in the corps' river management bible, the master manual.
Several senators, including Grassley, said the book should give flood prevention greater weight. “We need to unite around the ... purpose of flood protection,” he said.
The group also discussed the flexibility that the corps should have to adjust its dam releases in the future in an effort to avoid similar flooding.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., suggested the group meet monthly through the rest of the year and was impressed with the tone of the first discussion.
“For a Missouri River meeting, it was incredibly collegial and cooperative,” McCaskill said. “With all the fighting going on in the Capitol right now, this has been the highlight of my month.”
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