Sen. Ernst’s release:
In April 2019, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) chaired a Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee field hearing in southwest Iowa where she questioned U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) witnesses on their management of the river and heard from local stakeholders, including Cathy Crain, Mayor of Hamburg, Iowa who described her community’s struggles to make their heightened levee permanent. Today, Ernst is putting forward bipartisan legislation, with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), to help communities, like Hamburg, make temporary flood protection structures permanent.
“Rural communities like Hamburg, Iowa deserve the same flood protection as any other community across the country,” said Senator Joni Ernst. “Iowa’s communities, regardless of their size, should be able to get the flood protection they need, and our bipartisan bill helps them do just that.”
In emergency situations, the Corps has the authority to construct temporary flood structures. In 2011, it raised the levee protecting Hamburg by about 8 feet to improve the town’s defenses against flood waters. This temporary improvement helped withstand the flood waters, but Corps policy dictated that the structure had to be either taken down or built to Corps specifications—at a cost to the town. Because Hamburg could not afford to make the levee permanent, it had to be removed.
The Local Expertise is Vital for Effective Embankments (LEVEE) Act gives the Corps the authority to review whether temporary flood control structures should be made permanent. In making these determinations, the Corps is directed to consider the likelihood of needing to construct a similar structure in the future, and the economic and safety benefits of making the structure permanent. The legislation also allows the local cost share for making the structure permanent to be waived for communities with populations less than 10,000, or that are financially disadvantaged or at risk from recurring flood events.
At an oversight hearing earlier this year, Senator Ernst questioned Corps officials on the recovery effort and their river management policies in the wake of the March flooding in Southwest Iowa, specifically with regard to repairing and rebuilding the levees that were compromised.
Senator Ernst has also pushed the Corps to put a greater emphasis on flood control and give Iowans more of a voice in the decision-making process and is a cosponsor of two bills to prioritize Iowa communities in the eyes of the Corps—one that would make flood control the top priority for the Corps’ management of the Missouri River; and another to create a civilian advisory council to give Iowans a direct say in the Corps’ decision-making.
Rep. Axne’s release:
Wednesday, Iowa’s Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced legislation in both chambers of Congress to give communities and the Army Corps of Engineers greater flexibility in constructing permanent levees from temporary ones. The bipartisan legislation was jointly led by Rep. Don Bacon (NE-02) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
The Local Expertise is Vital for Effective Embankments (LEVEE) Act would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to begin preconstruction on levee improvements without waiting for congressional approval if a project is determined to be critical to flood prevention and cost less than $25 million. The legislation would also provide full federal funding for projects in flood-prone areas.
“No town should have to worry that federal red tape stands between them and a devastating flood,” said Rep. Axne. “What we saw in Hamburg earlier this year proves that we must do something to allow the Corps to act faster and provide full federal funding for flood-prone areas. Our local and on-the-ground experts need to be listened to. I’m proud that this bipartisan, bicameral legislation does just that and addresses this critical issue for Southwest Iowa.”
In 2011, residents of Hamburg, Iowa worked the Army Corps of Engineers to construct makeshift emergency additions to a levee to combat rising floodwaters. The levee saved the town from floodwaters, but was determined to be not adequate enough to be made permanent without changes. After Hamburg could not come up with the funds to make the changes, the additions to the levee were removed.
Since disastrous flooding earlier this year, Rep. Axne has been fighting to ensure federal funding reaches ongoing recovery efforts in her district.
Last week, Rep. Axne recently announced the creation of her Iowa Flood Funding Tracker, allowing all Iowans to track updates on where disaster relief funding is being spent in Iowa. The Tracker also identifies federal agencies that have not answered Rep. Axne’s call for transparency in accounting for where disaster relief funds are being spent.
“Securing federal funding for disaster recovery in Iowa is only the first step,” said Rep. Axne. “I’m committed to calling out federal agencies who won’t tell us where the money is being spent, helping constituents navigate the rebuilding process, and pushing for legislation in Washington to fix inefficiencies and reform our disaster recovery systems to work better for Iowans.”
In November, the House passed bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by Rep. Axne to modernize federal disaster recovery programs, ensure funds appropriated by Congress are delivered to disaster victims in a timely manner, and protect taxpayer dollars by increasing safeguards against misuse of program resources.
In May, the House passed H.R. 2157 – Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 – which Rep. Axne successfully amended to increase funding for programs vital to Iowa. President Trump signed that bill into effect on June 7th, effectively making funds available for disaster recovery programs available that day.