What is in this article?:
- Federal budget cuts threaten vital waterways, infrastructure
- Not a viable solution
- Four major program elements
Decades of progress by the U.S. Corps of Engineers in flood control and navigation in the lower Mississippi River Valley are threatened with “being decimated or eliminated” due to federal budget cuts, Cass Pennington, president of Mississippi’s Delta Council told the Mississippi River Commission at its Greenville, Miss., public hearing. The commission, in a series of hearings at ports along the Mississippi River, presented details of how proposed cuts to the Corps of Engineers budget could adversely impact transport of goods — including a large percentage of the nation’s grains shipped into export — on the big river, its tributaries, and lakes that are under the Corps’ purview.
Not a viable solution
“We have not spoken with a single congressional office since November that believes the elimination or drastic reduction in projects that constitute less than seven-tenths of one percent of the federal budget represents a viable method for addressing the nation’s $1.9 trillion annual budget deficit.
“Instead of crippling our nation’s infrastructure improvements — including highways, navigation, port development, flood protection, and ecosystems restoration — the people in our region are telling us that all federal spending should be considered for the purposes of deficit reduction, not just those congressionally authorized projects that constitute less than seven-tenths of one percent of the nation’s total federal outlays.”
And he said, “the pressing need to have a new generation of competitively-educated young people move into our society” will be crippled by proposed drastic cuts in the Pell grant programs for higher education, “which have enabled a large percentage of our rural population to attend two-year and four-year colleges.”
Eighty-five percent of all federal spending is for defense and entitlement outlays, Pennington noted.
“If these two budget items do not proportionally participate in deficit reduction, it is our view that the ongoing congressional debate about deficit reduction is disingenuous.”
The Delta Council, Pennington said, “continues to support all of the previously authorized flood control, navigation, and port development activities” of the Corps, and expressed gratitude for “the positive work performed by the Corps in the Mississippi Delta over the past 75 years.”
The nation has a $13.6 billion investment in projects on the Mississippi River and its tributaries, said Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, who commands the Corps’ Mississippi Valley Division and serves as president of the Mississippi River Commission.
Walsh, whose previous service was in Iraq, is responsible for $7.5 billion in civil works programs and plays a vital role in managing the Corps’ water resources program in the Mississippi Valley Division.
Estimates are, Walsh said, that investments in Corps flood control projects, including 3,486 miles of levees in place, have prevented $370 billion in property loss and damage, with some 4 million people protected.
“This represents a 27-to-1 return on the money invested.”
Federal budget appropriations for the Corps have averaged about $300 million per year, Walsh noted. In fiscal 2011, that was cut to $240 million and the fiscal 2012 budget is pegged for further cuts to $210 million.