Fix the pumps

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Vitter to Corps: Do your job

Updated 1/15/07. See below.

I've kept track of the passionate fallout to a boneheaded letter to the Times-Picayune's editors from a Corps of Engineers Public Affairs Officer, Vic Harris, at this post, updating it with each subsequent letter the paper has printed. You can catch up there.

Today, U.S. Senator David Vitter got his chance to chime in on the "controversy," which really appears to be simply inexplicable intransigence on the Corps' part to shut MR-GO, the Corps-constructed channel primarily blamed for much of the flooding seen in St. Bernard Parish during Katrina. I'm going to print his letter in its entirety, because it's really good.

But first, let me remind you what Mr. Harris said about the Senator in his letter:
"The Times-Picayune cravenly associated itself with Sen. David Vitter's opinion that appropriations enacted by Congress provided the corps funding and authority to close MR-GO. The $75 million is for continual operations, with a small part going to funding research on the MR-GO closure options -- not the authority to close."

Here's what Senator Vitter wrote in response:

Corps should quit inventing excuses, do its job
Saturday, January 13, 2007
"Re: "Experts, big computer clear MR-GO, corps says," Your Opinions, Dec. 22.

Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Vic Harris' letter to the editor suggests that the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet's role in flooding southeast Louisiana was "insignificant." I join experts and millions of Louisiana citizens in expressing my utter disbelief at this claim.

Mr. Harris points out that the "world's fourth-largest supercomputer" was used to determine the minimal role of the MR-GO. While I commend the corps for tapping this impressive resource, any computer's answer is only as good as the question you ask it.

The question Mr. Harris asked focuses on a straw man -- the claim that MR-GO was an exclusive conduit for storm surge.

What he ignores is the leading role MR-GO has played in destroying much of our area's wetlands buffer over the past decades.

It doesn't take a supercomputer, only a trip to St. Bernard Parish, to understand the channel's destruction of tens of thousands of acres of coastal wetlands and what that produced in Katrina -- devastating storm surge reaching heavily populated areas.

Mr. Harris's contention that the corps does not have the authority to begin closure of MR-GO and stop this destruction is perhaps even more outrageous and worrisome.

The corps has the authority to begin closure now.

The law I passed last summer makes this perfectly clear, specifically authorizing structures to block storm surge and build wetlands.

It is now 16 months since Hurricane Katrina -- surely time for the agency to approach challenges with a can-do attitude rather than constantly inventing obstacles to progress.

I am meeting with the corps' leadership next week, and my message will be clear: I have worked to provide nearly $9 billion to the Corps of Engineers and to eliminate every real and perceived legal obstacle for it to give us solid hurricane, coastal and flood protection.

So just do it, starting with closing MR-GO.

David Vitter
U.S. Senator

You can view details of the specific legislative language to which Senator Vitter is referring in the Comments to this post


  • Matt, you’re supposed to be an investigator taking government to task, but you accept Senator Vitter’s claims without any support or evidence. Vitter claims he personally (perhaps all by himself) passed a law that gives the Corps of Engineers the authority to close the MRGO immediately. What law is he talking about?

    I googled and found the full text of PL 109-234, one of those emergency appropriations that is supposed to fund rebuilding New Orleans. Here is what it says about the MRGO:

    “…the Secretary of the Army, acting through the Chief of Engineers, utilizing $3,300,000 of the funds provided herein shall develop a comprehensive plan, at full Federal expense, to deauthorize deep draft navigation on the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, Louisiana, extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway: Provided further, That, not later than 6 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit an interim report to Congress comprising the plan: Provided further, That the Secretary shall refine the plan, if necessary, to be fully consistent, integrated, and included in the final report to be issued in December 2007 for the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Plan…”

    Congress calls for “a comprehensive plan” on the MRGO, “an interim report,” a “final report,” and provides $3.3 million to do so. NO CONSTRUCTION is authorized.

    Perhaps Vitter and I have different ideas of the meaning of “perfectly clear,” because the only thing that is clear here is that Congress is making the Corps do another damn STUDY.

    Please show me where Vitter has made it “perfectly clear” that the Corps has been given the mandate or even the authority, to “just do it” and close the MRGO???

    It looks to me llike Vitter is just shooting his mouth off and playing populist.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 16, 2007 6:02 AM  

  • PL 109-234 says more about MR-GO. You just need to know where to look.

    Section 2304 of PL 109-234, which is under the "Water and Related Resources" section, says the following:

    "SEC. 2304. Chapter 3, under division B of title I of Public Law 109-148 (119 Stat. 2762) under the heading `Operations and Maintenance' is modified by inserting the following before the last proviso: `: Provided further, That $75,000,000 of the funds provided herein shall be used for the repair, construction or provision of measures or structures necessary to protect, restore or increase wetlands, to prevent saltwater intrusion or storm surge': Provided, That the amount provided under this heading is designated as an emergency requirement pursuant to section 402 of H. Con. Res. 95 (109th Congress), the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2006."

    So if you look at the referenced section of PL 109-148, which is the Third Katrina Supplemental, signed into Dec. 30, 2005, you'll find the following:

    "For an additional amount for ``Operation and Maintenance'' to dredge navigation channels and repair other Corps projects related to the consequences of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean in 2005, $327,517,000, to remain available until expended: Provided, That $75,000,000 of this amount shall be used for authorized operation and maintenance activities along the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet channel: Provided further, That the amount provided under this heading is designated as an emergency requirement pursuant to section 402 of H. Con. Res. 95 (109th Congress), the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2006."

    The words "further" and "herein" in the new (i.e. 4th Katrina supplemetal) language is what makes it apply completely to the old (i.e. 3rd Katrina supplemental) language. That is, the $75 million in the new language is the same $75 million as in the old language.

    Thus, $75 million has been appropriated to the Corps by Congress to effectively close MR-GO, which is exactly what Senator Vitter said in his letter.

    I didn't include all that C-SPANish in the original post because I thought it would bore people, plus I believed Senator Vitter knew what he was talking about when he was writing about his own legislative intent and plain language.

    By Blogger mcbrid35, at January 16, 2007 7:51 PM  

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