Senate Passes Major Water Projects Bill
Bill Includes Sen. Whitehouse’s Coastal Resiliency Program & Other Important Priorities for RI
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate today passed legislation to reauthorize the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), which authorizes important civil works and flood control projects and policies for the Army Corps of Engineers, by a vote of 91-7. U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) helped shepherd the bill through the Senate last year as a member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and then served on the House-Senate conference committee that negotiated the final bipartisan compromise that passed today. Whitehouse helped ensure that WRRDA contains a number of Rhode Island priorities, including a provision he wrote authorizing a new program within the Army Corps of Engineers to carry out projects that would enhance ocean and coastal ecosystem resiliency.
“This bill authorizes the Army Corps to continue a number of important projects in Rhode Island, and will also provide a new avenue through which we can protect and restore our ocean and coastal ecosystems,” said Whitehouse. “The program we created will, when funded, enable new projects to go forward that will strengthen coastal communities and economies by making them more resilient to major storms and other changes.”The Whitehouse program, when funded, will authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study once every five years – in coordination with states, nonprofit organizations, and other stakeholders – to identify projects in coastal zones that enhance ocean and coastal ecosystem resiliency. Through the study, the Army Corps will identify specific projects to carry out.Eligible projects could potentially include efforts to make beaches more resilient to coastal erosion; restore wetlands that serve as buffers to protect coastal property from storm surges; and carry out planning initiatives to help ecosystems adapt to sea level rise.Other Rhode Island priorities in WRRDA include:A provision that would improve transparency in the Corps’ process for approving projects under its consideration;A reauthorization of the National Dam Safety Program Act;A provision to increase the per-project federal spending limit for Army Corps Continuing Authorities Programs (CAP) to account for inflation and construction cost increases;A provision to improve transparency on how CAP projects are prioritized and funded, so non-federal sponsors can better plan;A North Atlantic Coastal Region restoration program;A provision clarifying the Corps’ authority to enter into funding agreements with municipal and private entities to support recreational activities.The bill was passed by the House earlier this week, and will now go on to President Obama to be signed into law.