Grassley, Ernst seek answers about prioritization of flood control projects

U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sought answers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on Tuesday about why the importance of Iowa flood control projects had been downgraded.

In a letter to USACE Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy, Ernst and Grassley noted that flood control projects in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines had lost priority under a broken formula that appears to be biased against smaller cities and towns.

“In addition to failing to give adequate weight to the public safety risk, refusing to fund flood damage reduction and risk management projects in smaller cities and towns can be penny wise and pound foolish,” the senators wrote. “Without sufficient flood risk management structures, the flood damages to a small city or town recur again and again. Millions of dollars are spent to implement temporary protection measures and billions of dollars are spent to pay for emergency recovery efforts after-the-fact. As a result, the city centers face economic development issues and property values can decrease.”

Ernst and Grassley asked why USACE considers the economic losses of temporary flood control measures instead of permanent steps, and how public safety and loss of life are factored into the decisions.

“Cities without permanent flood protection structures, such as Cedar Rapids, use temporary emergency protections, including sand bags, Hesco barriers, and temporary levees around specific residences or businesses to mitigate anticipated flooding,” Ernst and Grassley wrote. “Often these measures are funded wholly or partially by the corps (sand bags) or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (reimbursement).”

The legislators concluded by questioning if it would be wiser to build “the permanent flood reduction structure once and spend millions” instead of spending billions over time in temporary relief measures.

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