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State Net Capitol Journal Legislative Updates: Senate Passes Water Resources Development Act – Omnibus Water Infrastructure Legislation


Last Wednesday, the Senate endorsed SB 601, the Water Resources Development Act, the first omnibus water infrastructure legislation since 2007. The $12.5 billion bill, dubbed WRDA, would authorize U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control and mitigation projects across the country, including many in some of the most flood-threatened areas of the nation. It would also green light critical port improvements, wetlands restoration and coastal storm protection. Co-authored by California Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R), it garnered even more bipartisan support than the online tax bill, passing by a 83-14 margin.

But the bill already has a wealth of critics, including environmental groups upset over language that would speed up the environmental review process for those projects, something many contend causes unnecessary delays and added costs in such projects. Some environmentalists say that means cutting corners on environmental reviews. That concern led Boxer and Vitter to insert a 10-year sunset clause on that portion of the bill.

Although the bill was made more Republican-friendly by avoiding any mention of climate change, it does address it by bolstering coastal infrastructure against the impact of extreme storms that scientists say warmer waters and higher sea levels exacerbate. That will likely draw support from insurers and others most concerned with lessening the fiscal hit such storms cause. Overall, the WRDA authorizes $250 million annually for flood restoration and hurricane and storm damage reduction efforts.

Money and longstanding partisan divides are also likely to be a problem. Some Republicans have complained that the bill allows the Obama administration too much power to choose which water facilities receive support. Meanwhile, Democrats contend that Republicans are too spending-averse to give the bill a fair shot.

"The fate in the House of Representatives is unknown because you've got these extremist folks down there that think any kind of spending by the federal government is too much," Florida Rep. Bill Nelson (D) told Orlando news radio station WMFE.

The bill does not yet have a hearing date.


ENVIRONMENT: The United States Senate approves SB 601, the Water Resources Development Act. The $12.5 billion proposal would authorize and fund a variety of flood control and environmental projects all over the nation. It is now in the U.S. House of Representatives (SACRAMENTO BEE).

- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

SUPER STORM SANDY VICTIMS TAKE ANOTHER FINANCIAL HIT: Thousands of vacation home and business owners in coastal areas of New Jersey slammed by Hurricane Sandy last October are getting hit with big increases in their flood insurance premiums this year.

Richard Bandazian, who owns a vacation home on the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk that was actually spared the storm's devastation, saw his insurance bill go up 25 percent to $4,700. And he was told it would keep going up by that amount every year until it reached an unspecified "full premium rate."

The reason for the rate spikes is that last year, before Sandy ever appeared on the radar, Congress passed two laws phasing out flood insurance subsidies the federal government began offering in the 1970s to get property owners and towns to join the federal flood insurance program, which is now deeply in debt.

Some members of New Jersey's Congressional delegation are now trying to convince their colleagues to reverse course on the issue to spare those still trying to recover from Sandy.

"It's a triple whammy," said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey). "Even as we slowly recover from the worst natural disaster in our state's history, a man-made disaster is looming in the distance, jeopardizing our recovery. Those who cannot afford the higher premiums will be either forced to sell or abandon their homes."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), likewise, has appealed to Washington for relief.

"Foisting the additional burden of a flood insurance increase on home and business owners as currently proposed would be financially devastating," he stated in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

But Christie and Menendez face opposition from free-market conservatives and some environmentalists who contend that flood insurance rates should be higher to discourage developers from building in coastal areas.

Bandazian, meanwhile, points out a flaw in one of the arguments behind the insurance subsidy phase-out: that millionaires ought to shoulder more of the burden of insuring their beach houses.

"They're saying only rich people are able to have houses at the Jersey Shore," he said. "I worked a lifetime to get my beach house, and I'm not a rich guy." (NORTHJERSEY.COM)

- Compiled by KORLEY CLARK

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