2008 Activities and Initiatives
MAFSM recently wrote a letter to Senators Cardin and Mikulski at ASFPM’s request about the PDM grant. Attached is the letters we wrote and Cardin’s recently received response.
Background and Issue
S. 3175, a bill reauthorizing the Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program, was passed out of Committee. The original bill, which ASFPM supported, was amended during the mark-up and one amendment has turned the bill into a very problematic one. The amendment, offered by Senator Pryor (AR), specifically authorizes up to 25% of PDM funds to be used for structural flood control projects, now specifically excluded as an eligible item under PDM.
The next step for S. 3175 is for floor action in the full Senate. Although the Senate is on recess this week, they will resume their business Monday, July 7 – they could act on the bill anytime after that. When the Senate takes up the bill, one of two things could occur. The bill could be “hotlined” which means that it is considered largely non-controversial and is passed by unanimous consent (no role call vote taken but any one Senator can hold up the process). Or, the bill could be debated and scheduled for a floor vote. ASFPM’s biggest concern is the hotlining of the bill, given the potentially destructive nature of the Pryor amendment.
Why is this amendment problematic? There are many reasons, but some of the more significant are:
- By their very nature, the newly eligible items do not meet the definition of mitigation as FEMA programs define it. Levee repair, maintenance, and improvement; beach nourishment; and waterway channelization are not long-term mitigation solutions, rather they are short term measures.
- As part of its mission to reduce flood losses in the nation, ASFPM has long supported an array of programs designed to mitigate flood losses as we have worked with FEMA, USACE, NRCS and other federal agencies toward that objective. We believe non-structural measures (such as land use and planning, building codes, elevation of buildings, buy-outs, and floodproofing of individual buildings) are the most effective and sustainable tools that communities can use in reducing flood related damage. We also realize there are some locations where structural measures may be necessary to provide some level of protection in currently urbanized areas.
- Congress has traditionally and appropriately funded structural flood control measures through programs of USACE and NRCS. Congress has then asked FEMA to provide support for the community based non-structural mitigation measures noted above. This would be the first time any FEMA mitigation program has been changed to allow flood control projects (other than minor ones, such as ring levees or floodwalls that may protect a single building or critical infrastructure, but do not constitute a section of a larger flood control system).
- Related to the bullet above, a concern has been expressed by some in Congress that the USACE and NRCS project development and funding are too slow. We believe the solution would be to fix those processes and not to try using another program with different eligible activities and objectives (non-structural hazard mitigation) for those structural project purposes.
- In terms of available funds for maintenance, repairs, and improvement of levees after this last flooding or other flood disasters, there are many other alternatives. The recent Iraq Supplemental bill Congress passed and the President signed provided robust authorities and appropriations (hundreds of millions) to USACE and NRCS to assist in repair of levees and other structural flood control works, funds under the Public Assistance program of the Disaster Relief Act, as well as the provisions of PL 84-99 where USACE repairs many local levees at 100% federal costs. There are also ongoing authorities in USACE and NRCS for structural works. Finally the USACE has been given additional authorities and oversight of levees in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which establishes a levee safety program that is overseen by the USACE.
- Since its inception, community demand of eligible, cost effective projects for Pre-Disaster Mitigation grants to assist with non-structural projects has far outstripped the funds available. Communities throughout the country are implementing the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, which requires the development and adoption of local hazard mitigation plans, which is being done throughout the country. The number of communities now eligible for PDM funds (and thus the demand) will increase by several hundreds, if not by thousands. Creating a whole new category of eligibility will increase competition for these scarce resources, just as communities have finished the requirements and begin to apply for PDM grants.
- Although one justification the supporters of the Pryor amendment use is it that it caps the amount of funds available at 25% of PDM monies, the mere opening of a FEMA mitigation program could result in the increase of the cap in future years, and could even result in the opening of FEMA’s other four mitigation programs to the same type of structural project activity.
- Given the large cost of structural flood protection projects (these tend not to be scaleable such as non-structural mitigation projects), even single projects often exceed the entire PDM annual national appropriation (in FY 08 the appropriation averaged less than $2 million/state), so adding structural measures as eligible projects under PDM will immediately overwhelm this program. Given these high project costs, ASFPM would expect pressure to eliminate the 25% cap.
- Concerns and issues related to the 2008 Midwest Floods are not really tied to this reauthorization, and unlike the sentiment expressed when the amendment was offered, the amendment is actually harmful in future large events like this. This 2008 Midwest flood would have been much worse were it not for the 12,000 plus buyouts and elevation of buildings in high risk flood hazard areas that FEMA accomplished after the 1993 Great Midwest floods using FEMA’s non-structural mitigation programs. There are many success stories circulating in the media about some of the successful non-structural projects that occurred such as the buyout and relocation of the entire communities of Valmeyer and Grafton, Illinois. Neither is experiencing a fraction of the problems and damage this time around.