Command Post. Corps staffers in Bation Rouge center. (Photo by Michael Goodman for ENR)

As Congress reacts to Hurricane Katrina, lawmakers already are seeking quick action on unfinished bills that deal with the Corps of Engineers, a key player in the post-storm work. Emergency spending bills to cover immediate Gulf Coast repair and cleanup costs are on their way. Agreements now seem more likely on Corps fiscal year 2006 appropriations and a Water Resources Development Act to authorize longer-range projects and programs. It would be no surprise to see Congress boost Corps funding in some or all of those measures and earmark projects for Louisiana and other storm-battered areas.

"I think Congress has gotten a huge wake-up call here, that they’d better focus on this legislation and these types of issues–infrastructure and infrastructure security–if we’re going to not only alleviate this disaster but head off future disasters," says Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies’ vice president for government affairs."

Nearly all of the $10.5-billion emergency aid measure that President Bush signed on Sept. 2 went to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But more supplemental bills are coming and the Corps will get a share. The Sept. 2 measure "was only intended to last two or three weeks until we could get a more realistic estimate of how much more money was going to be needed," says Jenny Manley, a Senate Appropriations Committee spokeswoman.

Corps Legislation On Tap in Congress
Emergency spending
Multiple emergency appropriations bills expected, including funds for the Corps for surveys of levees, other Gulf area damage.
Fiscal 2006 appropriations
House and Senate passed bills. House has $4.7 billion for Corps civil works program; Senate allocated $5.3 billion. Katrina could force conference action, keep Corps funding near, or above, Senate mark.
Water Resources Development Act
House passed $11.6-billion multi-year Corps authorization. Senate committee cleared $11.7-billion version. Katrina should push bill through Senate floor. Both bills authorize federal share of $1.9-billion first phase of Louisiana coastal restoration plan.
Sources: Congressional Committees, Congressional Budget Office,
Taxpayers for Common Sense, ENR

White House requests for more emergency funds could come the week of Sept. 12 or the week after that, Manley says. That aid apparently will be attached to the 2006 homeland security appropriations bill, says Laurence Bory, vice president for federal government relations with design firm HDR. "I think certainly the immediate needs are going to be addressed in the supplementals," adds an industry source.

Don Basham, Corps chief of engineering and construction, says the Bush administration and Congress have asked the Corps for estimates of post-Katrina needs. He says a Corps team is looking not only at the New Orleans area but at levees "up and down the Mississippi" and along the coast.

"My guess is that the funding would probably be for survey-type activities, either to expedite existing assessments of the flood-protection works around New Orleans or to initiate new assessments" of the damage, says David Sanford, American Association of Port Authorities’ director of navigation policy and legislation.

Katrina also may prod legislators to finish a 2006 Corps appropriations bill. The House has approved an energy and water programs bill with $4.7 billion for Corps civil works activities. The Senate passed a measure allotting $5.3 billion. That gap and policy disagreements have stalled a final agreement, observers say. After Katrina, a cut below 2005’s $5-billion level appears politically unthinkable. AAPA’s Sanford says the storm reaction could move the total above the Senate’s $5.3 billion. HDR’s Bory says he hopes Congress won’t transfer funds to the Gulf from other regions’ projects "as a way of just dealing with things fast as opposed to dealing with things comprehensively."

Progress for Water Resources Bill

The House and Senate WRDA bills authorize a $1.1-billion federal share of a $1.9-billion plan that aims to stem coastal Louisiana’s huge loss of wetlands, which are acknowledged as natural storm buffers. But even if Congress approves the plan soon, those benefits won’t appear for years.

The hurricane will accelerate the slow pace of a new WRDA. The House approved an estimated $11.6-billion bill on July 14. In the Senate, an $11.7-billion measure cleared the Environment and Public Works Committee in April, but no floor action has occurred. Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) is expected to propose bringing WRDA to the chamber’s floor around Sept. 19.