The dimensions of federal spending to rebuild hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast infrastructure are becoming clearer. President Bush on Oct. 28 asked Congress to transfer $17.1 billion from approved but unspent Federal Emergency Management Agency relief aid to highways, levees and other infrastructure pummeled by recent storms.

Industry officials think appropriators will approve the plan, though maybe with changes. "Obviously the needs are there," says Cathy Connor, Parsons Brinckerhoff senior vice president for government affairs. Because the White House is proposing to reprogram existing spending, "it seems like it would be a pretty popular move," she adds.

White House’s $17.1-Billion
Proposal includes:
Agency :
Funding ($ Mil.)
Federal Highway Administration
HUD Community Devel. Block Grants
Dept. of Defense*
Corps of Engineers
Dept. of Veterans Affairs
Fish and Wildlife Service
General Services Administration
National Park Service
*Includes military construction and DOD family housing construction and operations and maintenance accounts. White House also seeking $2.1 billion for other DOD O&M accounts, but not all of that would go for construction.
Source: Office of Management and Budget

The White House is "navigating a tricky course" between those desiring higher funding and those seeking budget cuts, says Steve Hall, vice president, government affairs, at the American Council of Engineering Companies. "This may be a reasonable compromise," he says.

The Defense Dept. would get the largest share, $4.6 billion, including at least $1.5 billion for construction and repairs. Much of that is for rebuilding Mississippi’s Keeler Air Force Base and the Naval Air Station in New Orleans.

The Federal Highway Administration would receive $2.3 billion for its emergency relief account. A Dept. of Transportation spokesman says the request does not specify amounts for each state. But Louisiana is seeking $1.1 billion in FHWA aid, including $600 million for the I-10 "twin spans," says Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny B. Bradberry. The Mississippi Transportation Commission pegs Hurricane Katrina damage to federal-aid roads at $695 million, says Wayne Brown southern district commissioner.

The proposal has $1.6 billion for the Corps of Engineers, including about $1.3 billion to reconstruct levees, clear waterways and speed a levee-upgrade study. The Dept. of Veterans Affairs would get $1.1 billion to rebuild New Orleans and Biloxi hospitals.

Bush also wants to rescind $2.3 billion "from lower-priority federal programs and excess funds." The Associated General Contractors is concerned about a proposed $166-million cut in Clean Water State Revolving Funds, says Karen Bachman, a government affairs director.

Corps: National Academies To Study Levee Failures
The National Academies of Science and Engineering are expected to begin work soon on a major study of why New Orleans levees failed in Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught. The Dept. of Defense will ask the academies to name a panel of specialists to determine if levees or floodwalls failed through design, construction, operation or maintenance, soil conditions, "changed assumptions" for design or construction, or Katrina’s strength.

Water: New Proposal For Sewage Flows
The National Association of Clean Water Agencies and Natural Resources Defense Council said Oct. 27 they have agreed on a draft plan for how to deal with sewage flow diversions in rainy weather. Their proposal applies to flows from separate sanitary sewer systems as they are recombined. The Environmental Protection Agency will determine whether to issue the draft as interpretive guidance.

NACWA says that in big storms, influent flows can exceed secondary treatment units’ capacity. Influent can be diverted and recombined with flows from treatment units or discharged directly into waterways. The joint plan says diversions may be allowed if a plant proves it has "no feasible alter-natives," such as storage or other treatment technologies. EPA proposed its own diversion policy in 2003, but withdrew it last May.

Labor: Davis-Bacon To Be Reinstated for Post-Katrina work
After a push from members of Congress, the Labor Dept. said Davis-Bacon Act requirements would be restored in hurricane-hit Gulf Coast states Nov. 8. President Bush on Sept. 8 suspended the prevailing-wage mandate in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Unions praised Labor Secretary Elaine Chao’s Oct. 26 statement that Davis-Bacon would be restored. But the Associated Builders and Contractors said the suspension should have continued for a longer time.