U.S. Congressmen Jerry Costello (D-IL) and John Shimkus (R-IL) today introduced legislation that would streamline the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers section 408 approval process for levee and other improvements. The bill recognizes the need to give local entities a greater ability to plan and execute levee improvements, which is critical given current federal budget constraints.
"Given the lack of resources at the federal level, it is imperative that local governments take the lead in making levee improvements, and we must empower them to take on this work," said Costello. "The Corps is a tremendous asset to our country, but from our experience with the Metro East levee improvements, there is great difficulty in expediting their approval process. We have held meetings with Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy, Mississippi Valley Division Commander General John Peabody, and St. Louis District Commander Colonel Christopher Hall. They all agree that this project is a top priority and that they want decisions to be made whenever possible at the district level, but the project has ground to a standstill. Our bill is a launching off point for a discussion on how to streamline this process."
"As someone who loves the Army, I am most frustrated with the process that has unfolded between the Corps and the Flood Prevention District," stated Shimkus. "I know both sides have the public's interest at heart. Yet every time we think the paths are merging, they end up farther apart. This legislation allows us to give specific guidance to the Corps in how to handle situations with local entities leading a project instead of them."
Currently, the process for granting permission to alter levees is governed by 33 USC Section 408 as implemented by Corps procedural guidance. While projects deemed minor 408 by the Corps can be expedited, major 408 projects essentially proceed according to the Corps' planning and development process, which includes extensive internal and external reviews. There is no doubt that the Corps should have a central role in this process, but it must proceed more quickly. This new legislation seeks to unlock the potential for faster, district-centric project approvals by the Corps.
"We believe that the Corps has great latitude within existing law to expedite critical investments in the nation's levee systems, but has instead imposed, through internal guidelines, an onerous, costly and multilayered review process that delays those essential projects from moving forward," said Les Sterman, Chief Supervisor with the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council. "This bill formalizes the Corps review processes and establishes firm deadlines for those reviews. This will allow project sponsors like the Flood Prevention District to plan ahead with greater certainty and move far more quickly to protect public safety and the local economy. We thank Congressmen Costello and Shimkus for recognizing this problem and taking action to fix it."