Today, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH), and U.S. Representative Bob Latta (OH-5) continued to put pressure on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to reprogram funds for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 in order for the Blanchard River Flood Risk Management Project (BRFRMP) to receive the necessary resources for its completion.
"The Ottawa and Findlay communities have invested time and valuable financial resources into getting the Blanchard River Flood Risk Management Project underway," Brown said. "The U.S. Army Corps must reprogram funds so that BRFRMP receives the necessary resources for its completion. My Congressional colleagues and I will continue to put pressure on the U.S. Army Corps until this is done."
"The Blanchard River Flood Reduction project is critical for the region's economic future, and progress on the project cannot be allowed to come to a halt," Portman said. "The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers must fulfill its commitment to the region and ensure adequate funding is provided to continue the study and complete it by the end of next year. The leaders of the Corp assure me that they consider the project one of their highest priorities. I will continue to partner with the Administration in working to address future flooding in the region."
"Providing a permanent flood control solution for the Blanchard River remains a top priority of mine and I will continue to work with members of the Ohio delegation, as well as my colleagues in the House, until this issue is resolved," Latta said.
Brown, Portman, and Latta urged USACE to reprogram funds for FY 2013 in order to complete the study phase of BRFRMP as soon as possible. They also urged USACE to inform the Ottawa and Findlay communities where they stood in receiving these funds. Lastly, Brown, Portman, and Latta made it clear to USACE how important BRFRMP is to the safety and economic wellbeing of Northwest Ohio.
BRFRMP, viewed by USACE as a model for the rest of the country, is a first of its kind flood risk management project. While the local cost-share is in place, the USACE estimates an additional $1.5 million in federal funding is needed to continue the study phase of the BRFRMP.
Last month, as the U.S. Senate voted on components of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), Brown and Portman passed an amendment to expedite projects like BRFRMP. The amendment would ensure projects are eligible for federal construction funds upon completion of their USACE Chief of Engineer's Report and Senate approval. Without this amendment, BRFRMP would not be eligible to receive federal construction funds from USACE until the next WRDA authorization. Prior to the current water resources bill, the Senate last considered a WRDA bill in 2007.
Brown, Portman, and Latta have worked with the BRFRMP Coalition to encourage USACE to move quickly on the Blanchard River mitigation project. In April, they urged USACE to commit to funds for BRFRMP for the second half of fiscal year 2013. In December 2012, they also sent a letter to USACE urging assistance in expediting BRFRMP.
In November 2011, Brown met with officials from the Army Corps of Engineers' Buffalo District, which encompasses northern Ohio. Brown met with Deputy District Commander Martin Lewton, Deputy for Programs, Planning, and Project Management Thomas Switala, Chief of Programs and Project Management Ron Kozlowski, and Chief of Planning Major Martin Wargo. In that meeting, Brown pressed for a faster timeline on the Blanchard River Flood Mitigation Study. Brown and members of his staff also met the previous week with Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik, Ottawa Mayor J. Dean Meyer, Hancock County Commissioner Phil Riegle, former County Engineer Steve Wilson, and Tony Iriti, the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance economic development director.
Brown's, Portman's, and Latta's letter to USACE can be read in its entirety below:
July 1, 2013
The Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy
Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works
Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)
108 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0108
Dear Secretary Darcy:
As a follow up to our meeting with you in April, we are again writing regarding the Blanchard River Flood Risk Management Project (BRFRMP) and the importance of securing funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. With the release of the U.S. Army Corps fiscal year 2013 work plan, we request a status update regarding your efforts to identify funds to be reprogrammed to the BRFRMP.
We were pleased to learn that the meetings between the Army Corps of Engineers and local officials in Findlay on June 3-4 were considered productive by both sides. Importantly, we were encouraged to hear that the BRFRMP remains the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District's highest priority General Investigation study.
We urge you to complete the study phase of the BRFRMP as soon as possible. We appreciate that the recent meetings resulted in a more clearly defined project schedule, and specifically, identified the studies and reports that must be completed in fiscal years (FY) 2013 and 2014 to prepare the Chief's Report.
It is our understanding that $325,000 is the estimated federal need to fund BRFRMP for the remainder of FY13. We look forward to the results of your review of reprogramming options to make up this immediate funding need which is necessary to keep the project moving. As you know, the local share is in place.
The next milestone for the BRFRMP is the release of the Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP), which is expected in July. We know that the local sponsors are eager to have the opportunity, once the TSP is set, to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Army Corps and to begin work on the separable elements of the plan.
We understand that in evaluating the BRFRMP for inclusion in the President's Budget or the Army Corps Work Plan, the benefit-cost ratio is paramount. While we agree that the Army Corps needs to be able to score projects according to certain metrics, it is important to look at the overall community impact of a project.
Currently, small communities like Findlay and Ottawa are at a disadvantage in comparison with their large urban counterparts under the Army Corps utilization of traditional, narrow, benefit-cost analyses in its budgeting process. Mitigating flood risk in areas with major regional employers in small communities, such as Findlay and Ottawa, is essential to keeping these businesses in the community and, thus, key to a community's economic viability.
We understand that the evaluation framework included in the final Principles and Requirements for Federal Investments in Water Resources released by the Council on Environmental Quality earlier this year is designed to get at this issue by capturing a broader range of effects of alternative actions.
Additionally, the House's FY14 Energy & Water Appropriations Bill's report includes language that would help level the playing field between small and large cities when it comes to the Army Corps utilization of current benefit-cost analyses in its budgeting process. We look forward to working with you to help small communities compete, in a fairer construct, for limited resources.
We appreciate your efforts to continue to advance this project and urge you to reprogram funds for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. Thank you for your timely response to our request.
Sherrod Brown Rob Portman Robert E. Latta
U.S. Senator U.S. Senator Member of Congress