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Public Statements

Authorizing State or Local Government to Construct Levees on Certain Properties

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BERG. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, Senate bill S. 2039 is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators from North Dakota Conrad and Hoeven, which passed the Senate by unanimous consent in January of this year. This bill will provide a great deal of help to the citizens of our State.

The text of S. 2039 allows for a process of building permanent levees on Federal land in North Dakota, with the approval of FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers. I want to highlight the unique situation we have in North Dakota, and this legislation intends to address just that.

First of all, Fargo, North Dakota. It has faced repeated flooding along the Red River, which runs through the heart of the city. The city has constructed a permanent levee that runs along as much of the river as possible. However, over the years, some properties have been bought out along the riverbank with Federal funds.

As a result, we have a patchwork of properties that exist along this levee system with gaps in the system. Recurring flooding along the Red River requires temporary levees to go up nearly every year only to be taken down, and what happens, repeatedly, over and over, is a taxpayer waste of money.

Minot, North Dakota, will have the same problem. As my colleagues know, Minot faced enormous flooding last spring. Thousands of homes were lost, and the community sustained hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. The city of Minot now plans to rebuild a major new flood protection system, including rebuilding the levees that were in place. This is in the middle of the city along the Souris River. This means that Minot will face the same frustration and expense of constructing and removing temporary levees year after year, just as it is in Fargo.

The solution is to simply permit levee construction on federally purchased property in these areas of North Dakota, with the approval of FEMA and the Corps. It's important to note that in both Fargo and Minot, a levee will be in place regardless of this legislation.

What this commonsense bill is trying to prevent is the absurdity and the expense to taxpayers of building and then taking down a temporary levee every year every time there's a flood.

This bill does contain important restrictions to ensure undue Federal costs are not incurred. Under this bill, before approving any project, FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers must first determine that the levee will be effective in mitigating against the flood risk versus having an open floodplain, that permanent levee flood protection would be the most cost effective measure to protect against flood risk and minimize the future cost to the Federal Government, and also, that the State or local government seeking to build the levee has provided adequate, detailed plans for maintenance of the proposed levee and the State or local government has a detailed finance plan to pay for it.

All of the above must be demonstrated before the construction plan can be approved. Furthermore, this Federal review itself must be paid for entirely by the local or State government.

Mr. Speaker, the construction of a permanent levee is far more fiscally responsible than the annual costs associated each year with tearing down, building and tearing down these temporary levees. Most importantly, this legislation eliminates the cost that FEMA and the Corps of Engineers have already incurred time and time again as they're forced to build these and tear them down, the temporary levees in the State of North Dakota.

This legislation provides better stewardship of taxpayer dollars. It provides sound protections against future Federal expense, and it will save the local, State and Federal Government money. Most importantly, it will ensure better flood protection for the communities of Minot and Fargo in North Dakota.

I ask my colleagues for their support of this legislation and reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. BERG. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to just really make this perfectly clear. This is not affecting the Missouri River. This is focused on a very flat area in the eastern part of our State. As was mentioned, this came through the Senate with unanimous consent. Senators along the Missouri River from North Dakota all the way down were supportive of this.

The essence of this problem is that we have a levee. This is a downtown levee that's in a city, and there are gaps there. And what happens is when there's a flood--and every year we have a recurring flood--a temporary levee is put in. Trucks come in and clays come in, it tears it up, and they build it, and as soon as that's done, it's all torn down again. This is disruptive, and it impacts the natural habitat there. That is where this is focused to be.

The other thing that is really important here that I would like to stress, this legislation requires the Corps of Engineers to approve it. Those of us who have been dealing with the Missouri River know the Corps management would not approve of anything that would disrupt the Missouri waterway all the way down.

Mr. Speaker, this is an urgent thing. The reason it's urgent is our State has had 10,000 people dislocated from 4,000 homes, and these people had the uncertainty of not knowing where they can rebuild, what they can do. This will help the city of Minot move forward with their housing needs. There are 1,400 families that are currently not back in their homes. They're living in trailers, living with neighbors and living with friends. They're not sure when these temporary levees go down what they should do next. That's really the urgency of this bill, and why that's why it's before you today.

So, Mr. Speaker, I do urge my colleagues to support this bill, and I will reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. BERG. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I mean, these are exactly why we need to do this. I mean, there's passion when it comes to floods, passion when it comes to levees. What concerns me is people don't understand probably what the Red River Valley is like. This is flat. When there's a break in the levee, this is not just a few homes, this will be miles and miles and miles.

I want to be very clear: the levee will be there, it's going to be there. The only thing we're doing here is, right now, the Federal Government, when there is a flood, pays for this. The Federal Government shares in the cost to build a temporary levee. A month later, they pay for it to tear it down--time and time again.

If you're concerned about the environment or you're concerned about disruption, this is where we need to have that part of a levee system, a permanent levee system that's already in place that has very little impact on the environment.

As we can work through these commonsense things, these commonsense solutions, this will help build a relationship so we can solve these problems and move longer term, both in flood protection as well as the Missouri River.

Again, just to reiterate that point: this bill has nothing to do with the Missouri River--in fact, it did pass under unanimous consent in the Senate, with the Senators up and down Missouri supporting it.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. BERG. I am prepared to close.

Mr. Speaker, again, Members of the assembly here: there are 1,400 people in Minot that aren't living in their homes--there are 1,400 families, not people. Every year creates an uneasiness on the people that live in this flat valley, in the Red River Valley. This is an important bill. It's critical for long-term planning and clearly will save not only the Federal Government money, but it will save the local government money. It also will save all the volunteer time that goes into building a levee, taking a levee down.

I do believe if you saw the area where this will go, you would agree that a permanent levee system that ties into the landscaping would really be a positive impact on the wildlife and the habitat in those areas.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.


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