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Public Statements

Water Resources Development Act of 2013 - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, this amendment is cosponsored by my colleague from Vermont, Mr. Leahy. What it does is it addresses a very serious problem facing the State of Vermont and I think potentially States all over the country.

Mr. President, as you well know, Tropical Storm Irene impacted some 225 Vermont communities with 90 bridges and 963 culverts damaged or destroyed statewide. In a small State, that is a lot of damage.

Long before Irene, the Vermont State legislature enacted stream alteration standards that prevented flood hazards, damage to fish and wildlife, and damage to adjacent property owners. These standards result in resilient infrastructure and are looked to as a model by other States. In other words, what the State legislature did appropriately is pass standards that would do the job, that would protect communities in times of floods and natural disasters.

As we all know, FEMA compensates communities for the rebuilding of bridges and culverts damaged during large storms such as Irene, but FEMA--and here is the main point--in many cases is insisting on overriding Vermont's stronger standards, requiring communities to build inferior projects that are unlikely to withstand the next major storm to hit the State. In other words, communities are standing there wanting to do the right thing. The State has promulgated regulations as to what these culverts and bridges should look like. What FEMA is saying is we are not going to compensate you for doing the right thing. In other words, FEMA is insisting that local communities, in order to get reimbursed for these expenses of replacing damaged infrastructure, must build culverts and bridges to standards that have already failed and are likely to fail again. This is Vermont's problem today. It could be your State's problem tomorrow. The point here is we should not be rebuilding culverts and bridges in a way that will result in them failing once again when another flood or extreme weather disturbance takes place. That makes no sense at all.

In Vermont, at least 39 bridge and culvert projects would benefit from this amendment, and half of these projects have not yet gone forward because of this dispute with FEMA. In other words, we have many communities in the State of Vermont that are not going forward rebuilding the damaged culverts and bridges but waiting because of this ongoing dispute with FEMA.

Again, today this is Vermont's problem. Tomorrow it could be West Virginia's or California's. It makes no sense to rebuild bridges and culverts in a way that has failed. We want to rebuild them in a way that will enable them to remain strong during the next flood or extreme weather disturbance. If another Hurricane Irene were to hit, those towns would be vulnerable to severe damage yet again. In other words, they are sitting in limbo. They don't have the money to do the job they want to see done, and they are not getting help from FEMA. In fact, communities in States across the country that adopt more resilient standards for infrastructure replacement would benefit from this amendment.

Today it impacts Vermont. Tomorrow it could impact any State in this country. Local communities and States have a better sense of the kinds of standards that are required for bridges and culverts than FEMA, and they should be allowed to go forward with those standards and be compensated by FEMA.

FEMA's current practice throws good money at bad by preventing States and local communities from rebuilding with more resilient, better-defined infrastructure after devastating storms. The amendment Senator Leahy and I are offering will save taxpayers money, will save lives, and better protect communities from future natural disasters and extreme weather disturbances.

In short, the Sanders-Leahy flood resilience amendment requires FEMA to recognize State standards when providing Federal reimbursements for bridge and culvert replacements after natural disasters, supports communities that want to rebuild more resilient infrastructure after natural disasters, harmonizes the approaches of the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA, and stops throwing good money after bad, saves taxpayers at the local, State, and Federal level by making smarter investments in more durable infrastructure.

With that, I would ask my colleagues to support this amendment.

I ask unanimous consent that the time during all quorum calls be charged equally to both sides.


Mr. SANDERS. This amendment impacts Vermont today, but it can impact any and every State in this country if it experiences a major flood or a natural disaster.

We all know FEMA compensates communities for rebuilding bridges and culverts damaged during storms such as Irene, but what is not widely known is that FEMA insists that local communities, in order to get reimbursed, must build culverts and bridges to the same standards that already failed and are likely to fail again. It is not terribly sensible. That is what this amendment deals with.

I yield to my colleague from Vermont, Senator Leahy.


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