Water projects bill hailed by Latta

By DENISE GRANT
STAFF WRITER

U.S. Rep. Robert Latta, R-Bowling Green, voted Tuesday in favor of a $12 billion water projects bill that Latta said will reform the Army Corps of Engineers’ planning process.

The U.S. House voted 412-4 to approve the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.

The bipartisan measure authorizes 34 water projects, ranging from flood protection in California and North Dakota to deepening the Port of Savannah and widening a Texas-Louisiana waterway that serves the oil industry.

The Senate could vote on the bill before the end of the week, sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The new bill addresses pent-up demands by lawmakers, including addressing flooding concerns in places like Fargo, North Dakota and the Natomas Basin in the Sacramento, California area.

The bill authorizes spending up to $800 million for a flood diversion project that would protect the Red River Valley region of North Dakota and Minnesota, which includes Fargo. The region has suffered major flooding four of the past five years.

In California, the bill allows as much as $760 million in federal spending for a project that would strengthen levees of the Natomas Basin in the Sacramento area, which could protect more than 100,000 residents.

Besides authorizing specific water projects, Tuesday’s bill makes changes in how future projects are to seek funding. It sets specific time and cost limits for studies on potential projects, eliminates duplicative Army Corps of Engineers reviews, and speeds up environmental reviews.

Latta said the bill includes “fundamental reforms” to the corps’ planning process.

The bill passed by the House “consolidates or eliminates duplicative or unnecessary studies and requires concurrent reviews by the corps,” Latta said. “In addition, the bill establishes a new, transparent process to review and prioritize water resources development activity with strong congressional oversight.”

“Especially important to current projects in northwestern Ohio, such as the Blanchard River Flood Risk Management Project, the bill increases flexibility for non-federal interests in regard to corps’ projects,” Latta said.

The corps recently moved the projected completion date of its Blanchard River flood-control study back by a year to 18 months. The final flood-control plan for the river, the “chief’s report,” is due by late 2016.

That report would then be submitted to Congress in an attempt to gain up to 65 percent federal funding for construction. Construction could cost between $125 million to $200 million, according to estimates by the corps.

In all, the Blanchard River study is expected to cost about $9 million, with the corps and the Hancock County commissioners splitting the bill.

About $2.5 million a year is set aside from a half-percent, 10-year sales tax increase approved by Hancock County voters in 2009. Half of the revenue is used for flood control, the other half is used for county operations. Findlay also contributed $1.8 million toward the flood fund.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Grant: 419-427-8412
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Twitter: @CourierDenise

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