A snag in the river

Water, water everywhere and a lot of it for the US US Army Corps of Engineers to manipulate in flood control, channelization, harbor, and beach erosion projects. But, who should pay for it?

Although a great deal of money has been spent on waterworks projects, Congress has not authorized any new projects in nearly a decade. Much of the wrangling has centered on what share of the individual projects should be borne by local and state governments and what share should be put up by Uncle Sam.

A Senate supplemental appropriations bill, viewed as a compromise proposal, would have required a cost-sharing formula for funding corps projects. Under the formula, local sponsors would have been required to pay for 20 to 60 percent of harbor projects, 35 percent for irrigation and beach control, 25 to 35 percent for flood control and 50 percent of recreation and navigations projects.

The measure hit a sand bar along the way to passage in the personage of Rep. Jamie Whitten (D) of Mississippi, who heads the House Appropriations Committee and presides over Mississippi River and Tributaries, a massive flood control project originally authorized after the 1927 Mississippi flood. During the recent congressional debate over cost sharing, Whitten fought to exempt projects in seven states along the Mississippi.

The waterworks issue was not fully resolved as of the recess.

There is no equity among regions of the country or individual states when it comes to spending for waterworks projects. According to Rep. Bob Edgar (D) of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Public Works Water Resources Subcommittee, his state was targeted for $17.2 million in projects vs. spending $735.6 million as proposed for Louisiana.

Whitten, however, has something of a point when he argues that waterworks projects should be a national responsibility since 40 percent of the nation drains into the Mississippi River.

One reason why state and local governments should share in the cost of corps projects is that mandating a local burden will provide a test of how badly such projects are really wanted and needed at the local level. -- Indianapolis News

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