Monday, 15 July 2024

Bill supporting Middle Creek project passes House

LAKE COUNTY – A bill that will fund flood protection around the country – including Lake County – has passed the House of Representatives.

On Thursday night the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed its version of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (WRDA), HR 1495, according to Anne Warden, spokesperson for Congressman Mike Thompson's Washington office.

The WRDA authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to construct flood protection projects and improve the nation's rivers and harbors. The bill authorizes a reported $15 billion to hundreds of projects around the nation.

The bill passed the House of Representatives Thursday by a vote of 394-25.

The legislation, Warden reported, will help restore wetlands, protect communities from catastrophic floods and enhance natural resources across the country.

Thompson said federal authorization for those projects is “long overdue.”

"This legislation will give our communities added flood protection and enhance natural resources nationwide,” he said.

Here in Lake County, the bill will hopefully result in the Middle Creek Restoration Project moving forward.

The project will restore 1,200 acres of wetlands and 500 acres of floodplain in the Clear Lake area, Warden said. It entails reconnecting Scott's Creek and Middle Creek to the historic Robinson Lake wetland and floodplain. These two watersheds provide 57 percent of the water flow into Clear Lake.

The bill included an authorization for the project added by Thompson, Warden said. Thompson was successful in adding language to this legislation that will fund, design and construct the Middle Creek Ecosystem Restoration Project.

"Restoring Middle Creek is a critical step toward enhancing the area's flood protection and improving the wetlands surrounding Clear Lake," said Thompson.

Thompson has been working with local officials on the legislation for years. He also had also lined up authorization for Middle Creek in a version of WRDA that died without action in Congress late last year.

That the WRDA bill failed last year isn't exactly a new occurrence.

The legislation, which is usually passed each year, was first introduced in 1974. A backgrounder on WRDA by the National Wildlife Federation says that legislation is an important vehicle for water projects the US Army Corps of Engineers would plan and develop. WRDA also helps enact policy changes in the Corps' water resource programs and projects, the federation reported.

However, no WRDA bill has been passed since 2000, a fact that's been attributed to a desire to reform the Corps' policies and prevent pork barrel politics. In the past, members of Congress have added earmarks to the legislation that will no longer be allowed under new reforms.

The legislation states that the Middle Creek project will cost $45.2 million, with an estimated federal cost of $29,500,000 and an estimated non-federal cost of $15,700,000.

Bob Lossius, Lake County's assistant director of Public Works, said they're not asking for that $29 million this time around. “All we're asking for at the federal level right now is $1.2 million,” said Lossius.

That would help the county begin the project's design phase, which is estimated to cost $1.6 million, said Lossius. The rest of the funding can come from other sources, such as the state or the county.

Lossius said he's talked with state Sen. Patricia Wiggins' staff about a bill to authorize the project at the state level and allocate 50 percent of the nonfederal share of $15 million. The county's Flood Control and Water Conservation District also has funds set aside in next year's budget to get the first phase started, he said.

In February, Lossius sent a letter to Thompson and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein asking for their help in getting the project back on track.

“We've been this far before,” said Lossius, who also has been disappointed before when the bills stalled in Congress.

He said he met with Boxer's office earlier this week to reemphasize the need for the project.

“I do get a sense we're closer because of the overwhelming approval in both houses (of Congress),” said Lossius, noting how quickly the bill moved through the Senate committee and the House.

One issue which hasn't been worked out so far in the House version is a matter of transfering a parcel of land into trust for Robinson Rancheria.

The tribe owns 30 acres which will be flooded in the project, Lossius said. The county wants to help Robinson transfer other land the tribe owns – located a mile from the project area – into trust in exchange for the property that will go underwater. That issue has been perceived as “trust hunting” by some members of Congress, and in the past has become a point of contention.

Lossius said the issue will need to be worked out either on the Senate floor or in a joint committee when the two houses come together to arrive at final legislation.

“Everybody wants to get this bill passed,” said Lossius, adding that he's concerned that they don't want to throw in the tricky trust issue for fear of stalling the bill.

Lossius said the bill would have until the end of this year to pass Congress or else meet the fate of earlier failed versions.

However, he said he doesn't recall it being passed out of the House this early before.

Warden said Senate and House members hope to have a final version on President Bush's desk by July 4.

"President Bush indicated that he opposes the bill's level of authorization, but has not threatened a veto,” Warden said. “Since the previous majority in Congress neglected to pass this bill last year when it was supposed to be reauthorized, we strongly encourage the president not to veto these critical authorizations."

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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