Saturday, February 05, 2011

One man's pork...

In the last Congressional election the term "earmark" was thrown around as a dirty word.  Pork-barrel spending - or, more simply, pork.  Money that is grabbed by one member of Congress to support some special project in his or her home district.  Those old-timers, the multi-term incumbents, were masters of pork-barrel spending.  The new generation that kicked them out of office pledged to do away with these earmarks.


Congress Slashes Funding for Critical River Gauges -
Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County - Local officials are warning of potentially dangerous cuts by Congress as lawmakers slash river gauge funding.

River gauge funding for the flood-prone Susquehanna was, for lack of a better term, sent down the river by Congress. River Basin Commission execs reported Thursday a couple million dollars earmarked for the maintenance of the gauges was sunk, with the Republican-controlled Congress pledging it’s done with pork barrel spending.

Luzerne County Emergency Management Director Steve Bekhanich says can the politics. “In my opinion, there should be no politics associated with this. It's a very important system,” he tells Eyewitness News.

The gauges are relied on heavily in accurately predicting the timing of river rises. Real-time data is used in planning the next move, whether it be to evacuate tens of thousands of people, or to wait it out.

In the Agnes flood of '72 there was no such thing. River gauges were years away. Almost 40 years ago, some fled only after a hearing the river had burst through the levee.

Does a fight in D.C., cut out a potentially life-saving program? “If we don't have that real-time data coming in to us, it is going to impact our ability to give as much advanced lead time,” asks Bekhanich.

In his first visit back to the district, Congressman Lou Barletta reacted to news this program had been chopped and what can be done about it.

Barletta says he believes funding for the river gauges could be available through other programs. He pledged to get to work on finding a solution to the problem from his new post in Washington, DC.

System of river gauges imperiled | The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre PA

River and stream gauges along the river and its tributaries may be phased out if continued funding is not included in the federal 2011 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, according to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

Gauges provide real-time information used to forecast river and stream depths and provide advance notice of impending floods.

Funding for gauges has been threatened in prior years but persistence by former U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Nanticoke, kept the money in the federal budget.

This time around, there appears to be a worried concern by Jim Brozena, executive director of the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority, and Steve Bekanich, county emergency management coordinator.

“This year seems a little more critical than in prior years,” Brozena said. “Money has always been earmarked in the past. All of a sudden, Washington (D.C.) is making a stance that there wasn’t going to be any earmarks at all.”

Congress Eliminates Funding For Susquehanna Flood Warning System - PA Environment Digest
...The System provides the National Weather Service the critically important data necessary to issue flood warnings. The System is extremely cost-effective, providing a 20-to-1 benefit-cost ratio; for every dollar invested by the federal government, the System saves $20 through reduced flood damages and reduced payouts through the federal flood insurance program.

Of particular concern is the potential loss of data critical for providing timely and accurate flood forecasts. The System uses radar and a network of stream and rain gages to provide the data that are used to forecast river levels and issue more accurate early flood warnings.

...It is not a question of whether flooding will again occur in the Susquehanna River Basin, but rather when it will occur and how severe it will be. I pray it will not take the devastation of another flood event for us to once again learn the wisdom of the adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

In 1972 Tropical Storm Agnes wreaked devastation along the Susquehanna River, particularly in Luzerne County, in Wilkes-Barre and Kingston and Forty Fort and Shickshinny.  It did this in a very sneaky way:  it sat over upstate New York and dumped rain into the headwaters of the Susquehanna.  So the flooding event was not the result of local rainfall, but rather the result of rainfall a hundred miles to the north.  The flooding rolled down the river and smashed through the sandbags that had been so carefully placed to raise flood protection by a few feet at least.  The Wyoming Valley became a broad river basin, with the river stretching from mountain to mountain with little regard for the cities and townships between.  Longtime Congressman Dan Flood proved his worth as the master of porkbarrel spending, bringing in federal funds to rebuild the region and raise the levees to provide protection from another Agnes-level disaster.  The levee-raising project was not completed until during the Clinton administration, when Congressman Paul Kanjorski was already establishing himself as Flood's successor in many things, including the ability to bring home the pork.

But now, thanks to a wave of anti-incumbency, Paul Kanjorski is out and Lou Barletta is in.  Will freshman Congressman Barletta be able to stand against his fellow Republicans who staunchly oppose any earmarks of any kind?  Or will the Susquehanna river gauges fall victim to a lame-brained application of idiotic ideology?

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Well, voters from two districts that the Susquehanna flows through booted out two Democratic congressmen (including one with a lot of seniority) in favor of two freshmen GOP congressmen. If either of these two is even inclined to try to get the funding for the river gauges reinstated, it will be interesting to see how far they get. It will also be interesting to see what the fallout will be next time (and there WILL be a next time) there's a devastating flood that was worse than estimated.