Municipal Water Leader
Interview

Congressional Action for Flood Recovery By Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

I

was pleased that the U.S. House of Representatives recently took concrete steps to help Nebraskans rebuild after the flood. In both the Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, and before the whole House, key amendments were offered and passed to help our farms, communities, and our important military instillation—Offutt Air Force Base.

Congressman Fortenberry

While Nebraskans are known for their humility, independence, and fortitude, the combined effects of the bomb cyclone affecting fields, roads, and watersheds has triggered a national response. In times like these, America’s impulse is to help our neighbors, even if they are far away. Earlier damage from hurricanes and wildfires have created an alliance of representatives pulling together for the greater good of our country.

The well-established federal precedence of emergency response to natural disasters and follow-up with supplemental assistance occupied much of the congressional calendar and political energy in recent weeks. Though these measures have to be worked methodically through the system, important first steps were taken. Here’s what has happened.

After confirming with the secretary of the Air Force on the precise numbers, I offered an amendment to the Military Construction and Veterans Appropriations bill that was under consideration. This legislative vehicle is primarily for military infrastructure and is one of 12 appropriations bills to be considered each year. Working in a bipartisan fashion, the committee recognized that substantial expedited assistance was necessary for Offutt Air Force Base. As I conveyed to my colleagues, it’s pretty jarring to see one of our nation’s key military installations a third underwater. In the end, the committee allocated $300 million.

Almost simultaneously, the full House of Representatives considered a disaster relief bill for many parts of America. Two amendments to the bill achieved important results for Nebraska. First, working with the representative from South Carolina, we added funds to the military operations and maintenance account with the intention that as much as $120 million will go to Offutt’s immediate cleanup and operational needs. Second, working with the representative from Iowa, we moved additional funds into the Emergency Watershed Protection Program to restore scarred lands and infrastructure. This important relief for our nation’s environmental security will reshape eroded stream banks, repair water control structures, fix levees, and restore conservation priorities.

Both measures were adopted and included in the larger bill that passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 257 to 150. While this package has to be reconciled with the United States Senate and signed into law by the president, we are now in the open field running. I am hopeful that lingering obstacles with both the White House and Senate can be overcome quickly.

Flooding in West Point, Nebraska.

Other items in this bill include a provision to address the loss of onsite grain stores as we continue to assist in
the multiagency effort to help farmers ready their damaged fields for planting. I will continue to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the natural resources districts as levee repairs begin. Importantly, the House-passed bill includes $2 billion in funding to repair damaged Army Corps projects.

The decimation caused by the calamitous flooding is matched by our strong-willed and resilient communities. Nebraskans are moving forward; our communities are getting back on their feet. With federal help to address serious and long-lasting damages to the infrastructure and to our land, we will recover and remain Nebraska strong.

 

A version of this article was previously published on Congressman Fortenberry’s website.
Jeff Fortenberry represents Nebraska’s First Congressional District in the House of Representatives.
For more information, please contact Congressman Fortenberry's office at (202) 225-4806.