The first minibus, HR 5895, was signed by the President on Friday. Start the clock – A Corps of Engineers Work Plan is due by November 20th. The bill includes FY19 appropriations for energy and water, the legislative branch, military construction and veterans affairs. The $147 billion spending package allocates $6.9985 billion for the Corps of Engineers… they decided not to round up. This is a tiny plus up from last year’s Civil works budget, which came in at $6.827 billion. That’s an additional $171 million for Civil Works, but only $2.5 million of which (less than 1.4%) has been allocated to the coasts. How can we develop resilience with such an insignificant plus up? Congress will continue to band aid our coasts with supplemental appropriations until leadership can propose a path forward to shore up our coastal communities.
In the wake of Hurricane Florence, House and Senate leaders have agreed on an initial disaster funding bill that provides support for ravaged communities. The agreement was part of a long-term FAA and disaster reform package. The bill contains $1.68 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban development for necessary expenses authorized under Title I of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, for purposes related to disaster relief, long-term recovery, restoration of infrastructure and housing, and economic revitalization in the most impacted and distressed areas resulting from a major disaster declared on or after January 1, 2016. Why 2016? Hurricane Matthew tore apart Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas in 2016. This could have consumed most of the available disaster appropriations, and since then the communities must still be recovering. Housing and Urban Development gave $168 million to North Carolina last April. Note that not all of the $1.68 will go to post-Florence recovery, and will mitigate others natural disasters such as wildfires.
It is certain that members of Congress will be looking for post-disaster funds post-disaster, but how many are looking for pre-disaster funds? In June, the Pew Research Center released a report, ‘What We Don't Know About State Spending on Natural Disasters Could Cost Us’. This highlighted how states lack data on their spending during natural disasters, which results in increased overall spending and spending in the wrong places. Due to this lack of information, analysts cannot provide adequate information on how to inform policy decisions. This has led Congress and the acting Administration to consider making changes to federal spending on natural disaster without comprehensive data to inform these decisions. A new report, ‘Natural Disaster Mitigation Spending Not Comprehensively Tracked,’ discusses how preparing for natural disasters by implanting mitigation strategies can save $6 on every $1 spent up front. Simply put, “building more resilience communities is the best way to reduce risks to people, property and taxpayer dollars,” says FEMA Administrator Brock Long. Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia top the charts as they dedicate the largest portion of their FEMA disaster grant money towards pre-disaster mitigation. It is not possible for our government to make informed decisions without collecting comprehensive information on federal and non-federal spending on disasters, and we therefore cannot proactively address mitigation investments.
Where are the reforms? Division D of the bill, the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA), ensures that a percentage of assistance provided is invested in pre-disaster mitigation to pre-empt the damage and distress that results from disasters. The bill clarifies who may be eligible for mitigation funding, and ensures that investments are cost effective and reduce risk to involved communities. In addition, it speeds response by FEMA, provides increased flexibility in meeting the needs of survivors (and their pets!) and increased transparency and oversight in the disaster assistance process.
In Wilmington, images of beaten up roads paralleling the coastline are common post-storm. These roads are often destroyed by hydrostatic forces and the rushing wave action from storm surge, but overall the Corps of Engineers say that Wilmington’s beaches fared well during Florence. Nourishment projects at Wilmington and Ocean Isle last winter provided roughly 1 million cubic yards of sacrificial sand at a total cost of $13.2 million. The dune system and additional sand berm provided relief from human suffering and spared beach front developments. In addition to the scheduled nourishment at Carolina Beach and Kure beach this winter, both Wrightsville and Ocean Isle beaches could get emergency funding, leaving the strand in a promising condition.
According to Moody’s Analytics, the estimated damage from Florence ranks it #7 in the US, with estimates ranging from $38 billion to $50 billion including property damage, vehicle losses and lost output. The $1.68 billion provided in the FAA reauthorization will start off a long-term recovery plan for the area. Be reminded not all of those funds are dedicated to post-Florence recovery.
WRDA is being held up by Senator Burr in North Carolina, who is trying to get a reauthorization of the Lands and Conversation Act. This program is set to expire September 30th. Without the program, funding from offshore oil and gas will be diverted directly into the Treasury and expended elsewhere. The funds from the grant are used to safeguard our natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage, and to provide recreation opportunities to all America’s. Senator Burr is pushing for a permanent reauthorization. The senate will try to get a vote on it this week.
Thanks for sticking around - Click below to read how a mass migration of coastal towns could take place in the near future that would comparable to the Dustbowl or Great Migration.
By Oliver Milman