Politics & Government

Murray blasts administration for lack of Chehalis River flood-control money

WASHINGTON — Sen. Patty Murray sharply criticized the Bush administration Thursday for failing to include any money in its budget request for flood-control projects along the Chehalis River and summoned U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials to explain why.

"It's a game that's being played with people's lives and I really resent it," the Washington Democrat said as corps officials testified before the Senate Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee. "I know this is not an inexpensive project. But in the budget we are discussing today the president requested zero dollars for this critical flood-control project."

December flooding shut down Interstate 5 for four days. In Lewis County alone, the flooding damaged 1,700 homes, killed 1,800 farm animals, caused $14 million in road and bridge damage; debris cleanup cost an additional $1 million.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed legislation that would provide $50 million in state funding for an 11-mile network of levees along the Chehalis River. The federal share is expected to ultimately be about $74 million, but $1.2 million is needed in the next fiscal year for the corps to finish design and planning of the project.

Though Congress authorized the project last year, the president's proposed budget did not include any funding. All told, the proposed corps budget was cut by $846 million from current levels.

"This seems to be an annual game the administration plays where they request shortsighted budgets and then pass the buck to Congress to fund the projects the people of our states desperately need," Murray said.

Murray said the December storms were not a one-time event.

"This isn't a question of if another storm will strike, it is only when it will come," the senator said. "I have made a promise to those people (in Lewis County) to work here in Congress to get the necessary funds for this project to move forward."

Murray's comments came at the beginning of the hearing, before she had to depart to chair a meeting of her transportation, housing and urban development subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. Murray did not have time to question Assistant Army Secretary John Paul Woodley Jr., but she made clear she expected corps officials in her office soon to discuss the situation.

"I am furious at this administration for not doing its job," Murray said in an interview as she left the hearing. "Securing funding will be difficult and challenging in this environment."