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Matilija Dam receives congressional authorization

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  • Paul Jenkin
    It s about time, said Paul Jenkin, of the Matilija Coalition. The group has been fighting for years to tear down the dam, which is filling with silt. It s
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3, 2007
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      "It's about time," said Paul Jenkin, of the Matilija Coalition. The group has been fighting for years to tear down the dam, which is filling with silt.  "It's a really good boost to the Ventura River restoration project that we keep up this momentum," said David Pritchett, program director for the Southern California Steelhead Coalition.

      Dam destruction plan clears hurdle in House

      By Zeke Barlow  
      Friday, August 3, 2007
      http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2007/aug/03/dam-destruction-plan-clears-hurdle-in-house/

      The push to tear down Matilija Dam on the Ventura River moved one step closer to a reality late Wednesday when the House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing it and other projects.

      Though President Bush has vowed to veto the Water Resources Development Act because it is too costly, senators from both sides of the aisle are pushing to garner enough support in both chambers to override a veto.

      Both Reps. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, voted in favor of the bill.

      That the dam is that much closer to being torn down had local environmentalists cheering Wednesday's action.

      "It's about time," said Paul Jenkin, of the Matilija Coalition. The group has been fighting for years to tear down the dam, which is filling with silt. "Once we have congressional buy-in, then the project is real."

      Tearing down the 59-year-old structure would be the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. The $110 million project would return the Ventura River to its natural state, helping to establish habitat for the federally endangered steelhead trout.

      Jenkin said removing the dam could also lead to 30 percent more silt and sand being deposited in the ocean during storms, helping to shore up Ventura's eroding Surfers Point.

      The 160-foot dam has about 6.6 million cubic yards of silt built up behind it. The three-year plan calls for about a third of the silt to be moved and the rest to naturally flow down the river.

      "It's a really good boost to the Ventura River restoration project that we keep up this momentum," said David Pritchett, program director for the Southern California Steelhead Coalition.

      The Senate plans to act on the bill and get it to the president's desk before Congress begins its August vacation.

      Even if Congress overrides a veto, the bill still has to be funded, which could take more time. It's taken seven years for this bill to get this far.

      Russ Baggerly, chairman of the Casitas Municipal Water District's board of directors, which has the dam in its coverage area, said it's time for the bill to pass and be funded.

      "It will keep coming back until it is finally passed," he said. "The country is in dire straits for water and now is the time to pass this bill."

      House Passes $20B Water Projects Bill

      By JOHN HEILPRIN
      The Associated Press
      Thursday, August 2, 2007; 5:50 AM

      WASHINGTON -- The House overwhelmingly passed a $20 billion water projects bill Wednesday night despite a promised veto by President Bush, who complains the bill is laden with costly pet projects and shifts new costs onto the government.

      "I regret that we're in this situation. But we're going to have to do what we have to do," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., rallying support for a bill loaded with Army Corps of Engineers projects such as restoring wetlands in coastal Louisiana, improving hurricane protection in New Orleans and adding new drinking water and wastewater treatment plants.

      Shepherded by Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the bill was seven years in the making and finally passed the House on a 381-40 vote after it was agreed upon by House-Senate negotiators. He said he expected Congress would quickly override any veto by the president.

      "There is urgent, pent-up demand to address the nation's water resources needs," Oberstar said. "Divide the cost by the number of years that have passed since we last passed this critical legislation, and the cost is understandable."

      Earlier Wednesday, administration officials said Bush will veto the bill if it isn't pared down. "Indeed, it seems a $14 billion Senate bill went into a conference with the House's $15 billion bill and somehow a bill emerged costing approximately $20 billion," complained White House budget director Rob Portman and Assistant Army Secretary John Paul Woodley Jr.

      This year's bill includes some $3.5 billion for Katrina-damaged Louisiana, plus more than $2 billion for projects in California and $2 billion for Florida, mostly for restoring the Everglades. Another $1.95 billion is included for seven new locks on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers and $1.7 billion for repairing the region's ecology.

      But because the bill's authorization now "significantly exceeds the cost of either the House or Senate bill and contains other unacceptable provisions ... the president will veto the bill," Portman and Woodley wrote four Senate and House members who oversaw the legislation.

      That didn't stop the House, many of whose members have a stake in its pet projects, from defying Bush. The bill authorizes projects by the Army Corps to improve navigation, reduce flood and storm damage threats and restore environmental damage. Its language also is intended to ensure the projects are based in economics and science.

      "It is important that we get our water policy back on track," said Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif. The Senate also plans to act on the bill and get it to the president's desk before Congress begins its August vacation.

      Two senators who are usually polar opposites on environmental issues, Senate Environment Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and the committee's senior Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, each vowed to fight Bush by gaining enough votes _ two-thirds in both chambers _ to override a veto.

      "America has been waiting seven years for this bill, which will bring restoration and storm protection to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, provide flood control for communities like Sacramento, restore vital wetlands, and maintain the flow of commerce and the jobs that go with it," Boxer said. "I expect we will override that veto in the Senate."

      In May, the Senate approved its version on a 91-4 vote. The House passed a similar bill in April on a 394-25 vote. Even if a final bill becomes law, the money must be appropriated later.

      Controversy over the Army Corps projects has made it difficult to pass the Water Resources Development Act, which hasn't been renewed since 2000. When Congress first passed the law in 1986, lawmakers envisioned its renewal every two years.

      But Congress, wrote Portman and Woodley, must not increase the Army Corps' already huge backlog of $38 billion in authorized projects by adding new ones for wastewater, drinking water, sewer overflows, waterfront development, transportation and abandoned mines. Nor should it approve a bill, they wrote, that would adopt new cost-sharing language for projects "that would shift potentially billions of dollars of cost" from local governments onto federal taxpayers.

      Stephen Ellis, vice president of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, applauded Bush and said "lawmakers should start over again and come back with a fiscally responsible bill." Not all Democrats disagreed with the president, either.

      "I supported the Senate version of this bill because it included strong reforms," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. "But the conference report significantly weakened those reforms and raised the price tag."
      © 2007 The Associated Press



      Paul Jenkin
      Environmental Director
      Surfrider Foundation Ventura County Chapter
      Coordinator, Matilija Coalition
      (805) 648-4005   pjenkin@...
      http://surfrider.org/ventura/
      www.matilija-coalition.org
      www.surferspoint.org
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