Floor Statement on Amendment to Provide Funding for Upgrades to Fox Point Hurricane Barrier
MR. REED: Mr. President, two important lessons we learned from Hurricane Katrina are that our Nation's infrastructure to protect Americans from flooding and hurricanes is inadequate and upfront investment in this infrastructure can save lives and is a sound investment of taxpayers' money in order to prevent costly reconstruction. The Fox Point Hurricane Barrier in Providence, RI protects the city and adjoining communities from the catastrophic effects of hurricane storm surge in Narragansett Bay and torrential rains with the Providence River basin. Built in the 1960s, as a joint flood control project by the city and the Army Corps of Engineers, the barrier employs three 35-foot high gates, an electrically driven pumping station, and dikes to protect tens of thousands of people and approximately $5 billion worth of property. The hurricane barrier is a one-half mile long structure that extends from Allens Avenue to India Point Park. It was the first structure of its type in the United States to be approved for construction. The Hurricane of 1938 and Hurricane Carol in 1954 devastated communities in Rhode Island. The Hurricane of 1938 generated a storm surge of 16 feet that traveled up Narragansett Bay and flooded downtown Providence under 10 feet of water. Two hundred and seven Rhode Islanders were killed, and damage totaled $125 million--more than $1 billion in today's dollars. Hurricane Carol in 1954 flooded Providence, leaving the city under 8 feet of water and destroying 4,000 houses. The Corps and city built the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier to keep a storm surge from flowing into downtown Providence. Since its construction, sea levels have risen 9 to 10 inches. In addition, Rhode Island has lost wetlands and tidal flats that could help mitigate a storm surge. According to Jon Boothroyd, a geologist at the University of Rhode Island, the filled land will force water into a narrower area, causing a higher storm surge. The loss of marshes and fields behind the barrier will further exacerbate the problem as water could also move faster downstream to the barrier. For these reasons, it is imperative that the barrier and pumps work if and when they are needed. In recent years, the Army Corps of Engineers and the city of Providence have evaluated the barrier and determined that the electromechanical control system for the barrier's pumps must be replaced. The Corps has reported that during several inspections, the pump motors have occasionally failed to start because of faulty relays or other related electrical problems. In a letter dated December 7, 2003, Richard C. Carlson with the New England Director of the Army Corps of Engineers stated that During the past several inspections the pump motors have occasionally failed to start because of faulty relays or other electrically related problems. This is symptomatic of the age and condition of the electrical components, most of which are original.'' The electromechanical control system has been in service for 40 years, and due to its age repair parts are nearly impossible to obtain. We have been lucky as New England has not had a strong hurricane in 50 years, but that could mean that our luck is running out. The city and I are concerned that failure of the system during an actual storm could result in the flooding of Providence's downtown business district and thousands of residences. The Fox Point Hurricane Barrier is a project authorized by the Water Resources Development Act, and the Federal Government should fulfill its obligation to provide a safe, structural sound barrier that operates when necessary. For this reason, I filed an amendment to the supplemental appropriations bill, H.R. 4939, to provide $1,055,000 to complete upgrades to the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier. I am pleased that the Senate accepted my amendment for this funding. Senator Cgafee and I also sponsored an amendment to the bill to turn over responsibility for the annual operations and maintenance of the hurricane barrier to the Army Corps of Engineers. I am glad that the Senate also decided to accept this amendment. I will work with my colleagues to maintain these amendments as this bill moves through conference.