Thune: Corps of Engineers faces ‘accounting’ regarding flooding along Missouri RiverThe U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will publicly answer questions about the current flooding along the Missouri River, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., assured reporters Wednesday.
By: Denise Ross, The Daily Republic
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will publicly answer questions about the current flooding along the Missouri River, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., assured reporters Wednesday.
But Thune said it is important to wait for the appropriate time — after the flood crisis has passed.
“After flood waters decline, we will make sure that the corps and others answer questions about how the situation unfolded,” Thune said. “They will have the opportunity to explain their actions so we don’t see this type of flood event repeated ever again. Right now, the focus needs to be on putting out the fire, dealing with the emergency.”
It’s too soon to decide whether to hold formal congressional hearings on this issue or whether some other venue would work better, Thune said.
“But there has to be an accounting for this,” he said. “We have to get some answers.”
The Corps of Engineers has come under scathing criticism from property owners forced to evacuate their homes and businesses as water releases from dams along the Missouri River were increased over the past several days. South Dakota’s former governor Mike Rounds joined the chorus, telling a reporter that the corps had forgotten their mission of flood prevention.
Levees built by the corps along the river’s banks at the state capital of Pierre, neighboring Fort Pierre and Dakota Dunes downstream have so far held the river away from many properties. Still, other properties have flooded and thousands have packed up their homes and evacuated because of the threat of rising water.
The corps has said the historic Rocky Mountain snowpack at the river’s head in Montana coupled with massive spring rains forced the record releases. Records show that water releases during fall and winter months were historically high. Only twice — in the 1970s and again in the mid-1990s — did the agency release more water before the start of spring.
Thune said he understands that high precipitation levels are the root cause of the situation on the Missouri River, but he said questions remain about corps policies and the master manual the agency follows when making decisions about how much water to release and when to do so.
In the meantime, Thune has talked with senior corps officials and several senators from states up and down the Missouri River asked to attend another meeting Thune lined up this week.
“There will be a significant amount of interest in this for some time,” Thune said.
Meanwhile, Thune said he is proud of how South Dakotans have rolled up their sleeves to fight the flood.
“I can’t say enough about the way South Dakotans have banded together and acted quickly to protect homes and businesses and to protect public infrastructure,” Thune said.
On another topic, Thune said called it an “absolute tragedy” that free trade agreements pending with Colombia, South Korea and Panama have not come to the Senate floor for ratification. He blames political ideologues in the Obama administration for “sitting on” agreements that were negotiated three and four years ago.
“This has been hijacked by people in the administration who have ideological views. They’re trying to satisfy a labor constituency and an environmental constituency,” he said. “We are missing opportunities every single day. We have seen markets dry up as competitors step in to fill the void. South Dakota ag producers are losing out.”
Thune said the Obama administration wants to attach funding for government relief, called trade adjustment assistance, for businesses that might lose money under new agreements. He said that issue should be dealt with separately from the trade agreements themselves.