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January 22, 2020

Inhofe Questions Witness at EPW Hearing on Oversight of the Economic Development Administration

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) senior member of the Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee, questioned today’s witness, John Fleming, at an EPW hearing to receive testimony on the progress being made to repair the Tulsa-West Tulsa Levee System.  
John Fleming M.D. is the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development of the U.S. Department of Commerce.    
Inhofe: I thank both of you for giving us this opportunity. We have a reason that we can’t be here. I don’t need your opening statement. I know exactly what you’re doing. I know the successes we’ve had. I know that the EDA has really performed well and follows the lines, as the chairman just said, that we have the opportunity to use matching funds to show that the support at home is really big.  
Well, in my state of Oklahoma, as you well know, and some of the others know here I’m sure, that we had a devastating flood this past year. It was one of these hundred-year things that happens every year that you always hear about. But this was really bad. Our levee in Tulsa, we call it the “West-Tulsa Levee,” was built in the middle-40s. It’s well past its lifetime. When this flood came in we had people with fingers in the dike down there, literally. We were very fortunate that we didn’t have a major disaster.
In addition to that, we had problems. A lot of people don’t know that we in Oklahoma are navigable. We have a navigation way that comes all the way up to Tulsa. Going through the Port of Muskogee, we had extensive damage done down there and that falls into the category of your disaster recovery grant. Let me first of all thank you and the Corps of Engineers for moving up the studies that are going to be necessary before we actually start fixing that dike. Initially we thought it was going to be three years but, it’s turned out to be about a year and a half. So, we’re making great headway. What I’d like to do is, just to be sure, as we found out when we had the committee hearing with the Corps of Engineers, they said there’s not a higher priority in the country than this—to get it done—because it would mean lives if something else happened. I’d like to make sure that you still feel the same way about your participation in helping us to fix that levee.
Fleming: Well, thank you Senator Inhofe. Let me say first of all, that since 2015, EDA’s priority when it comes to disaster relief has been to focus on resiliency and I think this project really points that out. So, we’re looking at the Tulsa County Drainage District 12 levee pump stations and an application has been made and coincidentally, Senator, the decision is being made, by the committee that makes this decision, today.
Inhofe: Where is that taking place?
Fleming: In Austin. We’re broken up into six regions and each application goes to whichever region, of course, has authority. In this case it’s Austin. It would never make it that far if it wasn’t a really good application. I can’t get ahead of the decision of course, and in fact the decision is not mine, it does lie at the regional level. I hope to have good news for you by the end of the day.
Inhofe: Well, I appreciate that very much. I was not aware that that was taking place and we’ll have to take note of that because this is something I hear about on a daily basis. This is kind of the number one concern and problem that we’ve had there. Let me first of all thank the chairman and Senator Carper for letting me forge ahead on this and let me thank you for the priority that you’ve already demonstrated that you’re giving and we’ll look for wonderful things to happen.
Fleming: Right. Thank you very much.
Inhofe: Thank you.

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