October 23, 2019
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) senior member of the Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Committee, questioned a federal panel of witnesses at an Environmental Public Works (EPW) hearing to receive testimony on Improving American Economic Competitiveness Through Water Resources Infrastructure.
Witnesses included Rickey Dale “R.D.” James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works; Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite, Commanding General and Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Charlotte Bertrand, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Policy, Office of Water, EPA.
Inhofe: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have two questions, both of them for General Semonite and both of them kind of on two unrelated subjects that he is very familiar with.
The first one, I have to explain to people sometimes that we are navigable in Oklahoma. I can remember taking a World War II submarine all the up from Orange, Texas to Muskogee, Oklahoma and that still didn't register to most people of what our capacity is there. Well, we have a nine foot channel, that we've had for a long period of time. I'm particularly interested in this because my father-in-law had a lot to do with then Governor Kerr. I used to consider it may be a boondoggle but it was our boondoggle and it worked. Anyway, we have the nine foot channel. As you know, we have been trying for a long period of time to change that into a 12 foot channel. Now we're at 90 percent, all the way from the Gulf to Oklahoma — 90 percent, a 12 foot channel but it's that other 10 percent that is the problem. And I think to do that you could increase the capacity by about 50 percent just to get that other 10 percent of the whole waterway done. So I’d like to see if you had anything you could say briefly because I want to have time for my second question. And if not, do it for the record. But what can we do in Congress, what can we do in concert with state government and all the other forces who are trying to line up on this, to accomplish this twelve foot channel.
Semonite: So, Senator we think very highly of that particular channel. We would strongly endorse it. As you know it was not in the 2020 budget so it did not get any funding. It needs two things; it needs, obviously, some funds but it also needs a new start. The biggest thing the committee gives us is when we get the additional money above the President’s budget, you give us work plan money. We have more flexibility in work plan money than we actually do in the President’s budget. So this, I think, would continue to compete well but we would have to get both the funds and the new start to be able to see that through. But you’re right, this is a great capability.
Inhofe: I think together we can do that.
Semonite: Yes sir.
Inhofe: I think we can. Now, let me say something about General Semonite that most of you don’t know. This guy is a real tiger. When you’re talking about some of your employees, some of your staff, and what your expectations are, they should see you in action. We had a flood, we have a levee that’s called the “Tulsa-West Tulsa levee,” it was built back in the 40s, and we had a real big-time flood just last year. I mean it was devastating. I remember going up to the dams and seeing it come within two feet of my feet down there, and the levee was starting to break but it did hold up. Now this guy, General Semonite, I walked in and I saw him stacking sandbags on the levee, and I thought “this guy, literally has his finger in the dike on this thing.” So I just want to tell you what a great job you did there.
But, we also want to do something about that feasibility study and you’ve heard me talk about this for a long time. Originally, it was going to be three years, but it had been knocked down to two years. Now, my feeling is, I know that you probably are scheduled to leave around April. I would like to have a big celebration with you and sign that report prior to that time that you leave. Now the question I would have is, if the chief’s report was completed this year, you could include it in your budget for fiscal year 2021. That is correct isn’t it?
Semonite: It is senator and I owe all of you, I think right now on my list of chiefs reports, I’ve got about 25 more that I’m planning on signing before I leave and that’s one of them. So we’re pushing hard, I told my guys, “don’t give me 500 pages if 200 is good enough.”
Inhofe: Now, where does that rank with the other 24?
Semonite: They’re all very, very important sir.
Inhofe: Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for your great work. Thank you, Mr. Chairman