APWA Testifies Before Congress on Levee Safety During National Public Works Week

Only a few weeks ago the nation was on a vigil for several days waiting to see if the levees would hold or if the floodwaters would rush over their tops and annihilate Fargo, ND. Remember the news coverage?

The U.S. has an estimated 100,000 miles of levees and 85 percent are locally owned and maintained. The reliability of many of these levees is unknown. Many are more than 50 years old and were originally built to protect crops from flooding. With an increase in development behind these levees, the risk to public health and safety from failure has increased. Rough estimates put the cost at more than $100 billion to repair and rehabilitate the nation’s levees. According to the 2009 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Report Card, they score a D-.

In her opening remarks at the hearing on May 19 before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Subcommittee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX, 30) stated that “today is the first step on how we address flood risk.” It is anticipated that there will be additional congressional hearings as this issue moves forward and will continue to be a hot topic for the 111th Congress. Currently, lawmakers and stakeholders are waiting for the National Committee on Levee Safety (NCLS) report to be released from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It is expected that the report will be released from OMB this spring or early summer, and legislation to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program will also emerge shortly, thereafter.

American Public Works Association (APWA) member Andy Haney, Director of Public Works, City of Ottawa, KS, testified before the same Subcommittee to discuss the NCLS recommendations on how to create and implement the National Levee Safety Program. As a representative of the Review Team for the NCLS, Haney spoke on behalf of APWA and provided input on the proposed strategic plan for the National Levee Safety Program.

Haney focused on the economic impact that the National Levee Safety Program will have on local governments and its taxpayers who may not be receiving the necessary attention that is warranted. Specifically, APWA’s recommendations concerning the NCLS report addressed the following:

  • publicizing the anticipated costs to property owners for insuring properties against flood damage
  • modifying the threshold of lives at risk as a determinant of federal financial aid availability
  • placing a moratorium on the schedule relating to Provisional Accreditation Letters
  • charging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with overseeing the National Levee Safety Program
  • Reaching out to local elected officials organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities and National Association of Counties so that they might also share their perspective

This hearing was held during National Public Works Week (NPWW), a celebration of the tens of thousands of men and women in North America who provide and maintain the infrastructure and services collectively known as public works. The 2009 National Public Works Week theme is Renewal, Revitalization and Reinvestment.


Instituted as a public education campaign by the APWA in 1960, NPWW calls attention to the importance of public works, projects the government builds and maintains that specifically benefit the public in community life. Public Works departments deal with the nation’s infrastructure, all those things we take totally for granted. They construct and maintain public buildings, maintain our streets and provide water services – from safe drinking water to wastewater treatment.

Prime directives of public works are threefold:

  1. to maintain that which has been built and created for us by taxpayers of previous generations
  2. to create infrastructure that supports the needs of today (economic development needs)and provides a foundation for our children to grow their economic needs and quality of life upon as well
  3. utilize and advance technology in the way services are provided

National Public Works Week seeks to enhance the prestige of the often–unsung heroes of our society–the professionals who serve the public good every day with quiet dedication.

APWA encourages public works agencies and professionals to take the opportunity to make their stories known in their communities. Over the years, the observances have taken many forms, including parades, displays of public works equipment, high school essay contests, open houses, programs for civic organizations and media events. The occasion is marked each year with scores of resolutions and proclamations from mayors and governors, as well. Some special highlights of NPWW include a United States Senate resolution affirming the first National Public Works Week in 1960, letters of acknowledgment from Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson, and a Presidential Proclamation signed by John F. Kennedy in 1962.

National Public Works Week is observed each year during the third full week of May. Recently, the U.S. Senate passed S. Res. 145, proclaiming May 17-23, 2009, as National Public Works Week. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a companion resolution (H. Res. 313). The Senate resolution “recognizes and celebrates the important contributions that public works professionals make every day to improve the public infrastructure of the United States and the communities those professionals serve and urges citizens and communities throughout the United States to join with representatives of the Federal Government and the American Public Works Association in activities and ceremonies…to pay tribute to the public works professionals of the United States.”

Through NPWW and other efforts, APWA seeks to raise the public’s awareness of public works issues and to increase confidence in public works employees who are dedicated to improving the quality of life for present and future generations.

We are at a time in our country’s history when we can either create a plan for future growth that will make our founding fathers proud or we can let the rest of the world pass us by. One thing is certain, our public works agencies and professionals will play a critical role in our future. Without our pu
blic works, we would have a very dim future.

To all the people who have dedicated their lives and careers to the public works sector of our world, thank you! Your efforts and commitment deserve more than a week of recognition, you deserve special treatment all 52 weeks.

Greg Sitek

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