WASHINGTON – Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin toured hurricane-decimated areas of New Orleans on Monday, and is optimistic a reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act can help restore the natural hurricane defense system in the Gulf Coast, as well as the Chesapeake Bay.
“What is being done in New Orleans has an impact here with the Bay,” Cardin said.
Cardin joined fellow members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works as they listened to expert testimony on hurricane protection and prevention. The committee is responsible for oversight of the Army Corps of Engineers, wetlands and waste disposal.
The Water Resources Development Act, which has not been authorized for seven years, will be voted on next month, Cardin said. It is the principle form of authorization for the Army Corps, which among other things, plans, designs and operates environmental protection projects.
“It (the act) contains a great deal for Louisiana and will also help the Chesapeake,” Cardin said, adding it is too early to comment on specific plans for Maryland.
And the Chesapeake region can learn a lot from Hurricane Isabel’s devastation, Cardin said.
“We need to pay attention to how we can minimize impact of what’s projected to be stronger hurricane activity in the Bay,” Cardin said.
The committee has identified two critical environmental issues facing rebuilding and prevention efforts in the Gulf Coast: protecting wetlands, which serve as a buffer from hurricanes, and stopping illegal dumping, Cardin said.
Storms gather strength when they travel over the Gulf of Mexico and the wetlands act like “speed bumps,” lessening the waves and currents hurtling inland during a storm surge. “Wetlands are great for the environment and good for hurricane protection,” Cardin said.
Louisiana’s coastal wetlands account for roughly 40 percent of the wetlands in the continental United States, but more than 80 percent of the losses, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
“They’re losing areas the size of several football fields every day,” Cardin said.
“If we fail to restore Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands, there will be no floodwall high enough, no levee big enough, and no pumps strong enough to protect this city and coast,” said committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in her opening statement at the hearing titled “Moving Forward After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”
The impact in the Gulf region is still being felt, Cardin said. Debris and landfills are a major environmental issue, particularly whether they are located in flood-prone areas, or even created through illegal dumping, and apt to disperse hazardous materials, he said.
“After touring the region,” Cardin said, citing the debris-strewn streets, “it’s difficult for me to believe it has been an entire year and a half since Hurricane Katrina hit land.”