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Rep. Brown Vows to Kill Flood Project During ’85 Congress

Times Staff Writer

Rep. George E. Brown Jr. said Tuesday that he will introduce an amendment aimed at killing the $1-billion Santa Ana River flood control project in this session of Congress because design plans for a controversial San Bernardino portion of the project are not final.

Comparing approval to authorizing a “pig in a poke,” the Riverside Democrat said he would seek to pull the massive three-county flood control project from a $10-billion omnibus water projects bill slated for consideration today in the House of Representatives.

‘Style of Roof’

“Authorization of the Santa Ana (River) Mainstem Project now would be similar to agreeing to have a house built without first knowing the style of roof or effectiveness of that roof,” Brown argued in a letter to House colleagues distributed Tuesday.

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However, project supporters suggested Brown was placing partisan pique ahead of solving what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has called the worst flood threat west of the Mississippi. Brown’s real aim, they said, was to get back at Orange County Republicans for backing his opponent in the 1984 election.

“If we miss this bill, I don’t believe we’ll have an opportunity to get this project approved for literally a decade,” said Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad), who vowed Tuesday to lead a floor fight against Brown’s “very shortsighted” proposed amendment.

“He now sees this as more an Orange County project . . . and he may have some political misgivings about giving his support to the people who worked against him,” Packard added, referring to Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) and Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), both of whom supported Brown’s 1984 challenger, John Paul Stark.

“But it is counterproductive both to his district and the project itself,” Packard said. “I think a delay would be a tragedy for San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties.”

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Plans for controlling the Santa Ana River have been snarled in Congress for years despite warnings that a major flood could cost 3,000 lives and cause $14 billion in damage in Orange County alone.

The proposal in the omnibus bill calls for widening and deepening the Santa Ana River channel in Orange County, and raising Prado Dam near Corona by 30 feet to increase its capacity to hold back floodwaters. The House Public Works Committee added a proposed $300-million upstream dam that shaves $228 million off the previous $1.2-billion price tag.

Orange County is expected to shoulder 95% of the local share of project costs, estimated at about $300 million. The upstream dam plan has been endorsed by all three counties.

Brown argued that the 550-foot dam has not received final approval from the Army Corps of Engineers and the secretary of the Army. He noted that an alternative dam proposed at Mentone, a predecessor to the current upstream dam, was even further along in planning when it was scrapped. However, Brown has not made any substantive criticisms of the new dam and said Tuesday that he “fully support(s) the intent of this project . . . .”

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Brown told colleagues that authorization of the Prado Dam and Orange County channel elements alone would leave San Bernardino and Riverside counties “unprotected,” and asked for a delay to consider the entire package.

Chances for Delay Unclear

It is unclear whether Brown can gather sufficient support for a delay. Packard said he has been promised the support of the Public Works Committee leadership and will work with Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-San Bernardino), a leading GOP member of the state’s delegation and project supporter, to defeat Brown’s amendment.

Brown was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but a Washington aide said he was continuing negotiations with Public Works Committee members to resolve his concerns.

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