The tide may have turned in favor of Laguna’s efforts to clean up Aliso Creek.
City officials learned recently the House of Representatives had passed the $20 billion Water Resources Development Act of 2007, which included authorization of $5 million for the stabilization, utility protection and environmental restoration of the creek, known as the SUPER Project.
“This is a really good get,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Schneider, who has lobbied for the SUPER Project.
However, the bill still faces a couple of stumbling blocks.
President Bush has threatened to veto the bill at the current level of authorization, but congressional supporters are confident a veto can be overridden.
The House defied Bush’s threat and sent the conference report on the bill to the Senate.
Deputy Staff Director of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Ken Kopocis confirmed Bush’s threat.
“If the president chooses to veto this bill, I expect we will override that veto in Senate,” said committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
“America has been waiting seven years for this bill, which will bring restoration and storm protection to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, provide flood control for communities like Sacramento, restore vital wetlands, and maintain the flow of commerce and the jobs that go with it.”
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the committee, pledged to work to override a presidential veto.
“This bill, while not perfect, has received overwhelming bi-partisan support in Congress and goes a long way toward addressing our nation’s water resource needs,” said Inhofe, ranked as the most fiscally conservative member of the Senate by the American Conservation Union.
“The fact is that WRDA, a bill that should be enacted every two years, is now five years overdue, accounting for much of the size of the bill.”
Inhofe said he has long argued that national defense and the development and improvement of public infrastructure are the two most important functions of the federal government.
”That means I am not shy about voting for increased authorization and spending on national defense needs or public infrastructure,” Inhofe said.
“Therefore, if the president does indeed veto this bill, I am committed to working to override the president’s veto.”
The bill was passed in the House by a margin sufficient to override a veto.
Former County Manager of Water Resources Mike Welborn cautioned that the authorization of the projects in the bill does not guarantee funding.
The bill, which authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers water infrastructure projects, sets priorities and establishes levels up to what can be spent.
The projects still must be approved by the Appropriations Committees of the House and the Senate. Still, the inclusion of the SUPER Project in the WRDA is a major coup, according to Councilwoman Elizabeth Schneider.
“We’re in good shape for appropriations this year and for ratcheting up dollar levels next year and beyond when we’re in position to spend more than $5 million,” Schneider said.
“Also note that we slip in and, for now, escape the extra review that comes at $45 million level.”
Identification as an Army Corps of Engineers project means the federal government will pick up 75 percent of the cost, with local agencies responsible for the rest.
“With the state match and other funds, including expected federal appropriations in the wake the WRDA, we will soon be approaching $8 to $10 million in hand and we won’t be able to spend half that in the next couple years, as we go through the permitting process,” Schneider said.
“We have the county, the Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Athens Group and the Aliso Creek Electeds Group to thank for their hard work on this effort,” Schneider said.
Schneider created the electeds’ coalition and she and Mayor Toni Iseman also lobbied Congressman John Campbell on behalf of the project.
Schneider announced the house passage of the bill at the Aug. 7 council meeting.
“I really want to applaud the county,” Schneider said.