Amid bitter fight, Sandy aid bill moving toward House vote

Washington - The House will vote late today on $50.7  billion to help  states recover from Super Storm Sandy,  but the effort faces fiscal roadblocks from conservatives who want to strip down the bill -- even to the point of eliminating $9.8 million for repairs to Connecticut's Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge.

To placate GOP conservatives, money to replenish the federal flood insurance program was considered  earlier this month and the rest of a $60 billion disaster relief bill sought by President Obama was split into two.

One part was a bill for $17 billion aimed at immediate Sandy recovery needs, including $5.4 billion for mass transit systems and $5.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief aid fund.

Then the House will consider an amendment by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., for an additional $33.7 billion, including $10.9 billion for public transportation projects and nearly $17 billion for Community Development Block Grants that could be used by the governors of the storm-affected states for a wide variety of projects.

The House will also vote on 13 proposed amendments. Most of them would strip money from the bill.

One, introduced by Rep. John Fleming, R-La., would eliminate $9.8 million slated to help repair damage to the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Westport.

"My amendment will stop the Fish and Wildlife Service from spending $9.8 million to rebuild a seawall and a building on an uninhabited island that is used for conservation classes by university students from a school in Connecticut," Fleming said "The general public has no access to this island or benefit from it, without the university's permission... If we can't cut $10 million in spending for what is essentially a private island, what can we cut?"

Students from Southern Connecticut State University conduct research at the Outer Island research station, which suffered a damaged dock, seawall, and education building.


mckinney damage

A damaged sidewalk on Outer Island at Stewart McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by Tylar Greene/USFWS)

Named after a former Republican congressman from Connecticut, the refuge is composed of seven islands and three other sites.


Sandy Breslin, lobbyist for Audubon Connecticut, said there is damage to all seven of the refuge's islands on the Long Island Sound because of October's Super Storm.

The refuge "provides critical habitat for state and federal threatened species," Breslin said.

Audubon Connecticut sent a letter to lawmakers urging a "no" vote on Fleming's amendment.

"This misguided amendment cuts the disaster relief money for a particular state and should be defeated," the Audubon letter said. "After Hurricane Katrina, $75 million was appropriated for wildlife refuges predominately in Louisiana and Mississippi.  We should do the same for states impacted by Sandy."

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said he hopes the House will approve all of the money the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have asked for to recover from Sandy.

"I think we have the votes," Himes said. "This is not the moment to be stingy with the American people."