CT lawmakers vote for Army Corps bill — to environmentalists’ dismay

Washington — There are few things that gain near unanimous support in the hyper-partisan U.S. House of Representatives, but a bill to reauthorize Army Corps of Engineer projects is one of them.

Although the Water Resources Reform and Development Act is criticized by fiscal conservative groups and environmentalists who say some Army Corps of Engineer projects harm the environment, the bill was approved in the House on a 417-3 vote. Every one of the members of the Connecticut congressional delegation voted for it, as well as nearly every member of the House.

The reason: Nearly every congressional district has a water project in the works or on a wish list.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said he supported the bill because it would continue to authorize a flood control study on the Byram River that separates New York from Connecticut.

Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, said she supported the bill, but with some reservations. “I would be remiss if I did not express reticence about some provisions meant to streamline environmental reviews,” she said.

But Esty said the bill would make it possible for flood control projects in Torrington and Meriden to be considered by the Army Corps.

“I would be equally remiss if I did not point out that the benefits of moving forward with this legislation far outweigh the negatives,” she said.

Fiscal conservative groups said the bill did little to trim the estimated $60 billion to $80 billion backlog of authorized Army Corps of Engineer projects and made it easier for states to justify new projects.

Environmental groups also blasted the bill.

“The title of the bill is utterly misleading, because this is just business-as-usual pork in a reform costume,” said Adam Kolton, a lobbyist for the National Wildlife Federation. “Just in time for Halloween, this bill has lots of treats for special interests and a few tricks that will hurt wildlife habitat and taxpayers’ wallets.”

Environmentalist like Kolton hope the bill’s changes to environmental reviews will disappear when a final bill is negotiated with the Senate, which approved its own WRRDA bill earlier this year.