Washington – When Super Storm Sandy’s winds and water battered Connecticut in October, the Coast Guard Academy in New London suffered severe damage to its main pier and its Seamanship and Sailing Center, where cadets learn to sail.
There was also damage to a seawall, the academy buildings’ slate roofs, flooding of playing fields and buildings and downed trees.
“We’re still surveying the damage,” said Coast Guard Academy spokesman David Santos.
The Obama administration asked for $18 million to cover the costs of repairs to the academy. But that money, and more than $50 billion in other Sandy-related recovery funds will be the subject of a showdown next week in Congress as House conservatives say they’ll determine how much money New York, New Jersey and Connecticut really need to recover from the storm.
The Senate approved $60.4 billion in Sandy aid in December, but the GOP-led House balked at the size of the bill.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., blamed New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, for backing a bill “loaded with pork.”
“They had the opportunity to have a $27 to $30 billion dollar legit relief package, packed it with pork, then dared us not to vote on it,” Issa said.
After an uproar from Northeast Republicans, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, agreed to hold a vote on $9.7 billion to replenish the National Flood Insurance Program so flood victims could continue to receive claim checks. The money was approved.
The rest of the package, some $51 billion in aid, will be debated in the House next week, Boehner said. But 67 conservatives, including House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., voted against the flood insurance bill and are expected to try to strip money from the rest of the relief package.
They are basing their objections on several things.
The Senate bill included millions of dollars in non-Sandy related expenses. Those included $4 million for repairs at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, $150 million for fishery disasters in a range of states — including Alaska and Mississippi — and $821 million for dredging projects in areas that were not necessarily affected by Sandy.
In addition, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that only $9 billion of the $60.4 billion approved by the Senate would be spent over the next nine months. “So why approve the whole package now?” some lawmakers ask.
Then there’s the $17 billion in Community Development Block Grants that would be shared by Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Conservatives say these grants were badly misspent in Hurricane Katrina reconstruction efforts and the grant program lacks accountability and oversight.
Reps. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., and Peter King, R-N.Y., say extra “pork” measures were stripped from the House bill.
“That’s just not accurate,” Grimm said. “There will be no pork in this bill.”
King said Issa is “1,000 percent wrong.” He said the disaster relief package only includes requests from the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who has urged the House to act quickly, has asked for $3.2 billion, mostly for mitigation efforts to protect the state from another storm.
Meanwhile, more than two months after the storm, the Coast Guard Academy waits for repair money.
Santos of the Coast Guard Academy said there will be no sailing classes this year at the center because of the severe damage of the Seamanship and Sailing Center – also known as Jacob’s Rock — on the Thames River.
“Sailing is one of our quintessential activities,” Santos said.
He said sailing classes will likely be held in temporary buildings.