Forbes optimistic about flood study

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 14, 2008

FRANKLIN—Fourth-District Congressman Randy Forbes sounded a positive note regarding the proposed Chowan River Basin flood study during a speech before the Franklin Rotary Club on Friday.

Funding for the study was omitted from an appropriations bill this year, he said, “but we really feel we’ve got a good crack at it this year.”

Forbes spoke at the end of the club’s weekly lunch meeting, held at Emmanuel Episcopal Church. About 60 club members were on hand to hear his remarks on subjects of local and national interest.

Following a brief speech in which he highlighted his concerns for the U.S. economy, national defense, relations with China and a “campaign of attacks” on the nation’s religious heritage, Forbes responded to questions from the audience, quickly narrowing his focus to issues more local in nature.

“The good news is that we got the authorization,” he said of the proposed Corps of Engineers study. “The bad news is that we didn’t get the appropriation.”

Getting that money in the 2008 budget was always a long shot, officials have said, but Forbes suggested in an interview following Friday’s meeting that there are a few options this year that make funding the river survey more likely this year.

Even if the money is excluded from the president’s budget and congressional appropriations, he said, there are other possibilities within the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget that can be explored.

“We couldn’t ask for better Corps support,” he said.

Franklin Mayor Jim Councill agreed, noting in a telephone interview after the Rotary meeting, “The Corps is very high on our project and wants to help us.”

The “reconnaissance study” that has been proposed would “evaluate ways to protect the water resources of this highly productive basin,” according to a Corps of Engineers document.

Through the survey, the Corps would attempt to discover why Franklin and other communities within the Chowan River watershed have experienced significantly greater flooding in recent years than in the past. Six of the Blackwater River’s highest recorded levels, for example, have occurred in Franklin within the past 10 years.

The House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved a survey resolution authorizing the study in May, but the action came too late for funding to be included in the 2008 budget.

Forbes said that there might be ways of starting the work without full funding and even suggested the possibility of legislation that would allow private interests or local governments to help pay for the survey.

“We feel very optimistic,” Mayor Councill said of Forbes’ comments. “We feel like we’ve got great support.”

Discussing matters of national interest during his speech, Forbes spotlighted concerns about the potential effect on the economy of the sub prime mortgage crisis and threatened Democratic tax increases.

High taxes, he said, “put (U.S.) businesses in a non-competitive situation with the rest of the world.” If Congress adds large tax increases to the mix, he said, there could be serious problems with the economy.

A closely related concern for Virginia, he said, would be the loss of Sen. John Warner from the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee with his pending retirement from that body.

“I don’t care who you put in his spot,” Forbes said. “They can’t take his seat” on the committee because of seniority rules.

As co-chairman of the Congressional China Caucus, Forbes offered some sobering assessments of the world’s other existing superpower.

“I am concerned about their military, and the number of dollars they have,” he said.

That nation’s lack of a commitment to food safety standards also represents a real threat to the U.S., Forbes said, noting that contaminated food could be easily introduced into our country, either by accident or by terrorist action and that tracking the source of an associated outbreak of illness would be almost impossible, given current systems and technology.

Despite those concerns, he said, “every single day the sun comes up in America, we’ve got a chance to make things better.”

And the people of Franklin put that sentiment into action, he said.

“Franklin represents a spirit of America that we just wish we could put in a bottle and spread all over the country.”