Statements and Speeches

Hearing Statement: "The Impacts of Hurricane Sandy: A Local Perspective"

U.S. SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS

Nov 29 2012

WASHINGTON – Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, delivered the following statement during the Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, "The Impacts of Hurricane Sandy: A Local Perspective."

"Madame Chair, Ranking Member Inhofe, good morning and thank you so much for having this very important hearing today. The massive impacts of Hurricane Sandy continue to stun all of us, and the images of destruction up and down the East coast have been heartbreaking to witness.

"As I traveled through Delaware during and after the storm, I saw some of this firsthand. I also saw people from all walks of life pulling together, helping one another, and taking care of their neighbors.

"I am grateful for the opportunity to share with you today some of what I've seen in my state since Hurricane Sandy came a-callin'. Perhaps more importantly, this hearing will help Congress understand what we must do to help our states come back stronger, and to better protect from other storms in the future. 

"A while back, I was speaking with a good friend of mine, and I asked how he was doing. His response was, 'Compared to what?' This is a good way to look at how Sandy has affected us in Delaware. Compared to our hard-hit neighbors to the north, we're doing alright. But Sandy didn't spare Delaware by any measure, and we have real needs that are beyond our state's ability to provide.

"From the moment it was clear that we were in the storm's path, we have been grateful for the work of Governor Jack Markell and his entire team. State, county, and local officials, first responders, the Red Cross, the Delaware National Guard, and many volunteers all helped protect Delaware's residents and businesses from this storm as it approached and until well after it had passed.

"President Obama, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the rest of the Administration's team also offered a tremendous response – working hand-in-glove with our state team. In this case, there truly was no "I" in "TEAM." I should add that the Army Corps of Engineers has been particularly helpful in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Sandy.

"Over the years, funded by a combination of state and federal dollars the Corps has built a series of storm protection projects in Delaware – wide, robust beaches and a strong and healthy dune system. These types of projects have been criticized at times by some. Unfairly in my opinion, because they performed exceptionally well during Sandy, likely sparing us billions of dollars in damage. 

"Natural protection like these beaches withstands storm surge and wave energy better than dikes or seawalls, while also enhancing the environment. Although the Corps' projects on our coasts did their job, they were weakened during the storm and now require repair so that we are not vulnerable to future storms. 

"Unfortunately, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are expected to see more frequent and larger storms like Sandy in the future. That is why we need to find cost-effective ways to ensure that such projects will continue to protect lives and property. 

"We also need to look into other adaptive measures – wetlands, oyster beds, and sea grasses – that are cost-effective and can be sustained for years to come. We can also get better results for less money if we allow states more flexibility in managing sand from different sources along their shorelines as a complete sediment system instead of as individual projects. This strategy, called Regional Sediment Management, is one that I think deserves more attention. Chairman Boxer, Ranking Member Inhofe, and soon-to-be Ranking Member Vitter have included some of these strategies in their draft Water Resources bill, which I appreciate and hope we can address this year. 

"Unfortunately, other areas of Delaware weren't as well protected and saw significant damage. Behind me you can see the Indian River Inlet Bridge, which opened in May after 10 years, $170 million in federal investments, and another $78 million in state funds.

"Route 1 runs over the bridge and is central to the regional economy, helping tens of thousands of people from both Delaware and nearby Maryland get to work, school, and the hospital each day. While the new bridge was built to withstand storms far stronger than Sandy, the beach protecting its approaches was not up to the task. 

"A huge breach almost a mile long opened soon after the storm began, collapsing the old highway and washing it away, while completely submerging the new highway, build just to the west alongside the old one. When the water receded, the road was covered in sand up to five feet deep in places, closing it to travel for a full week.

"The road is now clear, but without the beach the ocean is only feet from the highway. Routine storms and tides now flood the roadway, undermining its foundation and structural integrity. We need to do more to protect this federal asset, and our state's delegation looks forward to working with the Army Corps and the Markell Administration to find a way to do so.

"In other areas of the state, damage caused by the storm is threatening the safety and property of residents, as well as state and federal assets. For example, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is an important and perhaps irreplaceable part of the migratory flyway and one of the only places in the world where horseshoe crabs come ashore to spawn.

"Severe dune breaches caused by the storm have resulted in a loss of thousands of acres of habitat and tens of millions of dollars of damage. Relentless saltwater flooding of the Refuge's freshwater marsh system has also threatened nearby farmland and communities. 

"We've also experienced widespread damage to stormwater systems, dikes, and dams throughout the state, as far north as Delaware City and New Castle. Roads and bridges in various parts of the state have been damaged or washed out, and will need to be repaired or replaced.

"Meanwhile, we continue to work with FEMA, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), our localities, and other agencies to determine the full extent of the damage. Delaware and its local jurisdictions already have contributed a large amount of resources in a very short period to prepare for and respond to this storm, and to begin rebuilding in its wake. 

"Preliminary damage assessments show that more will be required, and given an already-strained state budget environment, Delaware will need help to fill the gaps in funding, much as the Gulf Coast states needed help following Hurricane Katrina. Madame Chair and Ranking Member Inhofe, to you and my other colleagues, I thank you for listening, and for this opportunity to share with you the impacts of this storm in my own state. 

"In Delaware, we have a long tradition of helping our neighbors, whether they live down the street or well beyond our borders. For years, we have helped our sister states that have suffered from disasters – be they hurricanes, tornados, floods, or wildfires. 

"Today, the shoe is on the other foot. We need the help of our neighbors across the country. And just as we've been there for them in their hour of need, we hope they'll be there now for us, for New Jersey, New York, and other hard hit states.

"Those of us in Delaware look forward to working with all of you and with the Obama Administration to enable us to recover and rebuild, as well as better protect ourselves from the ravages of future storms that are likely to come our way. Thank you."