09.13.11

Leahy Welcomes Senate’s Breaking Of Filibuster On Disaster Relief Funding Bill

[An emergency aid bill for victims of Irene and other natural disasters advanced to the next legislative step in the Senate late Tuesday as an initial filibuster on the bill was broken in a vote of 61 to 38.  The bill will replenish the depleted coffers of the Emergency Relief Fund of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  In a Senate Floor speech illustrated with stark photos of the devastation wrought upon Vermont's highways and transportation infrastructure, Leahy urged the Senate to overcome "political games and point-scoring" in considering disaster relief remedies.  Leahy is a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee which last week drafted and approved the core of the disaster relief bill now before the Senate.  The text of Leahy's remarks follows:]

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY

 

IRENE’S EFFECTS ON TRANSPORTATION IN VERMONT

 

SENATE FLOOR

 

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2011

As Vermont continues to grapple with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, I would like to call the Senate’s attention today to the severe and extensive damage that was done to our state’s transportation infrastructure and to how the washed out roads and bridges are affecting the lives of all Vermonters. 

These are just a few scenes of the destruction brought on by the flooding. 

•           One of my outreach staffers in Vermont took this photo of Vermont Route 100 just south of Plymouth – home to President Calvin Coolidge.  You can see where the road is completely washed away – and where the machine is working to reroute the road about 100 feet above the new riverbed. 

•           I took this photo of U.S. Route 4 – a major East-West route across Vermont – when Governor Shumlin and I toured the state by helicopter immediately after Irene. 

•           This third image depicts the New England Central rail line in Central Vermont, which hosts Amtrak’s Vermonter train.  Economic recovery act funds had just repaired this line to nearly mint condition ; now you see parts of it are completely washed away.

•           Finally, this shot was taken along Vermont Route 30 in Jamaica – or what’s left of it – while rains from the remnants of Hurricane Lee fell in Vermont.  You can see work crews trying desperately to stay ahead of the rising water. 

Sadly, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as roads, bridges, and rail lines all over the state have been wiped out.  Flooding closed more than 300 town and state roads and damaged more than 20 bridges in Vermont, stranding people in more than a dozen towns for days.  Damage to the state's federal-aid roads and bridges will exceed half a billion dollars.  It is going to take years and years to recover. 

It has been extremely difficult to move emergency supplies and rebuilding materials around, as some of the washed-out roads have gaping gullies in the middle that are 30 feet or more deep, and some of the reopened roads and bridges are not yet recommended for heavy traffic. 

The consequences have been harsh.  Residents are forced to make 30-mile-plus detours to the nearest grocery store or doctor — on mountain roads, some of them unpaved.  Businesses are struggling to reopen and find customers.  Schools have been forced to remain closed until repairs are made.  And tourists are worried about traveling to Vermont this fall to see the foliage or this winter to do some skiing. 

The end of construction season in Vermont is fast approaching.  By November it will be too cold to lay asphalt, and by December snow and ice will cover the mountains, leaving many towns dangerously isolated.  I applaud the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Vermont National Guard, and work crews and Guardsmen from states all around the country for moving quickly to make emergency road repairs and install temporary bridges.  These are lifelines to the hardest hit communities.  But we need to make more permanent repairs as soon as possible or future rains and the fall’s freeze-thaw cycle will further deteriorate our roads and make them all put impassable this winter.    

Given the breadth and depth of Irene’s destruction, on top of the ongoing disasters already declared in all 50 states, we must ensure that FEMA and the Department of Transportation have all of the resources they need to help our citizens in their desperate time of need. 

We must act quickly to replenish the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund and the Federal Highway Emergency Road Fund – both of which are at dangerously low levels right now.  Without supplemental funding to these and other emergency accounts, Vermont and all of the other 49 states with ongoing federal disasters will not have the resources they need to rebuild. 

With so much on the line, so starkly, for so many, it would be harmful and unseemly to play politics with disaster relief.  Thousands of American families and businesses have been devastated by an unprecedented series of floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters this year.  The people hurting out there are not worried about Democrats against Republicans or Red States versus Blue States.  They are desperate for a helping hand from their fellow Americans.  We are one Nation, and we traditionally have come to aid of our fellow Americans in times of need. 

In my 37 years in the United States Senate, we always have dealt with disaster bills together, working across the aisle, in a spirit of bipartisanship.  As a nation, can we afford to toss that tradition and cooperation overboard?  It is unconscionable that some have decided to inject politics and political point-scoring into a situation that already is so difficult and so laden with grim realities for so many of our fellow citizens.  Leader Reid is right to bring an emergency disaster relief package to the floor that will get aid to all 50 states suffering from the effects of unprecedented natural disasters.  But we need Republican cooperation to get this urgent job done.   I encourage my colleagues to end a shameful filibuster of this essential disaster relief bill, and let us proceed to a full debate on how to help our fellow Americans as quickly as possible.

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