Congressman Keith Rothfus

Representing the 12th District of Pennsylvania

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Unlike Trump, Pittsburgh-area Republicans say help needed now for dams

Jun 15, 2017
In The News

When it comes to the need for repairing three dams along the Ohio River, President Donald Trump and area Republicans don't appear to be paddling in the same direction.

As the Post-Gazette reported Tuesday, the White House's Office of Management and Budget flagged a proposed $2.7 billion upgrade of the aging Pittsburgh-area dams, saying it wanted "additional economic analysis" so that the project was "fully evaluated for the American taxpayer."

The Army Corps of Engineers, which has responsibility for the dams, has already carried out a cost-benefit analysis as part of a years-long review of the project. And Congressman Keith Rothfus, the Sewickley Republican whose district hosts the dams, said there's no need for further review.

"Congressman Rothfus believes that more than enough economic analysis has been done clearly demonstrating the urgency of these repairs, as well as the economic harm that will result by delaying further," said a statement issued by his office on Tuesday.

It could take three years to compile the economic analysis. And while the Corps of Engineers can do some preliminary work in the meantime, fulfilling the White House request "could contribute to unnecessary delays that would have a very negative economic impact on jobs in Southwest Pennsylvania and the entire region," the statement said. "The longer these projects are delayed, the larger the risk becomes for potential structural failures. If that happens, the economic impact of a lengthy shut down of Upper Ohio River traffic would be massive."

Bill Shuster, the Blair Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sounded a similar note in a statement of his own.

"I don't believe any further economic analysis is essential for this critical project, which was authorized in last year's WIIN Act," a water-infrastructure bill authored by Mr. Shuster and signed last December by outgoing President Barack Obama.

"I have been an ardent supporter of this project from the very beginning, and I’ll continue to work with the administration ... to highlight the project’s importance," the statement said. "This project is essential and must be completed.”

This is not a new fight for Mr. Rothfus and Mr. Shuster, who previously decried similar delays during the Obama Administration. The Corps spent more than a decade studying the project, to their mounting frustration. In April, Mr. Rothfus circulated a letter of support for the project among legislators whose districts touch on the Upper Ohio. The letter said "we were stunned to learn" that the Obama Administration had sought further study, and asked OMB director Mick Mulvaney to abandon the request. But Mr. Mulvaney appears to be sticking with the demand.

At least for now. During a recent Cincinnati speech on infrastructure, Mr. Trump pledged that "the federal government will drastically reduce burdensome regulations and massively streamline approvals and permitting." And he noted that a hydraulic failure of an Ohio River lock last winter shut down barge traffic for most of a week.

“We simply cannot tolerate a five-day shutdown on a major thoroughfare for American coal, American oil and American steel," he said.

There is, meanwhile, a 50-50 chance that one of the three Pittsburgh-area lock systems fails in the next decade. If that happens, the Corps has said, it could take two years to fix.