Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 03:00 PM

Mr. Edgar Blatchford

Commissioner, Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development

REGARDING S. 49 and S.1338

Presented by Edgar Blatchford
Commissioner, Department of Community and Economic Development
550 W. 7th Avenue, Suite 1770
Anchorage, AK 99501-3510
 (907) 269-8100
fax: (907) 269-4563

Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the Committee for this opportunity to testify on behalf of the State of Alaska and the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development on these legislative proposals that are important to the affected communities and residents of Alaska.

I am testifying before you because of our department's Alaska Constitutional mandate to assist communities.

Senate 49, a bill sponsored by the Alaska delegation and supported by the State of Alaska and particularly by our Department will be the primary legislation on which I will comment. 

Alaska believes a joint Federal-State Floodplain and Erosion Mitigation Commission is long over due.

This Legislation recognizes that floodplain management measures and erosion mitigation interrelate, frequently overlap and often rely on:
1) A multi-agency approach --Federal-State-Native organizations working together;

2) And must be multi-objective -- I can't fulfill my Commerce & Economic Development duties as Commissioner, unless I also assist the Community's most at Risk.  The burden on our State and Federal resources in Disaster assistance and Emergency response can and should be reduced.  For a few communities (3-4) this can not happen without a coordinated State-Federal effort to address the flood & erosion problems.  How do you create an economy, provide jobs when the land under your feet is washing away during each storm, or as River Breakup floods the community?

3) Finally, we need a DECISION-MAKING body that can make Recommendations and see that direct implementation of flood and erosion mitigation solutions, and SET PRIORITIES for those MOST in need, and ASSIGN Agency leads in the State and Federal government.  Right now we do not see the Federal, or State Governments as having direct programs, roles or leadership in addressing EROSION.   Flooding and floodplain management, Yes -- Erosion -- we don't have the program authorities needed to:

• AVOID the problem to begin with;
• sometimes we can gather money to try to FIX the problem through Structural Erosion Control, but if
• MOVING is the most cost effective, socially acceptable solution -- State and Federal Governments do not have clear program authorities to assist.

Senate 49, includes "Matters to Be Studied" by the proposed Federal-State Floodplain & Erosion Mitigation Commission.  Staff advises me that much "Study" has been performed and is 
readily available from prior Federal (primarily the Corps of Engineers) and State funded "Study" Projects.  Alaska is very appreciative of the Study funding support.
However, what is lacking is a COORDINATED Federal-State high-level leadership team to make, what in some cases, will be hard decisions. 

Let me make it clear, as I stated before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Hearing that Senator Stevens chaired and Senator Murkowski, you participated in last summer in Anchorage that started the momentum towards this needed Legislation:

Erosion and flooding is, with many of our communities, having some type of an impact -- erosion and flooding are naturally occurring events. 
A very few communities in Alaska are at great risk, and need, in my opinion, to consider the option of moving.

With good information, we hope to avoid placement of expensive infrastructure that can be threatened or that needs erosion control.  But we need good data.  Our Department is working closely with the Corps of Engineers to move forward on the Erosion Assessments that have been stated as a priority need and was funded through the Corps in last year's Omnibus Appropriations Bill.  We believe these Erosion Assessments by the Corps, using our Department's detailed Community Maps, will provide excellent information for avoiding siting of new infrastructure in erosion prone areas.

Let me comment briefly on Alaska's lack of water resource data, and express my support for Senate 1338 "Alaska Water Resources Act of 2005", particularly the bills stated " … particularly in the area of FLOODFORECASTING.  Stream gaging is also vital for the data needed to support the Alaska's Flood Map Modernization effort (lead by FEMA nationally). Our Department is the State lead for Map Modernization and stream gage data is critical to producing updated, accurate flood maps.

Alaska's stream gage density is about 1 stream gage for every four-thousand, five hundred square miles, whereas the rest of the US has about 1 stream gage per 430 square miles. 

The USGS's gaging program {the National Streamflow Information Program} only has 19 % of the approved gages in place to provide surface water information.  We encourage Congress to fund the stream gage deficit our State faces. 

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify before you this afternoon.  I look forward to any questions you may have.

Shishmaref, AK  'Teacher's Housing' Tri-Plex Building,October 2004