Hyde-Smith talks flooding in maiden speech to Congress

In her official maiden speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith opened by paying tribute to Biloxi police officer Robert McKeithen who was killed in the line of duty on Sunday, May 5th.

“Officer McKeithen was described by his Chief as ‘an unbelievably fine policeman,” said Hyde-Smith. “He was an Air Force veteran, a husband, and a father, who dedicated his life to serving the people of Biloxi, my state, and our nation. His loss is a tragedy, and a stark reminder that law enforcement officers risk their lives daily to keep us safe.  Officer McKeithen’s family, colleagues, and friends certainly have my deepest sympathy.”

A 25-year veteran of the Biloxi police force, 58-year-old McKeithen, was shot Sunday outside the Biloxi Police Department.  During his time on the force, McKeithen earned the Medal of Valor for his life-saving efforts during Hurricane Katrina.  He was also a decorated Air Force veteran, who retired from the service before becoming a law enforcement officer.

The main focus of the freshman Senator’s maiden speech drew attention to the victims of flooding in Mississippi and Hyde-Smith stressed the need for a more responsive federal government that meets the needs of all Americans.

Hyde-Smith, who won a special election last November, said immediate and long-standing needs for adequate flood protection in the Mississippi Delta represent a lack of responsiveness and the cost of bureaucratic red tape on the part of the federal government.

“Today’s flooding in Mississippi should not be happening,” she said. “It’s time for the federal government to step up and make good on its promises.  It’s time for the federal government to listen to the people in need of help—and to help them,” Hyde-Smith said.

Hyde-Smith said flooding, which began in February and continues to inundate more than 488,000 acres in the Yazoo Backwater Area, is a source of deep frustration for Mississippians, who have waited more than 70 years for the full array of Mississippi River and Tributaries Project flood control work to reach them.

“The last remaining feature of this 77-year effort remains unconstructed due to excessive, over-burdensome regulations and red tape.  Because of this, Mississippians are once again losing their homes and businesses; roads and bridges are being destroyed, and wildlife is dying – their habitat lost to contaminated floodwaters,” said Hyde-Smith, who toured the flood region earlier this spring.

Hyde-Smith addressed the need for Congress to reach agreement on emergency supplemental funding legislation to address disaster recovery needs in Mississippi and around the nation.  She also stressed the need for federal agencies to work together, and not against each other, to advance important infrastructure projects, like the authorized but unconstructed Yazoo Backwater Pump project.

“Federal assistance alone will not solve all problems, and a long road to recovery lies ahead,” Hyde-Smith said. “However, disaster supplemental legislation will provide a very important first step. The outcome of the push-and-pull over disaster assistance highlights the need for us, as elected representatives, to consistently evaluate the federal government’s performance on delivering promises to the American people.

I cannot speak for others, but Mississippians would like to see more action, and less acting, from their leaders in Washington.  Our nation’s environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects is the epitome of a flawed and broken bureaucracy in desperate need of repair.”

The Flood Control Act of 1941 authorized a range of systematic of flood control improvements in the Yazoo Backwater Area—a 630,000-acre area spanning six west-central Mississippi counties and one northeast Louisiana parish—consisting of levees, drainage channels, floodgates, and pumping stations.  All of these features have been completed other than the Yazoo Backwater pumping facility, which has resulted in catastrophic flooding inside the existing levee system due to the inability to remove water trapped on the protected side of the levees.

In 2007, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was prepared to construct the final aspects of the Yazoo Backwater project but was stopped by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to concerns about adverse effects on fishery areas and wildlife.  As a result, the Yazoo Backwater Area has flooded 10 times over the past 11 years causing more than $500 million in damages.

During appropriations hearing on April 3rd, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told Hyde-Smith that his agency is reevaluating its 2008 decision to stop the Corps of Engineers from constructing the Yazoo Backwater Area flood control project.