Argus Leader - Rep. Kristi Noem Working on Army Corps Reform

News Article

By Jonathan Ellis

Rep. Kristi Noem said she continues to press forward with attempts to bring more accountability to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers one year after major flooding on the Missouri River.

Noem said that flooding and the corps' response to last year's event continue to be one of her top priorities as South Dakota's at-large House member.

"If there is any entity that has been left untouched and unaccountable for decades, it's the corps," she said.

Noem made the statements during an interview Wednesday with the Argus Leader editorial board. She had been asked what, besides agriculture, were two issues where she's become an authority. Noem responded that tax policy and flooding were among the issues she's learned the most about. Noem is part of a Missouri River working group that has been forming policies to ensure that flooding on the scale of last year's can be avoided in the future.

Noem is supporting a bill that would require the corps to evaluate snow pack and soil saturation when planning for flooding, and she has introduced a bill that requires the corps to issue public notice within a week of determining that runoffs are likely to be higher than normal.

Communication was one of the key complaints that residents and state and local officials had with the corps. Tony Venhuizen, the director of policy and communications for Dennis Daugaard, said the governor wasn't notified that flood-causing releases on Missouri River dams would start until just a few days before they happened. Emergency levees in Pierre and Fort Pierre were hastily constructed, but they weren't enough to save everyone's property.

"It's a miracle everything worked out as well as it did given how much notice we got," Venhuizen said.

The governor, he added, wants to know if "there's a possibility" of that type of flooding. "Don't wait until it's a certainty," Venhuizen said.

Monique Farmer, a spokeswoman for the corps' district office in Omaha, said the corps has a long-standing policy of holding regular updates on conditions in the basin, and that was true during the flooding last year. Since then, the corps has increased its number of news briefings, and it's using social media to communicate.

"We're using pretty much every communications tool that we have available to us," Farmer said.

Noem is running for a second term against Democrat Matt Varilek, a former staffer to Sen. Tim Johnson. Both Noem and Varilek say that voters will have plenty of differences to assess when it comes to their backgrounds and policy goals. Noem, for example, wants to roll back the president's Affordable Care Act, while Varilek supports it.

Asked whether she would have House Speaker John Boehner campaign for her, Noem said she wouldn't.

"I haven't asked him," she said. "I don't plan to, either. I'm sure he'll have plenty of other places to go."