Congressmembers say move is unjustified, circumvents the law and would threaten local projects
Congressmembers Brian Higgins (NY-26) and Chris Collins (NY-27) are objecting to efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move functions performed in the Buffalo region to Louisville and Detroit.
"When it comes to protecting the safety, health and future of our waterways, there is no substitute for having a team of qualified people on the ground and familiar with the projects," Higgins said. "The Great Lakes represent the largest source of fresh water on the planet and are linked to billions of dollars in economic activity. We should be committing more, not less, attention to this vital resource."
"The Army Corps of Engineers continues to play a critical role in the success of several projects of both local and regional significance," Collins said. "I strongly believe the plan to move the Buffalo-based personnel out of Western New York and to communities hours and hundreds of miles away will threaten projects both currently in the pipeline and in the future. And while I am someone who believes strongly in efficiency, the Army Corps has yet to substantiate the savings it claims this move will achieve. Worse yet, I am afraid this shortsighted plan will actually cost taxpayers more money than it could possibly save."
Founded in 1857, the Buffalo District is among seven districts contained within the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division of the Army Corps. Higgins and Collins recently became aware of internal restructuring efforts and, in a letter to U.S. Army chief of engineers and commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, argue that taking people out of Western New York will "undoubtedly hinder ongoing and future project delivery."
Higgins and Collins assert plans for consolidation could turn Buffalo into a mere field office, or a "district in name only," which is unallowable under current law. In addition, the members dispute claims that the move would save millions of dollars without cutting service or reducing the workforce, especially, they said, given the Louisville district history of poor cost management on projects.
Referencing a Louiville project with more than $2 billion in cost overruns, Higgins and Collins write, "It is puzzling that the division is attempting to improve contracting functions by shifting them all to the Louisville district, which has been responsible for that largest single civil works cost overrun in the history of the Army Corps."
There are approximately 280 employees in the Buffalo district, which includes six field offices covering 38,000 square miles from Massena to Toledo, Ohio. District employees plan, design construct and operate water projects to reduce flooding, maintain navigation, protect the shoreline, and support water quality efforts.
Higgins also recently sent a Freedom of Information request seeking materials related to the proposed relocation of functions out of the Buffalo district and is awaiting a response.
The Army Corps, working with others, is overseeing dozens of projects in Higgins' and Collins' districts including: a $44 million Buffalo River restoration project; a $359 million remediation of the former Linde site in Tonawanda; a $1.8 million seawall protection project in Hamburg; and a $10 million remedial action program at Guterl Steel in Lockport.