McCaskill grills Corps of Engineers nominee about Birds Point

Friday, February 10, 2012
FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2011 file photo, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. The senator grilled the nominee to head the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concerning the Birds Point levee at a committee hearing Thursday.. (AP Photo Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' intentional breaching of a levee in Southeast Missouri last year was front and center on Capitol Hill on Thursday as U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill grilled the nominee looking to become the corps' next commander.

The Missouri Democrat spent several minutes quizzing Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick on Thursday morning during a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing. Bostick was nominated by President Barack Obama to become the next commander.

But McCaskill, who said she believed Bostick would be confirmed, asked him to commit to rebuilding the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway levee to its preblast level of 62.5 feet of flood protection.

"All of us opposed the blowing of Birds Point," McCaskill told Bostick. "It was 62.5 feet before it was blown. So far, the Army corps has only rebuilt it to 55. I need a commitment from you today, lieutenant general -- or as soon as you can give it to me if you're not comfortable giving it today -- that it will get rebuilt to 62."

Bostick told McCaskill said that if he is confirmed he would commit to work with the corps and "ensure that they work as quickly as possible" using the funds appropriated by Congress to do the necessary repairs.

McCaskill responded that his answer was fine, but it didn't answer the core question. She said she needed to know before she cast a vote that the corps would return the levees to 62.5 feet.

"And that will be one I will not be able to wait until your confirmation on," McCaskill said. "I need to know before your confirmation your feelings about that levee being built back up to the place it was before the Army corps decided to blow it. That will be important to me."

McCaskill also pressed Bostick on the corps' funding priorities about flood-control issues on the Missouri River. She noted that $5 million sits in the Missouri River Recovery Program budget for flood management, but the fund contains more than $70 million for habitat-related issues.

She described the discrepancy as "fingernails on a blackboard" to many Missouri families who find that difference "out of whack."

Bostick pledged to follow up on the various programs and to work with McCaskill. If Bostick is confirmed by the Senate, he will become the second African-American to hold the post. Bostick is the U.S. Army's deputy chief of staff and led the corps' division in Baghdad in 2004 and 2005.

After the hearing, McCaskill's office said the timing of the vote is uncertain, but Bostick's confirmation would have to approved by the committee and then the full Senate.

If confirmed, Bostick, whose military career spans three decades, would succeed Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, who has led the corps since 2007. Van Antwerp is scheduled to retire in May.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Map of pertinent addresses

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