Joni Ernst Town Hall Meeting

Senator Joni Ernst addresses a constituent's concerns at the Town Hall Meeting held on Friday, May 31, at the Logan Community Center in Logan.

Senator Joni Ernst was in Logan on Friday, May 31, at the Logan Community Center for a Town Hall Meeting to answer questions and hear concerns from constituents.

The first topic was about the Mueller Report and the potential to impeach President Donald Trump, to which Ernst replied that there is no impeachable offense.

“The American People want to see this done with. There was no collusion, so we need to move on,” Ernst said.

Reforming the second largest bureaucracy in the nation, the Veterans Administration, was another concern. According to Ernst, the VA is second only to the Department of Defense in size and scope.

“We have a very large VA system. We have a lot of veterans that are treated quite well, and then we have a number of veterans that can’t access the level of service they need,” Ernst said.

She added that increased providers, peer-counselors, and support could be steps needed to make the system better, along with more options for veterans inside the system as well as outside of it.

Ernst urged citizens to begin the casework process with her office if they experience ongoing issues with federal agencies, such as in the case of the VA.

“What this does is alert the VA that we are watching, and that this is of some importance to us,” she said. “There are a lot of issues we are seeing with the VA, and there is no real easy answer, but there needs to be a priority order as well.”

Continued recent flooding, illegal immigration, abortion, universal healthcare, a balanced budget, and other hot topics were addressed.

Hydropower, fish and wildlife, flood control, and recreation are all the functions of the Corps of Engineers’ river management program.

“My question to the Corps is, what is the priority of those functions?” Ernst commented. “Until flooding is imminent, flood control is not a priority.”

Ernst added that she is trying in Congress to make flood control the priority for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We need to get all of our stakeholders together, and we need to, long-term, work out our plan,” she added. “We need to start working this now.”

Ernst spoke about a published article stating that residents along the Missouri River further upstream were upset about the release of water downstream because the residents could not get their boats in the water.

The anecdote was met with a lot of feigned concern from constituents in the room.

“I hate that we are going through this again,” she said.

Ernst then offered to share these flooding stories to relay the impact on residents’ lives and livelihoods downstream from the dam system.

Corey McIntosh said that his family has lived and farmed along the Missouri River southwest of Missouri Valley for four generations. He added that flood control was once a priority of the River Management Program, but the 2004 revision of the Master Manual changed the priority list, placing flood control on the same plane as all the other functions of the river management program.

“We are used to the occasional high water event, but what we are seeing now is different,” McIntosh said. “The National Weather Service maintains records of the Missouri River levels going back to the 1890s. Since 2010, when we really started seeing the effects of the changes in the Master Manual, we have seen six of the top 11 highest crests that have occurred (historically) in the last nine years.”

McIntosh added that while the Corps of Engineers gets the bulk of the blame, the Corps passes the blame on to Congress, which has failed to develop priorities for river management.

“The Corps is trying to serve eight masters, but pleases none,” he said of the eight functions of the program. “It is time for fresh thinking. A third party, an impartial arbitrator, needs to be brought into the process. What legislative action do you think might help?”

Ernst agreed that they have not provided enough guidance to the Corps.

“We, as Congress, do need to establish some priorities and tell the Corps, ‘These are the areas you will focus on,’” she said. “Back in 2011, one of the great concerns was that we were spending more time on the pallid sturgeon and the piping plover than on the families that were being flooded out of their homes. Lives and livelihoods come first.”

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