Nashville City Paper: Senate to hold hearing on response to Tennessee flood

Posted on June 28, 2010

Tennesseans may soon find out exactly what went right — and wrong — at the Army Corps of Engineers during the devastating and historical floods of May 1 and 2.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced Monday that the Senate’s Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, of which he is a member, would hold a hearing July 22 on the Corps’ actions during the flood. The major topics of discussion are likely to be how the Corps and the National Weather Service communicated information to the public as the flood unfolded, whether the Corps acted properly in releasing water from dams along the Cumberland River, and whether those releases resulted in additional flooding in Nashville.

“The purpose of the hearing is to bring forward the people who are supposed to know what happened, ask them what happened, let them tell their story, and then make a judgment about that,” Alexander said during a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon.

Alexander said he has received confirmation from all those whom he asked to attend the hearing. That includes Gen. John Peabody, commander of the Corps division under which Tennessee falls; National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes; James Bassham, director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency; Nashville Mayor Karl Dean; and Millington Mayor Richard Hodges, among others.

“Looking at the facts of what happened during the flood, specifically the actions taken by the Army Corps of Engineers, is an appropriate thing to do,” Dean said Monday. “And the Senate, which has oversight of the federal agency, is the appropriate entity to lead that discussion.”

The Corps, which has been criticized by some — including U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper [1] and Gaylord CEO Colin Reed — for decisions made during the flood, announced on June 22 it would issue an After Action Review Report on the flood [2], a standard procedure that would “examine what happened, what lessons can be learned, and what future improvements can be made.” Cooper, Alexander and others had called for a full-on investigation.

The Corps was expected to issue a statement about the hearing this afternoon, according to spokesman Bill Peoples. The agency should finish its flood report by mid-July; Alexander said he expects findings would be presented at the hearing, although he added that he hopes to get it beforehand.