Tennessean: U.S. senators' hearing on Nashville flood will focus on Corps

Posted on June 29, 2010

WASHINGTON — A Senate subcommittee will convene a hearing on the May flooding in Middle Tennessee, focusing on how well the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers communicated with other agencies and the public, Sen. Lamar Alexander announced Monday.  

The response of the National Weather Service also will be examined.

The July 22 hearing will be held by the Senate Appropriations Committee's energy and water subcommittee and will include testimony from Gen. John Peabody, commander of the Corps division that includes Nashville, and Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service. Alexander, R-Tenn., is a member of the Appropriations Committee.

"The goal of the hearing is to determine what actions can be taken to improve those communications to prevent loss of life and property in future floods," Alexander said.

He said systems for tracking and warning the public about tornadoes have improved "1,000 percent" and suggested that similar improvements could be made before and during floods.

Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, and Alexander, to a lesser extent, have raised concerns about the Corps' actions during the flood. They and others have questioned the way water was released from dams on the Cumberland River, as well as the quality of forecasting, communication and flood warnings. Corps officials have said the water knocked out communications that supplied Internet and e-mail service to a Corps office and otherwise have defended their response.

The heavy rains and flooding in early May caused an estimated $1.5 billion in damage in the metropolitan Nashville area.

FEMA, SBA praised

Alexander said he expects the Corps to release its "after-action review" report on the flood at the hearing. This report will focus on the lessons that can be learned from the way the Corps conducted itself, Corps officials have said.

Corps officials also say they plan to complete a more-detailed "post-flood" report, which could take six months or more.

"I don't want to prejudge the hearing," Alexander said when asked to assess the performance of the Corps and the Weather Service based on what he had learned. He did compliment the response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration: "They were on the ground fast."

Members of the Tennessee congressional delegation also are expected to testify at the hearing, as are:

• James Bassham, director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

• Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.

• Millington Mayor Richard Hodges.

• Whit Adamson, president of the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters.

• Bert Matthews, vice chairman of the board of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Cooper has said he wants to wait until reading the after-action review before deciding whether to seek a hearing in the House.

Contact Bill Theobald at wtheobal@gannett.com.