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Rep. Simpson’s Latest Community Project Funding Op-Ed

Funding for the Mackay Dam Cannot Wait

WASHINGTON— Today, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) wrote an op-ed highlighting the importance of Community Project Funding and its role in providing critical support for Idaho’s Second Congressional District. One such priority is the rehabilitation of the Mackay Dam in Custer County. 

Funding for the Mackay Dam Cannot Wait

By Rep. Mike Simpson

The full op-ed is available below.

As your representative in Congress, I take seriously my responsibility to advocate for Idaho’s priorities within a responsible federal budget.  I would always rather bring Idaho tax dollars back home for Idaho priorities than send that money to fund pet projects in other states, and I can do that through Community Project Funding (CPF).  The CPF program allows me to address critical needs in Idaho’s communities through projects that have broad community support and local buy-in and meet rigorous standards for transparency and accountability.  One such project that I am proud to support is the rehabilitation of the Mackay Dam in Custer County.

The Mackay Dam is nearly 100 years old.  It protects downriver communities throughout Custer and Butte Counties and provides water to a largely agricultural economy.  A recent risk assessment fond the dam to be in critical condition and the likelihood of the dam failing during a flood event extremely high.  If that happened, it would wreak devastation on a region made up of small rural and lower-income communities.  The towns of Mackay and Arco would be submerged under a wall of water over eighty feet high that would come so quickly that residents would have no time to evacuate before the flood waters arrived.  Flooding would endanger visitors to popular recreation sites in the beautiful Lost River Range and communities throughout Butte and Custer Counties.

Experts say that if we don’t undertake the needed rehabilitation soon, the failure of the Mackay Dam is inevitable.  This puts the Idahoans who live downstream of the Mackay Dam in an untenable position.  These communities can’t afford to fix the dam, and they most certainly can’t afford to recover from the dam’s eventual failure.  The local irrigation district tasked with maintaining the dam is doing all they can with what they can afford, but they struggle to pay for regular repairs, much less modest upgrades.  They couldn’t even begin to pay for the kind of rehabilitation that experts agree is needed to protect the surrounding communities and the Idaho National Laboratory (INL).  In addition, the State of Idaho has applied for discretionary grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to address this problem for the past several years but has been unsuccessful.  They have run out of options.  What is more, dam failure and subsequent flooding would leave devastation in its wake to the tune of about half a billion dollars in recovery costs for these low-income communities—costs they could never afford.

Given the dire situation, you can understand why I’m glad I’ve been able to secure funding for this important project for the coming fiscal year.  Together with funding from the state and local governments, this federal funding will be used to do the major rehabilitation work needed on the Mackay Dam by improving the tower, removing and replacing the spillway, relining the outlet tunnel, and moving control works downstream to prevent the dam from overtopping.  The CPF program allows me to help these communities find a way to complete this project when all other doors have been closed.  I will continue working with state and local officials to make sure the funding is there for this project, which has broad local support from everyone from the local communities in Custer and Butte Counties to the Idaho Water Resources Board to the Idaho National Laboratory. 

We hear a lot of bad news about federal spending, but I believe the Mackay Dam rehabilitation project is good news that is worth sharing.  This critical dam safety project will protect Idaho communities from devastating flooding and ensure that their economies are not wiped out by either flooding or insurmountable recovery costs.  I will always fight for impactful, important Idaho projects like this because they give Idahoans a needed voice in determining how their own taxpayer dollars are spent.  If you’d like to learn more about this or other CPF projects, please visit my website, where you can find all the information.