Huffman weighs in on local issues

Reporting back from his first term in Congress, Petaluma's new Representative Jared Huffman forecast an uncertain future in the short term regarding federal funding for some local transportation and infrastructure projects, but expressed a determination to tackle the issues regardless.

Since Huffman was elected last November to fill longtime Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey's seat, he has worked as a junior Democrat in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which only passed four of 12 annual spending, or appropriations, bills by the time representatives left for summer recess at the end of August.

Prior to becoming a congressman, Huffman represented Petaluma in the California State Assembly, where he was part of a Democratic majority that successfully passed many bills. He said arriving at the House of Representatives and experiencing what has widely been referred to as dysfunction there, has been "an adjustment," but something he expected.

Locally, Huffman called dredging the Petaluma River a "top of mind" concern. In July, he met with a coalition of Petaluma business leaders and river users to hear their case for why the river needs to be dredged. Removing built-up silt from the river is many years overdue and falls to the Army Corps of Engineers, but in recent years there has been no funding for the project, estimated to cost at least $7 million.

Last Friday, Huffman took Petaluma's concerns to Army Corps officials. In that meeting, he learned that the Corps is unlikely to pay for dredging any time soon, due to Congress failing to provide additional funds to the agency and a long list of higher-priority dredging projects

"It's a continuation of not enough money, too many projects. We're going to have to continue to make our case, and over the long term, pass an act of Congress to improve funding," Huffman said.

Petaluma should continue to make its case for a river dredging, Huffman said, suggesting that it could best do so by documenting incidents where boats, particularly commercial boats, are grounded in shallow water as a result of silt piling up in the river.

He said the city may have to consider other strategies too, such as teaming up with nearby municipalities like Napa or San Rafael that have similar shallow waterways. By doing so, the cities could coordinate the use of contracted dredging vessels, sharing the cost of bringing such a vessel to the area.

The Army Corps would still play a role in the process, but the cities would fund the dredging themselves. It remains to be seen how Petaluma, which has had to dramatically cut staff positions and services during the recession, would fund such an undertaking.

"It costs a lot of money to dredge, but if schedules are coordinated, there can be economies of scale," Huffman said, adding that dredging the river within the next year remained a priority.

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