Yuba-Sutter's congressional representative was in Marysville on Tuesday, answering questions from local leaders about topics ranging from medical marijuana to drought to the threat of ISIS.
Congressman John Garamendi took questions from Yuba County Supervisor John Nicoletti, Yuba County Water Agency General Manager Curt Aikens, Sutter County Supervisor Dan Flores and community member Roberta D'Arcy.
• Garamendi first addressed the challenges facing the Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency regarding the discovery of Native American artifacts during construction of the Feather River West Levee project.
Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said a new legal wrinkle that protects sacred sites is an underlying issue in an already complex situation.
The United Auburn Indian Community has indicated it views the materials recovered as sacred and has petitioned or plans to petition the Native American Heritage Commission for a determination of sacredness, according to a objection letter by the flood agency to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"There's a lot of things going on. Federal law says you have to mitigate, and one kind of mitigation is understanding the significance (of the site)," Garamendi said. "Archaeologists want to understand the history, and the Native Americans are not interested in that. So you have tension to begin with, and then the sacred site goes on top of that."
Garamendi said it is likely more of these sites will be discovered if the work continues.
• Aikens noted $7.3 million was set aside for levee projects in Marysville in President Barack Obama's budget, but the money needs to be appropriated by Congress. He asked what the county can do to secure that funding for the project.
First, Garamendi said to keep working with federal partners in a positive way and to continue to move forward with the work that can be done.
He said that money could be made available when a backlog of projects that have been funded, but likely won't get built, are taken off the books.
"Each one of those frees up capacity, and the money should follow," Garamendi said. "The political problem is that even derelict projects have a senator that represents that district, and they don't want to be in office when that project disappears."
Garamendi also said infrastructure funding in general could face a major challenge if the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund runs out of money, as it is scheduled to do in May.
Garamendi supported the president's proposed $478 billion transportation bill that would fund infrastructure improvements and keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent for the next six years.
"The problem is that the president proposed it," Garamendi said. "There's a substantial crew that if (Obama) proposes it, they're opposed to it."
• Flores expressed concerns about Sutter County's ability to meet funding formula requirements, including miles driven and greenhouse gas emissions, to qualify for transportation funds.
"If we don't meet those criteria, we're at the bottom of the list," Flores said. "I worry about our representation and how we can get those done."
Garamendi recommended partnering with other counties or communities when seeking transportation funds, especially grants. Garamendi used the example of TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant.
"The problem is many of these proposals are county or community specific, which reduces the potential," Garamendi said. "If you want a TIGER grant, you have to make it more than just your community."
He also noted that with the elimination of project-specific earmarks in Congress, administrators now decide what project receives funding.
• D'Arcy asked Garamendi what he thought about the country's role with ISIS.
Garamendi said he was "mightily concerned" about ISIS. He also questioned the Obama administration's assertion that it has legal authority to pursue a military campaign against ISIS because of the 2001 Congressional military authorization to fight a global war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates.
Garamendi advocated for a new authorization for the use of force from Congress — one that has a time limit of three years and does not allow American boots on the ground.
"We should limit the use of force, otherwise we're in for another 10 years. I don't want that," Garamendi said. "Countries in the area have to provide ground soldiers. If we put American soldiers in there, then America is the great evil empire again."
• Aikens asked about the status of Garamendi's legislation seeking to authorize Sites Reservoir, which he introduced with Congressman Doug LaMalfa.
Garamendi said the process is "moving along." He said the Bureau of Reclamation contributed funds to feasibility and environmental studies for the project.
He also said the project would likely be funded with bonds secured by the major players, which he identified as the state, the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District and the Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority. He also said the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Westland Water District have expressed interest in the project.
• Nicoletti brought up Yuba County's controversial medical marijuana ordinance and asked if a recent movement to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule 1 substance means the federal government is washing its hand of marijuana issues.
"Not yet," Garamendi said. "As other states (legalizing marijuana in some form) plays out, the federal law will follow, but it's not there today."
Garamendi said Congress is very conservative with social policy, but something may change after the next election, depending on what states, such as California, which Garamendi said will put marijuana legalization on the ballot in 2016, decide.