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STATEMENT OF SOL B. PRESSBURG
Senator OVERTON. Mr. Pressburg, state your residence and your occupation, and what office you occupy.
Mr. PRESSBURG. Alexandria, Louisiana, practicing lawyer, secretary of the Red River, Atchafala ya, and Bayou Boeuf Levee District.
Senator OVERTON. There will be introduced into evidence at these hearings, a resolution adopted by the Board of Commissioners for Red River, Atchafalaya, and Bayou Boeuf Levee district, in reference to furnishing a right-of-way without cost to the Federal Government. Please state the facts leading up to the adoption of that resolution. Why you did adopt that resolution, and under what circumstances you adopted it. Let me ask you some questions.. When the Federal Government first began its work on the Red River, did it acquire the rights-of-way for levee purposes?
Mr. PRESSBURG. Yes, sir; and the same applies to the Atchafalaya River.
Senator OVERTON. Did it find any difficulty in doing so ?
Senator OVERTON. Did the local levee board signify its acquiescence in acquiring these rights-of-way, and then at the same time take the position that it was the duty of the Government to furnish the rights-of-way?
Mr. PRESSBURG. Yes, sir; I can refer back to the meeting that we held. First I would say that we received a letter from Major Holcombe addressed to the president of the board, dated February 16, 1931, in which Major Holcombe pointed out that negotiations were very slow, and asked the cooperation of the board in securing these rights-of-way.
Senator OVERTON. Is this the letter to which you refer [indicating]
Mr. PRESSBURG. Yes, sir; that is the letter.
Senator OVERTON. In connection with the testimony, I will introduce into evidence the original letter of W. H. Holcombe, district engineer, to William C. Hudson, president of the Red River, Atchafalaya, and Bayou Boeuf Levee District, dated February 16, 1931, with leave to substitute a copy. And the same is as follows:
NEW ORLEANS, LA., February 16, 1931. Mr. W. C. HUDSON, President Red River, Atchafalaya, and Bayou Boeuf,
Levee District, Alexandria, La. DEAR MR. HUDSON: There are enclosed herewith four maps, scale 1:5,000, and index map, showing locations of levee work on south bank of Red River approved for fiscal year 1932, namely“ Egg Bend”, “Cologne Bend”, and “Poland." These locations have been discussed with you and it is understood that they are satisfactory to you and your board.
A résumé of the work completed, under contract, advertised, and contemlilated for South Bank Red River levees from the lower city limits of Alexandria to Moncla is as follows:
3,064, 000 Of the total of 6,221,000 cubic yards required for the entire line, work completed, under contract, and advertised, totals 3,175,000 cubic yards, or over 51 percent. It is believed that, barring delays incident to securing necessary rights-of-way, the remainder of the work on this line, estimated at 3,046,000 cubic yards, can be completed in 2 more years, as it is expected that sufficient funds for this work can be made available within that period.
If rights-of-way can be secured promptly none of this money will have to be transferred to other work. The United States has great difficulty in securing land at reasonable prices. Negotiations are extremely slow, and have now reached the point where the United States is unable to secure the necessary lands.
The work at Egg Bend consists of 422,000 cubic yards of new work and 221,000 cubic yards of enlargement; that at Cologne Bend consists of 318,000 cubic yards of new work; and that at Poland consists of 185,000 cubic yards of enlargement. Approximately 43 acres of rights-of-way are required for the new work at Egg Bend, and approximately 43 acres at Cologne Bend.
Your cooperation in securing the necessary rights-of-way is requested. Donation by your board of the rights-of-way required for these projects would assure prompt advertisement of the work. Yours very truly,
W. H. HOLOOMBE,
District Engineer. Senator OVERTON. In addition to the statements made in that letter, were any representations made to the levee board in reference to what kind of resolution should be adopted ?
Mr. PRESSBURG. Yes; we had a conference in New Orleans with Major Holcombe. When I say
When I say “we” I mean Mr. Harry Jacobs, Mr. 0. O. Melancon, Mr. W. C. Hudson, the president of the levee board, and me.
At that conference Major Holcombe told us just what he
expected of the levee board. He even went, as I recall, very much stronger in speaking to us than he would in writing, and told us that unless the resolutions were adopted as he requested, with the words " without cost " in them, that the levees would not be built in our district, but would be transferred to some other district, as shown in his letter of February 16, 1931. He explained, of course, that the Government could not get rights-of-way at the same price and ease with which the local levee boards could get them, and requested our cooperation.
The question of furnishing without cost was discussed and protested against; but the major just put his foot down, so to speak, that unless that was done no levees would be built in the district, and he would transfer it to other work that he could do. I think he possibly mentioned that he would transfer it to levees on the Mississippi side.
Senator OVERTON. Did you advise him at that time, and after he made that demand upon you, that the levee board would subsequently make a claim for reimbursement ?
Mr. PRESSBURG. Yes. He said we could pass it, the resolution as he had written it, and make a claim at a later date to be reimbursed for the amount that we had spent, and that was generally understood all along—that when the work had been finished that the claim for reimbursement would be made, and, as we understood, we have the approval of the district engineer.
Senator OVERTON. That was an understanding at the time between your levee board and the district engineer?
Senator BAILEY. Was that after the execution of that contract or before?
Mr. PRESSBURG. Along with it and afterward. At the time of the discussion in his office and New Orleans, and each time the question would come up for additional rights-of-way, that same understanding would be had.
Senator BAILEY. Why was that not written in the contract !
Mr. PRESSBURG. Because Major Holcombe would not agree to it. He said he wanted it just like that and in no other way.
Senator BAILEY. Did he say who would submit it afterward?
Mr. PRESSBURG. It was understood with him at the time and at all times, as we understood, through the district office.
Senator BAILEY. Where is this engineer?
Mr. PRESSBURG. I think he is in the Philippine Islands. That is my information.
Senator BAILEY. Then I am going to ask to get his deposition. I want to know about it. He is absent, and here is the testimony outside of the contract, which would not be admitted in law, as to what he said, when he is in the Philippines. I am going to ask to get his deposition.
Senator OVERTON. I wanted General Brown here too, but he has gone to Panama.
Senator BAILEY. We can get his deposition.
Senator OVERTON. The only thing is, we will never get the bill through.
Senator BAILEY. Yes; you can. It is 2 weeks to the Philippines, and 2 weeks back. That is 4 weeks, and Congress will be here until May.
Senator OVERTON. Possibly. I don't know. I have not talked to Captain Dean and Colonel Graves. They may know something about that. They are here. Let me digress from questioning Mr. Pressburg right now, and ask Colonel Graves and Captain Dean.
Colonel Graves, what was the understanding with reference to whether or not the Red River, Atchafalaya, and Bayou Boeuf Levee District board would make claim for reimbursement for these rightsof way that they resolved to procure for the Federal Government.
Colonel GRAVES. You mean at the time they made the resolution?
Senator OVERTON. At the time that they made the resolution, and afterward; both. They adopted, you remember, several resolutions at different times.
Colonel GRAVES. Well, to give you a picture of the whole thing, maybe you will let me digress a moment. In 1928 when we started the flood-control law, we did acquire rights-of-way. We acquired some by condemnation, we acquired some by agreement, which, by the way, I do not think, have been paid for yet, but we did acquire them. "We had so much trouble, first in getting the privilege of building the levee, and next, paying for them, that we finally said, we won't build any more levees unless somebody gets the right-ofway for us.
I don't know that there is anything specific in the record. I personally always felt that these local people were going to make claims for reimbursement, and I personally preferred to pay the reimbursement after they had bought them, thinking that they were going to pay for them themselves, than trying to buy them for ourselves, anytime, because we always had to pay so much more money for them. There never was anything signed or definite about it, as I understand.
A short time ago it was submitted to the Attorney General by the Chief Engineer, and he said, as I understand it, that we were obligated to buy the rights-of-way. I do not know whether that means we are obligated in the future, or we have been obligated since 1928. I assume if we are obligated now we were obligated in 1928, did not do it. Therefore the only attitude we could take was that if we were obligated, we should do what we could to reimburse or to pay, but there seems to have grown into it a legal distinction between reimburse and purchase, and we asked the Judge Advocate General of the Army that specific question, if the levee board bought these rights-of-way, and if we would purchase them from the levee board, and not to call it reimbursement at all; just as if the levee board was the original owner.
Of course he knew that we had already built the levee on the land, and he said we could not do it.
Senator OVERTON. Now, then; getting back to that original question. It was your understanding, being connected with the office of the Chief of Army Engineers and with the Mississippi River Commission, that this local levee board would, notwithstanding this resolution, ask for a reimbursement or for payment of these rightsof-way.
Colonel GRAVES. Personally, I was always confident that they would, and I never read the resolutions.
Senator BAILEY. On that point, you were confident they would ask for it?
Colonel GRAVES. I did not know whether they would get it or not.
Senator BAILEY. Then there was no agreement that they should have it? There was no agreement or understanding that they should be paid?
Colonel GRAVES. No; not so far as I know. No agreement.
Senator OVERTON. Were you present during any of the negotiations?
Colonel Graves. No, sir; I only know by correspondence. By the correspondence I could tell that in many cases there was a great deal of delay about it, and I knew there were ors and “ifs and "ands i about it, but nobody in our Department ever had any authority to make any definite agreement like that.
Senator OVERTON. In that connection, let me call attention to the letter written
Colonel GRAVES (interposing). There is only one right-of-way that I know of where there was a specific agreement, that I know of, and that was on the south bank of the Arkansas, and I know there was a specific agreement on that.
Senator OVERTON. I call attention to a letter written under date of March 4, 1929, to Mr. J. W. Summerlin, president of the Tensas Basin Levee Board, Rayville, La., by Major Lee, district engineer, wherein he states that the levee board would be reimbursed if it undertook to file those rights-of-way. Is that correct!
Colonel GRAVES. I can tell you, I think, about that, although it is a long time ago; and if I make a mistake, you will have to pardon me.
That, if I remember rightly, was before we actually started buying rights-of-way. The first idea after the law was passed was to try to get the levee districts to buy the rights-of-way for us, intending then to reimburse them. I think that levee board in Arkansas did do something in that line. Then, later on, we went out and condemned certain rights-of-way, and we bought some, and we gave up in the Atchafalaya Basin trying to get the board to do it. Of course, Major Lee probably had authority to do that, either verbally or in writing. The date of that was soon after the flood-control law, wasn't it?
Senator OVERTON. That was on March 4, 1929.
Colonel GRAVES. At one time we did have a scheme to try to do that, but we never got very far with it, and that is the only thing left of it, as far as I know. I know about that.
Senator OVERTON. In connection with your testimony, I will file in evidence the letter written by Maj. John C. H. Lee to Mr. J. W. Summerlin. (The letter in question is as follows:)
l'icksburg, Miss., March 4, 1929. Mr. J. W. SUMMERLIN,
President Tensas Basin Levee Board, Rayville, La. DEAR SIR: I am authorized by the president of the Mississippi River Commission to inform you that wherever the levee board will guarantee right of way on the south bank of Arkansas River for levee-construction purposes, assurance is hereby given that the United States will reimburse the board for such easement provided that such price, duly stated, is reasonable and not in