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Friday, December 16, 2005

The levee boondoggle

Where does one begin with the levee problems? Every day, more information comes out, and the news is all bad. Which of these is the chicken, and which are eggs?

The Bush administration slashed funding that directly impacted the Corps of Engineers. Thus, improvements long scheduled for the levee systems were not implemented. (Schroeder comprehensively covered this aspect at his blog this morning.)

From 2001 through 2005, the Bush administration battled with Congress to cut a total of approximately 67% from the budgetary requests from the Army Corps of Engineers for levee augmentation projects in the New Orleans area, but ultimately settled with Congress on a mere 50% cut in these budgetary requests.

The Orleans Parish Levee Board apparently wasn’t even aware of the “every 90 days” inspection requirement until the Senate committee asked about it. (How is that possible?) Along with that, tell me: would you live in a house that, for forty years, had not been maintained?

Recent stories in the New Orleans Times Picayune have shown that even before the storm, residents near the floodwalls warned of gurgling sand boils and flooded backyards. But the warnings were lost in the morass of bureaucracies responsible for maintaining the system. The paper also reported that official inspections of the vast system of levees occurred only once a year and lasted a mere five hours. That allowed officials to enjoy themselves afterward at elaborate $900 luncheons

The wetlands – Mother Nature’s hurricane-protection assistance along the Mississippi River delta - have been steadily eroded for many years, partially due to short-sightedness in levee-system construction, but also caused in part by removing natural resources from beneath the surface (i.e. oil and gas).

Just out of curiosity – does anybody know who (primarily) owns the land the oil companies are drilling? New Orleans, and all of SE Louisiana for that matter, have been poorly served all the way around, and they’ve paid one heck of a price for the privilege of supplying the government with those natural resources. Yes indeed, Louisiana should demand a much larger royalty from its oil and gas resources – and there’s no doubt (in my mind) where that money should be applied.

At the bottom of all of this mess is an astounding nightmare of competing interests, and there is enough blame to go around for the next hundred years. Like everything else that has “floated to the surface” post-Katrina, the causes of the levee failures are inextricably intertwined.

Indeed, the most glaring conclusion being drawn from the post-disaster forensic investigations is that the massive flooding may owe as much to human and organizational incompetence as it does to nature. Hurricane protection in the region fell victim to what proved to be a deeply flawed amalgam of local levee boards, sewer and water utilities and a host of state and federal agencies, including the Corps of Engineers.

Will $3.1 billion fix these problems? No, because money alone won’t do it. It is a small start; a drop in the bucket…


  • At 3:11 PM, Blogger Schroeder said;

    Mineral resource on public land are owned by the government. Companies bid for leases on offshore drilling sites. Land depends on whether you're talking private or public, but I've heard there's really not much of that happening in Louisiana marshes anymore, but the channels continue to be dug, dredged, and widened, with Corps approval -- although often only after an applicant with political connections gets a favorite representative, senator, or some other big honcho to pressure the Corps into approving contracts. Once again, were it left up to the scientists, I think the Corps would make different decisions -- but not always, because the the Corps' dual mission of maintaining navigable waterways and protecting wetlands are often in direct conflict.

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