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Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Without those levees...

I've been thinking about Tim's call to bloggers, asking for everyone to speak up about the need for much stronger levees for New Orleans. And while we've all been talking about the levee problems for months, he's right - because EVERYTHING depends on strengthened levees for a safer city.

I spent two hours this morning, looking at properties for sale in NOLA – partly from curiosity (what are prices looking like these days?), and partly because I had some hare-brained idea about investing, and seeing if I could find an evacuee family who’d like to fix up something while they lived in it for a low price.

It turns out I’m not enough of a risk-taker to pull that off. It isn’t that there are no damaged properties to buy. In fact, that’s the majority of what’s on the market.

No – the problem is that without major levee protection, I don’t feel like I can safely invest in the city... and I’m already about priced out of the market for areas that fit the former, historical city footprint. As much as I love New Orleans, I can’t help with this.

How sad is that?

Without a commitment from the federal government to bring the levees up to Cat 5 protection, the future looks really dim to me – at least in terms of affordable housing. I don’t see the “Disneyfied” version of New Orleans coming that so many are worried about. Instead, I see the possibility of a well-to-do city that will, in the end, lose most of its tourism and diversity - and pretty much everything that requires lower wage workers to function.

Maybe the federal government sees this coming, but is just okay with it? It would explain Bush's silence around the Baker Bill:

In particular, he has kept silent about the legislation proposed by Rep. Richard H. Baker (R-La.) that would create an agency mandated to buy the remains of flooded homes, allowing their owners to pay back mortgages and relocate to drier parts of the city.

Of course the White House isn't going to support the Baker Bill if they know it will mean buying out 300,000 people... and that's what they'd have to do, cuz there just isn't that much room - affordable or not - on that rarified higher ground.

IF the government were to fund the levee upgrades and wetlands restoration, the city would still be much different; the damage was just too great. But it might at least have some hope of keeping its historical uniqueness.

It has no chance, though, without those levees.


  • At 10:59 AM, Blogger Bingo Man said;

    Keep the talk about the need for levees going. Without that issue coming through the many we deal with in New Orleans we are doomed to flood again. The levee issue needs to rise to the top and breach the political log jam. Thanks for saying something and ask everyone you know who has a blog to say something, Big Brother listens in the blogs.

    JK Schwehm

  • At 11:22 AM, Blogger D. Sorrell said;

    I've gathered they really don't know how to make a Cat. 5, especially not before hurricance season '06. The Corps of Engineers still promises they will get it back to an "improved" Cat. 3 with temporary flood gates and a piping system.

    Another reason: the BNOB comission wanting to amend the Baker Bill to cover 100 percent of equity lost in the damaged property, instead of the current 60 percent. If they get that through in an election year along with more levee money, I'd be absolutely apalled.

  • At 11:38 AM, Blogger Polimom said;

    d. sorrel - No, I don't think they can even get the levees to the level of protection they were (such as it was) by June. This will be a very scary hurricane season.

    But aside from June - so far, the commitment is only to what they were already supposed to be (Cat 3)... and upgrades will take years more.

    There are a number of people who visit Polimom regularly who can define the levee potentials better than I can (there's a great reason I'm not an engineer!lol...) There seems to be conflicting information about whether "they know how" to reach Cat 5.

    Just at the moment, though, with June looming, and water still seeping from the breaches, AND no commitment to upgrading the levee system - I don't see how people are going to come off of the "wait and see"... and that just can't continue indefinitely.

  • At 12:00 PM, Blogger Tim said;

    There is no way to build "Cat 5" protection quickly. The problems to overcome include: 1. The scale of the project (hundreds of miles of levees, walls and floodgates), 2. The poor foundation soils of Louisiana, 3. The remoteness of the areas of construction, 4. The availability of material to build miles of high levees, 5. The coordination required with environmental interests, and the big one, 6. Funding.
    Can it be done? Absolutely. But it will be a long-term task akin to putting a man on the moon. Congress has a way of funding something for 3 or 4 years and then forgetting about it. We'll have a new president in 3 years, too. So without a national committment, we're sunk (pun intended!)

  • At 12:05 PM, Blogger Polimom said;

    Thanks, Tim, for the explanation... (was kinda hoping you'd jump in.)

  • At 12:25 PM, Blogger Mark said;

    Bingo, Polimom. With the levee commitment, everything else starts to fall into place. Some neighborhoods won't be rebuilt because no one will finance or insure, or simply because the residents won't come bac. For everyone else, they can certainly begin to make their way once levees are going up on a plan: secure Cat 3 by '06, say Cat 4 two years later, Cat 5 in five years. I still think there is a need to compensate people who lost more than flood insurance pays for, or who had no flood insurance because they were above elevation. But let's do levees first. Then Congress figures out that the Louisiana lawyers are going to take out the entire property insurance system in the civilized world, they'll figure out later about the need for the compensation fund.

  • At 12:45 PM, Blogger Polimom said;

    Here's a story running on WWLTV.com about the levees, that relates directly this discussion.

  • At 11:13 AM, Blogger doctorj2u said;

    Thank you so much for keeping this dicussion going. Just the COMMITMENT would mean the world to people. The love of the city by its residents would do the rest. By the way, didn't you love the demonstration by the Sacre Heart schoolgirls. You go girls!

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