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Because People Don’t Know — Why Now?
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Because People Don’t Know

Two years ago Katrina had already made landfall in South Florida and was on its way to the Gulf where it would become a monster.

In the aftermath I have noticed a lot of people who are complaining about actions of the state and local governments without understanding anything about disaster funding. There is one point I’d like to address because it is often used to disparage governments and is totally unfair.

At another blog the claim was made that New Orleans shouldn’t have used money to rebuild the Superdome, the Convention Center, and the streetcar line, but should have used that money for levees. Well, the biggest problem is that the money was allocated to those particular projects when it was given to the city and the only choices the city had were to take it and rebuild, or to refuse the money. Now there is an additional problem if they had refused the money, as I would assume there were bond holders for those facilities who could have demanded payment on their bonds if they weren’t rebuilt. Public bonds are a lot like mortgages, and, as with a mortgage, the people who financed the projects are the first to get paid.

The levees belong to the Federal government. The state and local governments have very little to say about them, and certainly no right to start working on them. The city and state officials would have loved to have seen the levees rebuilt before anything else happened as that would protect their investments in infrastructure and encourage people to rebuild on their property. Two years on there is very little progress on the levees.

To build you need funding. To get funding you need insurance. To get insurance you need levees. When you hear people claim that the local governments aren’t rebuilding on their own, they don’t understand the process.


1 Badtux { 08.27.07 at 10:49 am }

Indeed. It’s all about the levees. Everything else can be worked around, but the levee problem is a killer. I’m not going to sink my life’s savings into a new business in New Orleans if it’s just going to be washed away by the next storm, and you can’t get insurance without the levees. Until there is a commitment to Category 5 “Thousand Year Storm” protection for New Orleans, there can be no real rebuilding, just the travesty of such that you are seeing, where government grants get used to rebuild certain high-visibility governmentally-owned structures but otherwise…

-Badtux the Louisiana Penguin

2 Bryan { 08.27.07 at 12:47 pm }

Hell, they held up everybody’s life on the Gulf Coast wasting months to produce a new flood zone map that is required to get flood insurance when NASA had charted the flood plain by satellite when the storm hit. You can’t do anything until you know how high above grade you have to build to get insurance.

Now is the time to stop with the floodwall crap and build real levees that won’t have catastrophic failures, after dumping all of the canals.

3 Badtux { 08.27.07 at 2:30 pm }

There’s actually nothing wrong with the canals as storm drains, but the canals should be emptied by pumps, rather than be open to the lake. That in fact is one of the few things that has been fixed, there are now gates and pumps at the heads of the canals, along with diesel generators elevated above the level of the Katrina surge to power them. Not that this helps anything east of the Ship Canal, which got flooded because MRGO funneled the storm surge to overtop the levees there rather than because of canals. Or for that matter anything to the downstream of New Orleans on the Mississippi River, where there have been no attempts to fix the levees because of controversies over environmental issues and discussion over whether those areas should just be abandoned altogether as unprotectable.

4 Bryan { 08.27.07 at 4:09 pm }

I’m just thinking of the benefits of strengthening the entire system by eliminating all of the breaks in the levees for whatever reason. Circle the city with a real, unbroken, higher levee.

Downstream the levees are destroying the ability of the delta to rebuild by keeping the channel too deep and fast and sending everything out to the Gulf to feed the Dead Zone. If they don’t let the fresh water spread out, they’ll never wash the salt out of the soil, allow the silt to rebuild, and nothing will grow.

We are still losing trees from the salt spray carried on the wind by Ivan, and we have had a lot of rain that should have flushed the soil.

5 Badtux { 08.27.07 at 7:58 pm }

The question of rebuilding the levees or abandoning the areas south of New Orleans in the end boils down to money. If the area is abandoned, then basically the people there have had their property taken away via government action and ought to get compensated. Not that this actually happens in real life. The Cajuns of the lower Atchafalaya Basin are still waiting for their money from when the Feds flooded their homes to build the Morganza/Atchafalaya Spillway.

Regarding rebuilding the land, some limited rebuilding can be done by turning the river loose again south of New Orleans, but there is a major problem upstream in that 50% of the silt that once came down the Mississippi is now stopped by upstream dams. Ideally that silt would get loaded up in barges when the shipping channels behind the dams are dredged and get dumped on the coast, but that’s not happening because it would be (doh) expensive. I do think that’d be the ideal thing to do, but there’s a lot of entrenched opposition to it, both from the former homeowners south of New Orleans (who are now living in tents or trailers on the sites of their former homes) and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who is concerned that this would require them to continually dredge a shipping channel in order to get ships up to New Orleans and that’d be expensive. Just more penny-pinching at the expense of Louisianians, sigh…

6 Bryan { 08.27.07 at 9:24 pm }

The Mississippi isn’t just a Louisiana problem and the people upstream need to start paying their share. The port serves the entire center of the country, not just the last state in line and it’s time politicians awoke to that fact. Re-building coastal Louisiana benefits people from the Gulf North and some of those other people had better start coming up with some support for a sustainable fix to the problems.

If we don’t re-build the wetlands and barrier islands the next storm will be even worse. You can’t let that silt build up behind those dams forever, so moving downstream is the logical step to take. If climate change means getting massive amounts of rain in the Midwest, the less silt the better. With a little thought they could probably siphon it below the dams and let the river carry it down stream, rather than the expense of barges.

You have to be rich and white to get government compensation. The Federal flood control system failed, the Feds should be picking up the tab for re-building.