Monday, December 19, 2005

Hurricane-force WMD

I watched the President on TV last night. He talked about why it was necessary to send 140,000 troops overseas to fight. He talked about how the death of more than 3,000 people on 9-11 warranted his pro-active deployment of the US military. He talked about the importance of building stable nations that will be our allies in the middle east.

All this to justify spending (at last count) $251 billion overseas.

What he did not talk about was his plan to rebuild South Louisiana--if he has one.

Prior to the arrival of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we knew the Louisiana coast was washing away. We tried for years to get someone in Washington to notice. We even joked that the best way to get federal assistance would be to rename our state "Louis-istan" and our cities "New Baghdad" and "Baton Ramadi."

Being perfectly brutal, if the loss of 3,000 lives is worth spending $251 billion overseas, how much is it worth to mitigate and protect Americans living and working in Coastal Louisiana after more than 1,000 were killed by just one hurricane?

Yet there is disagreement on Capitol Hill. Some think the currently proposed $3.1 billion is too much. That's how much was proposed by President Bush last week to patch up our hurricane protection system. Not to upgrade it, mind you, just fix it so that it might provide the same level of protection as previously authorized in 1965.

But even with the president's backing, there is no assurance the bill will pass. Perhaps it's because President Bush's support is lukewarm at best, or, perhaps it's because Americans don't care.

The undercurrent is that Louisiana politics is crooked and we made this bed ourselves. The truth is that hurricane protection is a federal responsibility, with funding, design and construction all controlled by the federal government and the Corps of Engineers. Sure, we have more than our share of rotten apples. Former Governor Edwin Edwards is just one of several past public officials sitting in jail today for fleecing the good people of the Pelican State.

But where's the connection between "Fast Eddie" and the Corps? Where are the payoffs and kickbacks that resulted in low levees and walls that could not hold back a Category 4 storm surge? You might as well point to the failure of the Saints as the reason New Orleans flooded--there's probably just as much correlation.

No, the failure was at the federal level. Congress, the President and the Corps of Engineers signed off on hurricane protection that provides just 100-year protection. That is, there is a 1 percent chance that the levees will be overwhelmed in any given year. Let's face it, those are not good odds.

Now that we've seen what a terrible tragedy our gamble has caused, it's time to fix it, and fix it right. The Corps has estimated that significant hurricane protection can be built for about $32 billion. That's ten times what the President has offered, but still a fraction of what he is eagerly sending overseas.

And it's a drop in the bucket to the damage and destruction caused by just one weapon of mass destruction, commonly known as Hurricane Katrina.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to see that someone is calling it as it was. I was appalled that Bush spent all the time he did justifying Iraq without even one single word for plans for the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Dave Winer's podcast describing the city was heart-rending -- I've always thought of New Orleans as a raucous, bustling place, but his photos and descriptions were just -- well, sad.

It is a sad reality that New Orleans is not high on the Bush priority list. I don't know why, to be honest.

I wrote at some point that rebuilding New Orleans was a perfect opportunity to bring the best and brightest together to develop a strategy for incorporating all of our collective knowledge about city development, revival, hurricane protection and urban living in one package. There is no reason that New Orleans could not serve as a model for urban and disaster renewal in the 21st century.

But someone has to lead it.

Tim said...

Thanks for the compliments. I agree, we have lots of politicians, but few leaders.