AP: New Orleans repeating deadly levee blunders
NEW ORLEANS — Signs are emerging that history is repeating itself in the Big Easy, still healing from Katrina: People have forgotten a lesson from four decades ago and believe once again that the federal government is constructing a levee system they can prosper behind.
In a yearlong review of levee work here, The Associated Press has tracked a pattern of public misperception, political jockeying and legal fighting, along with economic and engineering miscalculations since Katrina, that threaten to make New Orleans the scene of another devastating flood.
Dozens of interviews with engineers, historians, policymakers and flood zone residents confirmed many have not learned from public policy mistakes made after Hurricane Betsy in 1965, which set the stage for Katrina; many mistakes are being repeated.
Here is the kicker folks:
Geneva Stanford, a 76-year-old health care worker, is a believer, too. She lives in a trim and tidy prefabricated house in the Lower 9th Ward, 200 feet from a rebuilt floodwall that Katrina broke.
"This wall here wasn't there when we had the flood," Stanford said, radiant in a bright kanga-style dress. "When I look at it now, I say maybe if we had had it up it there then, maybe we wouldn't have flooded."
They're not alone. A recent University of New Orleans survey of residents found concern about levee safety was dropping off the list of top worries, replaced by crime, incompetent leadership and corruption.
This sense of security, though, may be dangerously naive.
For the foreseeable future, New Orleans will be protected by levees unable to protect against another storm like Katrina.
When and if the Army Corps of Engineers finishes $14.8 billion in post-Katrina work, the city will have limited protection — what are defined as 100-year levees.
This does not mean they'd stand up to storms for a century. Under the 100-year standard, in fact, experts say that every house being rebuilt in New Orleans has a 26 percent chance of being flooded again over a 30-year mortgage; and every child born in New Orleans would have nearly a 60 percent chance of seeing a major flood in his or her life.
"It's not exactly great protection," said John Barry, the author of "Rising Tide," a book New Orleans college students read to learn about the corps' efforts to tame the Mississippi.
Please recall that last year on this very blog I made the case that certain politically partisan Negroes believed that the 96 hours of the "botched" Katrina Rescue (in their view) did more to seal the fate of the residents than the events which occurred during the 236,000 hours that I had transpired between Hurricane Betsy and Hurricane Katrina.
All of this is a derivative from the bias toward leaders with skills of "Speaking Truth To Power" rather than the presence of "MANAGEMENT and LOGISTICAL SKILLS" among the political and community leadership!
In the past I posted stories about lawsuits that lead to more reliable earthen-levees being replaced in a design by steel and cement walls due to the increased horizontal land coverage of the earthen-levee. The community actor-vists twisted the intentions of the Corps Of Engineers as seeking to "move Black people out of the area by taking their land for the earthen-levees". You are not going to hear these details in a Spike Lee version of events.
The levees and housing situations in New Orleans is akin to a polluted river - if you want to understand WHY the river is polluted go back up stream and back in time and ANALYZE as each party has thrown contaminants into the stream which aggregated into a polluted river. One big mess!!
Clearly New Orleans needs new leadership with new skills. They need to focus on the OBJECTIVE - providing a safe environment for the residents (safe from flooding that is. The other issues that threaten their safety are beyond what the Corps of Engineers can do).
That one question that keeps lurking in my mind is - Are some communities in New Orleans ultimately unfit for human habitation because of the flood risks? I have watched over the years that I have lived in Georgia some knock down, drag out battles over zoning laws. Various counties in Georgia have a strict ban on CONSTRUCTION IN FLOOD PLAINS. Yes they use the same designations of "100 year floods, 20 year floods, etc" as you see in the story. This is a POLICY DECISION among the county leaders that the RISKS outweigh the BENEFITS toward constructing on these parcels of land.
Unfortunately for New Orleans class and racial conflict seem to under-gird everything, to the detriment of the ultimate SAFETY of the people in question. It comes as no surprise that the land with the highest elevations in the city is worth more and is further away from the levee walls. Also these areas are more likely to have White residents in that the Whites are more affluent than the Blacks in many cases. Thus we get to the politics.
If someone who was an objective observer made the case that the LOWER 9TH WARD IS TOO DANGEROUS TO BE REBUILT - all hell would break out. I set foot in the Lower 9th Ward in person. I had my GPS in hand. The place is between 15 and 32 feet below SEA LEVEL. Anyone who knows fluid dynamics and gravity along with the sight of the Industrial Canal wall which is just a few blocks away should realize that these are not favorable conditions for insuring the safety of a people.
If one presses this point the charge of "RACISM!!!" will be alleged.
It is far past time that the LEADERS who will ultimately be HELD ACCOUNTABLE for the death and destruction of these communities MAKE THE TOUGH CALL. The cry of RACISM is used because it has the INTENDED EFFECT upon the recipient. The leaders should know that these same RACISM-CHASERS, after the flood are going to be CALLING THEM OUT AGAIN for failing to protect them from the flood waters. Clearly they are in a lose/lose situation. CLEARLY they need to get some backbone beforehand and do what is necessary to protect the people despite the catcalls.
I was actually surprised to see fits and starts of construction in the Lower 9th Ward during October 2007. There was not one ounce of fill dirt brought in that might raise the entire area up. I spent the last 5 years watching as the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport build their 5th runway. The land was low so they built a 5 mile conveyor belt to bring dirt in and raise the land no less than 30 feet about the roadway surface that I ride on.
Lost in all of this is the NATURAL ECOSYSTEM of the Mississippi river. For thousands of years the river flooded and thus distributed silt throughout these flood zones. This is how the land was built up in the first place. Since this time MAN has restricted the river into a path which he wants it to take AND has robbed the land of sediment which would otherwise build up these low lying areas through this natural process. Man's settlement and engineering of this place proves to be a double whammy with regards to increasing the threat of the most powerful waterway in North America. The confined Mississippi is now a faster flowing river and the lands that are most threatened are low lying. The only thing that stands between order and flooding are a network of levees which The Mighty Mississippi has claimed long term victory over for years.
Its it time that the conscious people who can balance MAN versus NATURE come in and settle this situation? For years I have heard those who are more spiritually inclined say "Mother Earth is trying to tell us something when she destroys our fortresses that man has constructed to control her". We need some more spiritually conscious people to take these decisions away from the US Corps of Engineers and the community activists who are quick to throw the race card out.
The people of New Orleans can't afford any less.