Wednesday, May 03, 2006

It's the Levees, Stupid

I have been meaning to post about a few important announcements for about a month now, but stuff kept happening. Anyway, now that classes are over and all that's left is the grading, I figure I'll put off actual work that I'm paid for and do this instead. Clearly I have fully embraced the Big Easy's general rejection of that Prostestant work ethic thing.

So, first, in a story that got under-reported in the national news, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that the 17th Street Canal levee breach was due to design problems.

Shortly after that, they also announced that rebuilding the levees properly would cost billions of dollars more than they originally estimated.

And then, finally, some seven months after the flood, FEMA announced the rebuilding rules for New Orleans, saying the flood maps wouldn't be significantly changed assuming the levees are built according to the new, improved plan.

In other words, my house (oh yeah, and everyone else's, too) got flooded because the federal government built craptastic levees, but I don't have to raise my house assuming the federal government approves the money so it can build levees it assures me won't be craptastic.

Oh, I'm just brimming over with happiness, gratitude, and confidence!

But do you see where New Orleans stands? It's ALL about the levees, and the levees aren't in our control. How the levees are rebuilt determines whether or not rebuilding is possible, and that's all up to the federal government. We just went through this big mayoral election during which one of the big questions was who and where gets to rebuild, but nobody was pointing out that the mayor no longer has any say in such decisions. The feds have made the decision, and they have decided to write off huge swaths of the city.

I'll try to give you the short version of why. The new FEMA rules also announced that houses in certain hard-hit areas should be raised, because apparently they're assuming there will be flooding even with the levees. Raising a house will cost (depending on its size) at minimum $50-60 thousand. FEMA has promised grants of $30,000 to raise houses, though I don't know anyone who has gotten one yet, but that still leaves a sizable chunk of cash that insurance DOES NOT cover. And I'm sure the poor black residents of the Lower Ninth Ward have that money hidden under their mattress. Oh, wait. Even if they did, it got washed out to sea.

Put another way, if I had to raise my house (still a possibility, for arcane reasons I'm not going into here), I simply couldn't do it. I guess I would have to hand over the insurance money to the mortgage company and still owe a bunch more money on a house I couldn't live in or rebuild. That's what these rules do for people.

In a different kind of example, the Corps isn't getting all the money they requested. Bush didn't request it all from Congress; he and his people decided not to pursue the money necessary to rebuild the levees in lower Plaquemines. Now, granted, lower Plaquemines is mostly rural, a lot of shrimpers and the like - think Forrest Gump and Lt. Dan - and represents a tiny portion of New Orleans' population. At the same time, the $2.2 billion the Senate just approved (and Bush is threatening to veto) doesn't include levees for Plaquemines. Meanwhile, that bill includes another $90 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. No levees, no Plaquemines.

So despite all the promises that New Orleans would be rebuilt "bigger and better," it's clear that the feds actually are erasing large parts of a great American city from the map.


Sophmom said...

Goodness gracious sakes alive! Bush must have been lying. Imagine that.

Seriously, Dale, I can't understand why there hasn't been more national outrage regarding the nature of the 17th St. Canal levee failure, unless it's just too difficult for most people to understand. If I am correct, and I am not at all sure that I am, the levee was not only flawed by design but the Corps knew it over a decade ago, and openly acknowledged the bad design and their awareness thereof. That's simply astonishing.

So, you guys are getting a little break. I hope you enjoy yours. My guy is not going to school this odd semester but will be back in the fall. I know he's registered but don't think for any of your classes. In the meantime, he's living and working in the city, so if you find yourself dining at Pascal's Menale and you see a skinny little bushy headed busboy, ask him if he's sophmom's boy. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey, just so you know . . .

I live just outside Wash. DC, a fairly news-centric place. I keep up with the news, my wife works neck-deep in newsworthy stuff for DHS. And, for all that, Dale, your post is the FIRST I EVER HEARD of this issues with the 17th street levee. I don't think it was widely reported.

nathalie said...

don't judge me because i'm not commenting on your blog, but i am commenting on synchronicity and how benjamin yesterday was like, here's dale's number and then i see you at juan's today.

just a recap in case you didn't catch it... party at my house on 5/20.

and little did you know; i have your blog bookmarked. oh and i think you'd get about 2,000 more comments if you weren't an english professor. i've written about 1% of that amount and have erased every single one up until today (juan's margaritas helped me not care about proper grammar and red marks).

Dale said...

I'm so thrilled that "Flood and Loathing" scooped the national media on the 17th St. levee failure. That's just ... fabulous.

I turned my grades in and everything! It's officially summer! Can I get a woo-hoo? Anyway, I'll have to stop by Pascal's Manale - I haven't been there since before The Thing.

Hi Nathalie! No judgements, about comments or grammar. And hurray for Juan's margaritas for overcoming any intimidation factor. Yet another in the infinite reasons celebrate the beauty of Juan's margaritas. Maybe I should bring a round to class and then the students might actually say something.

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