Levees were ignored for decades
WHO OR what gets the blame for the levee breaches that wrecked so much of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck? We have heard people point fingers at all of the following: President Bush, global warming, the Iraq war and racism. We are still trying to figure that last one out. The real culprit, however, has been right before our eyes for a long time.
The Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of flood control in New Orleans, but state and local officials play important roles in planning and funding too. Engineers as well as local, state and federal officials have known for decades that the New Orleans levees were designed to survive only a Category 3 hurricane. Katrina was a Category 5, which dropped to a 4 shortly before impact. Why didn't officials use their resources to build stronger, higher levees since the last Category 5 hurricane hit New Orleans in 1969?
With the federal government in charge, local and state officials were able to shift the burden to Washington and divert their attention to more frivolous pursuits. Instead of pumping the necessary resources into walls and levees that would withstand the worst storms, they built convention centers and sports arenas.
The Louisiana Superdome Cost $163 million to build in 1975. The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, a state entity, was built in 1985. It was expanded in 1999, and the state just completed negotiations for a new 500,000 square foot expansion. The state signed a contract for the new expansion on Aug. 17, just 12 days before Katrina hit. The price: $315 million. Construction would have begun years ago, for a cost of $275 million, but for some delays. There was a legal dispute over the contract in 2003, then in 2004 Gov. Kathleen Blanco tried to combine the expansion with a new stadium to replace the Superdome.
There have been charges that recent decisions not to fully fund the requests of the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans were somehow to blame for the flooding last week. But the lower than requested funding for the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans was slated for the 2006 budget; it would have made no difference last Monday.
However, Washington has neglected its duties in this area for years. Instead of spending the hundreds of millions, even billions, to replace levees that all experts knew were inadequate, federal politicians chose for decades to fund pork projects. Instead of new levees for New Orleans, the American people were given sports stadiums, bicycle trails and roads in powerful politicians' districts. Experts have known of the city's vulnerability since at least the 1960s, and yet no one at the local, state or federal level made sure that the levees could withstand a hurricane even less powerful than Camille in 1969.
Several decades' worth of politicians of both parties played with taxpayer money while neglecting their duty to protect the citizens. As a result of their irresponsibility, hundreds, perhaps thousands, have died.