Friday, August 03, 2007

Big story in Time Magazine 

Time has a wide-ranging story discussing levees, coastal wetlands, USACE and the political games at all levels that have hindered the state's ability to acquire a sufficient flood protection system. I like the article, mostly, with some reservations that I don't have time to explain now. It begins with the strongest and most direct statement about the Federal Flood that I've seen in a national publication. If anything, the article nearly overstates the extent to which the catastrophe in New Orleans was a "man made" disaster, and I never ever thought I'd see that. Thanks to Michael Grunwald for writing this story.

The most important thing to remember about the drowning of New Orleans is that it wasn't a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster, created by lousy engineering, misplaced priorities and pork-barrel politics. Katrina was not the Category 5 killer the Big Easy had always feared; it was a Category 3 storm that missed New Orleans, where it was at worst a weak 2. The city's defenses should have withstood its surges, and if they had we never would have seen the squalor in the Superdome, the desperation on the rooftops, the shocking tableau of the Mardi Gras city underwater for weeks. We never would have heard the comment "Heckuva job, Brownie." The Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema) was the scapegoat, but the real culprit was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which bungled the levees that formed the city's man-made defenses and ravaged the wetlands that once formed its natural defenses. Americans were outraged by the government's response, but they still haven't come to grips with the government's responsibility for the catastrophe.
As the disaster's Aug. 29 anniversary approaches, there will be plenty of talk about the future of New Orleans—-how to rebuild; bring home the diaspora; and deal with crises like housing, crime and education. But in the long run, recovery plans won't matter much if investors, insurers and homesick evacuees can't trust the Corps to prevent the city from drowning again.

There will indeed be a lot of talk about the future of New Orleans as the Aug 29 anniversary approaches. In fact, the Rising Tide 2 conference will feature two important presentations about levees and about the Corps' role in protecting the city and South Louisiana. Why not register to attend today?

Update: please read Matt's take in the comments section to this post.
Update #2: Jeffrey writes an excellent critique about some of the things I had reservations about but was too lazy to properly explain.

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Grunwald's lead paragraph is not complicated. It's direct and to the point, yet all too often local politicians and media sit idly by when the flood is described as a natural disaster. For this reason, the nation has never engaged in the kind of discussion we're now having about the nation's bridges. No one's sitting around blaming gravity for the brdige collapse; no one's sitting around blaming commuters for continuing to drive over a bridge that had two years before been labeled deficient.

For progress on south Louisiana's plight, local leaders and press must move the discussion away from the "those crazy people shouldn't live below sea level." They should do so by hammering home that bad federal engineering and maintenance led to the disaster just as it appears to have led to the problem in the Twin Cities. Anyone who suffered harm from those failures should be compensated, and the government should focus on preventing such incidents from occurring in the future.

What's not helpful is a Mayor who goes on 60 Minutes, knocks on the new concrete Industrial canal wall and says "Man, nothing's gonna get through this." That is not the way to call attention to the need for better protection.

By Anonymous bigshot, at 12:21 PM  

Wow this is really really well written. Very aggressive language.

By Blogger jeffrey, at 1:41 PM  

I think I see where your quibbles might lie however.

By Blogger jeffrey, at 1:53 PM  

Be careful of this article. While Grunwald writes a lot, he doesn't actually say much.

In preparing this article, he came knocking on my door. He wanted background info on the floodgate pumps. I told him everything I had was on the blog, and when he started asking some really stupid questions, it became clear he hadn't actually read anything very deeply. In fact, he didn't even read the Corps' internal investigation into the pumps, which is one of the most important pieces of writing since Katrina.

Just realize that while there's a lot of words, there's not a lot of "there" there. How one can tell the story of how the Corps has screwed up without telling the story of the pumps (and going on the unexplained tangent of slamming Morganza to the Gulf) makes no sense to me.

Another bit of evidence that he took the easy way out on his research is the reductivist way he deals with local opposition to flodgates back in the 1970's and 1980's, dismissing legitimate cost concerns (the local share of the floodgates would have bankrupted the Orleans Levee District and the Sewerage & Water Board), simply waving his hands by characterizing the locals with

"Stingy local officials actually helped scuttle a Corps plan to build pumps and floodgates along Lake Pontchartrain, a plan that could have prevented much of Katrina's flooding."

It's way more complicated than that. Hes parrotting the Corps line, and I can practially guarantee he got that "information" from Bedey.

I also happen to know that he took things verrrry easy in his interview with Bedey.

By Anonymous Matt, at 9:14 PM  

Why am I not surprised? It's so "noble" to "still" be paying attention to the genocide, but apparently it is not required to actually be DOING anything about it.

The mouthwork is nice, but unless it targets the motherfuckers who cut the Corps' budget and the trollops in the Corps who didn't give a fuck (not that the Orleans Levee Board has ever been a genius-filled think-tank) --- what's it going to DO?

By Blogger Anntichrist S. Coulter, at 12:21 AM