Resisting the Obvious in New Orleans

Some plain truths about the post-Katrina city

The Democratic presidential candidates are fluent in the language of politics and policy, which means they can expound at length on what the government can do for you. It also means they have great difficulty saying the word "no."

When they assembled in New Orleans this week to note the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, they were in an affirmative mood. Yes, they told locals, your problems are the fault of President Bush's disgraceful inaction, and yes, we should spend whatever it takes to restore the city to what it used to be.

But there are worse policies than inaction. Before the nation undertakes the extravagant project of rebuilding New Orleans and securing it from the elements, we might ask if there isn't a better option, not only for the nation but for the flood victims.

The Democratic debate over the future of New Orleans somehow passed over the instructive example of Valmeyer, Ill. In 1993, the town of 900 was swamped, not for the first time, by a rain-swollen Mississippi River. It hasn't been swamped since, because it's not there anymore. Rather than remain in a vulnerable spot, the residents voted to relocate their village to a bluff 400 feet above the river.

But no one wants to suggest similar discretion in Louisiana.

New Orleans, like Valmeyer, had long been a natural disaster waiting to happen. Most of the city lies below sea level, surrounded by water on three sides, and it's sinking. On top of that, it's steadily grown more exposed to hurricanes, thanks to the loss of coastal wetlands that once served as a buffer. It's a bathtub waiting to be filled.

As one scientist said after Katrina, "A city should never have been built there in the first place." Now that we have a chance to correct the mistake, why repeat it?

Theoretically, it's possible to keep New Orleans dry. All you have to do is surround it with levees designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. That's what Hillary Clinton urges.

As she said in New Orleans, "Other countries have figured out how to protect their low-lying cities. Japan has done it. Europe has done it." Shirking that obligation, she insisted, reflects a "fatalistic attitude" that suggests "we can't do the things that great countries should do."

You may not have thought of the Netherlands as a great country until now. But what makes sense on the Zuider Zee doesn't necessarily make sense here. One-fourth of the Netherlands is downhill from the ocean, which means that if the Dutch fail to protect it, they don't have a lot of other places to go.

In the United States, by contrast, there are vast open spaces for settlement, most of them beyond the reach of hurricanes.

The cost of the levee system envisioned by Sen. Clinton is tabbed at $40 billion. Restoring other infrastructure would increase the cost. The question is whether that's the best use of our resources. For $40 billion, you could give more than $61,000 to every Louisianan displaced by Katrina -- nearly a quarter of a million dollars for a family of four.

Here's the question that ought to be considered: Would those people prefer that the money be spent shoring up dikes around a natural lake? Or would they rather get the money themselves and decide whether to stay or migrate to less soggy terrain?

Many, if not most, would choose the cash. That option may be especially appealing since the new levee system can't be completed before 2015 -- which means that over the next eight years, anyone living in New Orleans has a good chance of being washed away again. A lot of locals have already voted with their feet, decamping to Baton Rouge, Houston, Atlanta and Memphis, with no intention of coming back.

Historian Douglas Brinkley, writing in The Washington Post, fears the Bush administration is trying to do to New Orleans what was done to Galveston, Texas, after a terrible 1900 hurricane. "Galveston, which had been a thriving port, was essentially abandoned for Houston, transforming that then-sleepy backwater into the financial center for the entire Gulf South," he says. "Galveston devolved into a smallish port-tourist center, one easy to evacuate when hurricanes rear their ugly heads."

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  • ||

    I'm with you Steve, but where is the hope. Is there any politician anywhere who isn't trying to piss away more money than the next guy when it comes to N.O.?

  • Marcvs||

    Steve Chapman pushes past the platitudes and asks the uncomfortable question: Why do we really want to happen to New Orleans?

    That question isn't just uncomfortable, it's damn near incomprehensible!

  • ||

    Even more perplexing: Why is an orange?

  • ||

    What with the government stupidity regarding the rich people's houses on the coasts, I suppose it's only fair that they also waste a lot of money on poor people living below sea level in another "disaster waiting to happen and suck money out of my pocket".

    But yes, the only smart thing to do would be to relocate the population from NO and turn the current NO into an adult "Walley World" that can be easily evacuated.

  • ||

    turn the current NO into an adult "Walley World"

    Booze Land and Stripper Land...

  • ||

    Maybe we can have more money for infrastructure, repair, and emergency funds if we weren't wasting trillions on welfare and other redistribution schemes.

  • Jennifer||

    What's especially funny is the accusations of racism flung at those who think rebuilding the city as it was would be a bad idea. Think about that: there's a bunch of black people, many of whom were so desperately poor that between a carful of them they couldn't scrape together $50 for gas to evacuate a city slated to be destroyed in a day or two, and saying "Maybe we shouldn't put those poor people back into a doomed flood zone" is considered the opinion of racist folk who hate blacks.

    If I were prone to believing in conspiracy theories, I'd say the black leaders pushing for the full repopulation of the Lower Ninth Ward were Klansmen in blackface.

  • ||

    I thought libs would be against forced condemnation and relocation. People own there land and there flooded shells, you shouldn't force them off it.

  • ||

    I think Steve's option makes sense. I doubt it will happen. Politicians are more worried about saving the city of New Orleans than the people of New Orleans.

  • ||

    Steve's plan wouldn't force people out. It would just end the government's efforts to stop flooding. The people would choose whether staying is worth the flood risk. The $61,000 in cash per person would cushion the effects of the new policy.

  • ||

    Jennifer,

    As much as I hate to say it, the poor in New Orleans had a serious problem with government dependency and isolation. These were people that were born in the same housing projects as they were currently living in, receiving checks or food stamps every month and expected the government to protect them from every disaster that could befall them. There was no place to abandon New Orleans too as families had not spread around that much and no reason to think that Katrina was any more special than any other storm that had hit them. They were, in essence, living in a fantasy world created by large government and that is the prelude to the tragedy. The only way the government can stop this cycle is to simply stop the doles, to reign in Louisiana politicians and to make New Orleans become self sufficient. Otherwise, these tragedies will just repeat themselves over and over again.

  • ||

    I see a lot to agree with on this thread:

    Katrina collects a bundle
    ....and still they beg for more. Clearly what New Orleans needs is something money can't buy

    "The flow of federal dollars to the Gulf Coast two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the region already exceeds what the U.S. spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. President Bush and Congress have committed more than $127 billion in resources and tax relief for the region - significantly more than inflation-adjusted $107.6 billion directed to 16 countries in Europe between 1947 and 1951."

    http://lucianne.com/threads2.asp?artnum=357539

  • ||

    Mr. Chapman forgets that the Gulf Region is home to seven of the country's ten busiest shipping ports. We're not just going to pack everything up and move it to Nebraska.

    Never mind that New Orleans has long been one of America's most culturally fertile cities (in part, ironically, because of its poverty). I would think there is some value to be place on preserving one of our most interesting places as opposed to just shipping everybody to various suburban cultural wastelands.

  • ||

    I have a cunning plan.

  • ||

    "these tragedies will just repeat themselves over and over again."

    But the corrupt politicians(1) and their cronies will all get richer over and over again too - and that's what really important.

    Note 1. For the most part in NO, Democrats.

  • Fluffy||

    Why sure, sam. We won't force anyone off their land. Just cancel the federal flood insurance program and let the market fix the problem - fix the problem EVERYWHERE. I'm just as annoyed that the feds subsidize houses on Dune Road in the Hamptons as I am that they're pouring money into rebuilding a city below sea level.

    Nixing the "Let's subsidize you to build on property no sane person will insure" program would also help with that pesky wetlands issue. All sorts of positive benefits here - help the environment, fuck over people who built right on the beach or at the bottom of a river's flood plain and expect me to pay to protect them, etc.

    Leaving New Orleans aside for a moment, consider the funds being expended to help the rebuilding of other areas on the Gulf Coast. Some decades ago, there WAS NO development on the Gulf Coast. It's like people down there said to themselves, "The people who lived around here for centuries and never built on this shoreline were so stupid. Let's build casinos half on the beach and half right out in the water! Let's make them big boats tethered to a dock! And then let's commercially develop everything around those big floating Titanics!" Right, all those people who knew better than to build there were stupid. Good thing we corrected that "market failure".

  • ed||

    "We"? You mean I have a say in the matter?
    Alrighty, then, I suggest "we" encase the city in cement, Chernobyl-like, and walk away.
    You're welcome.

  • ||

    "the town of 900 was swamped,"

    In the annals of history, Chapman couldn't find a better precedent for moving the town than some hick town with 900 people? I was against any kind of rebuilding of New Orleans, but thinking of Valmeyer, IL made me think, yeah, New Orleans was more important than some 900 person hick town.

  • The Voice of History||

    We built this city!
    We built this city!
    On slay verr ree!

  • Jennifer||

    As much as I hate to say it, the poor in New Orleans had a serious problem with government dependency and isolation.

    I fully agree, and fail to see how continuing the cycle is supposed to make things better. But there are many who think that the ideal would be a return to the pre-Katrina status quo.

  • ||

    "I fully agree, and fail to see how continuing the cycle is supposed to make things better."

    Most people opining on this issue fall into two camps: those who want Jazzfest to continue so that they can perennially plan on totally going next year, and those who want Mardi Gras to continue because they totally showed their tits one year.

  • Jennifer||

    Most people opining on this issue fall into two camps: those who want Jazzfest to continue so that they can perennially plan on totally going next year, and those who want Mardi Gras to continue because they totally showed their tits one year.

    Pfft. If you want to show your tits go work in a strip club and get paid for it. Cash beats the hell out of cheap plastic beads.

  • lunchstealer||

    In the annals of history, Chapman couldn't find a better precedent for moving the town than some hick town with 900 people?

    Lamar, how's this?

    "Galveston, which had been a thriving port, was essentially abandoned for Houston, transforming that then-sleepy backwater into the financial center for the entire Gulf South," he says. "Galveston devolved into a smallish port-tourist center, one easy to evacuate when hurricanes rear their ugly heads."

  • ||

    I have a cunning plan.

    Is it as cunning as a fox who's just been made professor of cunning at Oxford University?

  • ||

    No, it's even more cunning.

  • ||

    Here's the thing about Nawlins. Way back when, there was X amount of ground that *didn't* go under water whenever a fat kid waded into the ocean. That area was built upon, and that's the same area that *didn't* spend weeks underwater when Katrina showed up.

    There's another area, Y, that really wants to be part of the ocean floor. It craves silt and small fish, and absolutely hates having buildings and cats and stuff on it.

    New Orleans did fine when it was X. When it became X+Y, however, everyone in Y was relying upon the infallibility of the levees -- which wasn't a good idea, as it turns out.

    So we don't need to abandon New Orleans entirely. We just shouldn't rebuild the Y portion of the city. We had X+Y, Katrina subtracted Y, now we have X. Let's leave it at that.

  • ||

    Pro Lib -

    Is it as cunning as a fox what used to be Professor of Cunning at Oxford University but has moved on and is now working for the U.N. at the High Commission of International Cunning Planning?

  • ||

    It's the H&R chicken/egg question: "Are people poor because they depend on the government, or do they depend on the government because they're poor?"

  • Episiarch||

    Pfft. If you want to show your tits go work in a strip club and get paid for it. Cash beats the hell out of cheap plastic beads.

    Ugly girls don't have that option, Jennifer :-(

    Mardi Gras is their only hope...

  • Nola supporter||

    Geopolitically speaking, the very quality that makes New Orleans a potential target of disaster, the fact that it is a port city on the Mississippi Delta, makes it an extremely valuable and necessary part of the US economy.
    - The Port of New Orleans is the busiest port nationally, moving 500 million tons of cargo annually, including chemicals, coal, timber, iron, steel and more than half of the nation's grain exports. Anyone suggesting that this port can exist in a vacuum, without the labor and infrastructure necessary to operate it in the nearby vicinity, obviously has not contemplated the logistical implications of operating a port responsible for over 160,000 jobs.
    - As Marjorie McKeithen, Assistant Secretary for the Department of Natural Resources, recently said during her Congressional testimony"...based on its energy producing value to the nation, Louisiana is, acre for acre, the most valuable real estate in the nation." In addition to producing a quarter of the nation's domestic oil supply and nearly a fifth of its domestic natural gas, coastal Louisiana houses two of the country's four Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR).
    - The federal government profits handsomely since production off Louisiana's shores alone contributes an average of 5 BILLION a year to the federal treasury, its second largest source of revenue, and this figure is expected to increase in the coming years.

    Meanwhile, petroleum-related activity has contributed significantly to loss of coastal wetlands and barrier islands, a vital component of Louisiana's protection from natural disaster. For example, one study estimated that for every mile of wetland, the storm surge in adjacent inland areas is reduced by one foot. Louisiana's coastal communities bear a large environmental burden to supply much of the country's energy needs and mitigate its dependence on foreign oil.

    Here's an uncomfortable question for Steve Chapman: Are you willing to go with out the goods and federal tax dollars provided by coastal Louisiana? Personally, I like imports, exports, oil, and a well funded treasury, so I will continue to support New Orleans.

  • Russ 2000||

    makes it an extremely valuable...

    Which logically makes it extremely PROFITABLE. Therefore, no subsidies needed.

  • ||

    Lunchstealer:

    That's perfect. It's exactly the point I'm trying to make: it's worth it to rebuild. Galveston did just that. Galveston.com suggests that the cost was $14 million in 1910.

  • Ryan||

    "The federal government profits handsomely since production off Louisiana's shores alone contributes an average of 5 BILLION a year to the federal treasury, its second largest source of revenue, and this figure is expected to increase in the coming years."

    WTF does this mean? The federal budget is what, $2.5T or so? Without questioning your numbers, $5B is only the "second largest source of revenue" for the fed treas if #1 is "Everything Except Stuff from NO,LA".

    More importantly, what Russ said. If it's so valuable, why do they need to take my money to support it? And do the port employees all need to live in the Lower 9th Ward? Or could they maybe find more suitable places to sleep?

  • ||

    More cunning yet!

  • ||

    Ryan:

    Nola supporter is referring to offshore energy production. The cite (link) should have been done by Nola, but heck, the point is valid: the gubmint profits from Louisiana.

  • Nola supporter||

    > Without questioning your numbers, $5B is only the 'second largest source of revenue' for the fed treas if #1 is 'Everything Except Stuff from NO,LA'.

    Yes, you are questioning, so here is some reading for you:
    http://dnr.louisiana.gov/sec/execdiv/techasmt/policy/oilandgas/Testimony_PortFourchon_20050813.pdf

    > More importantly, what Russ said. If it's so valuable, why do they need to take my money to support it?

    1) If you look at the the context of my comment, the "value" I speak of is to the rest of the nation.
    2) As I said, the natural hurricane barriers are being destroyed so YOU can enjoy cheap oil and avoid unnecessary foreign entanglements
    3)Katrina was only a Cat 2 when it hit Nola and the damage was minor UNTIL the levees breached. According to federal law, the Corps of Engineers is fully responsible for these levees and there is evidence that the Corps new about the design flaws that led to the destruction of Nola. Thus, the Feds have a ethical and legal obligation to pay destruction resulting from this mismanagement.

    > And do the port employees all need to live in the Lower 9th Ward? Or could they maybe find more suitable places to sleep?

    No they don't. Did I suggest this? Nope. The ninth ward is 1 neighborhood of New Orleans. I support the rebuilding of New Orleans, but that does not mean that all neighborhoods should be rebuilt, particularly since the population is smaller. 9th Ward != New Orleans

  • ||

    Lamar

    The $14mil only covers the cost of the seawall construction in Galveston. The cost of jacking every building in town up to the 17ft height and filling in underneath was presumably the responsibility of the individual building owners.

  • ||

    "Katrina was only a Cat 2 when it hit Nola and the damage was minor UNTIL the levees breached. According to federal law, the Corps of Engineers is fully responsible for these levees and there is evidence that the Corps new about the design flaws that led to the destruction of Nola. Thus, the Feds have a ethical and legal obligation to pay destruction resulting from this mismanagement."

    So far, this is the only argument that gives me pause. I seem to recall some data that the Corps offered a solution to the design flaws, but were rebuffed due to the expense of implementation of said corrections. I don't have a link to corraborate.

  • Russ 2000||

    As I said, the natural hurricane barriers are being destroyed so YOU can enjoy cheap oil and avoid unnecessary foreign entanglements


    I'll gladly end my "cheap oil" subsidy. Or are you coercing me into taking cheap oil whether I want it or not?

  • Scooby||

    "Katrina was only a Cat 2 when it hit Nola and the damage was minor UNTIL the levees breached. According to federal law, the Corps of Engineers is fully responsible for these levees and there is evidence that the Corps new about the design flaws that led to the destruction of Nola. Thus, the Feds have a ethical and legal obligation to pay destruction resulting from this mismanagement."


    Which is why it is in all of our interest to buy you out and move you to higher ground, instead of trusting an inept federal agency to safeguard your rebuilt homes. Also, it is in our best interest to disclaim this responsibility from here on out.

    If you wish to live in a sunken bowl with demonstrably fragile walls, you're on your own for the next one. The trade will find its way in and out of the country through other ports, if necessary.

  • Ryan||

    Nola supporter - I take the article, and comments preceding your first, to be arguing against gvmt introducing moral hazard for people and businesses by financing the risk of locating in flood plains or(and) disaster-prone areas. I don't know much about the port of NOLA, and that isn't what was being discussed.

    I am opposed to the gvmt - fed, state, or local - susidizing the risk of people doing stupid stuff. Building a business or home in at least large swaths of NO is stupid, and private insurance would be prohibitively expensive.

    That was the point of my Lower 9th comment. (Of course there is more than one neighboorhood in NO.) People should not be living below sea level a few miles from the ocean, and if they do, they sure as hell shouldn't force me to pay when their house is destroyed. When you suggest the gvmt should pay for the destruction resuting from the destruction of the levees, this is exactly what it sounds like you are advocating.

    I completely agree, the ACOE screwed up, and state, local, and federal officials screwed up. But FFS learn from past mistakes and don't rebuild the city just like it was before.

    If people insist on living in a place waiting to be reclaimed by the ocean, how does this sound: The gvmt should make absolutely clear they will not pay for any future damages. The levees should be built by private insurers who then offer (exorbitantly expensive) homeowner policies and manage the regular inspection of the levees. If this model is not financially feasible, then those areas are not appropriate for living anyway. Having the gvmt run the levees DOES NOT change the actual cost of living in such a place, it just forces me to pay for it from 1000 miles away and subsidises idiocy.

  • Nola supporter||

    Sixstring,
    Regarding data of the Corps being rebuffed, I have seen this meme, but have yet to find any specifics or evidence. If you can locate where you saw this, I would appreciate it if you could pass it along.

    Here are some sources for my contention regarding the levees:

    - Disaster was man-made (eg faulty levees)
    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/special/05/katrina/3555469.html

    - Corps of Engineers mismanaged levees
    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/special/05/katrina/3555469.html

    - Corps took responsibility for failure
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/06/01/national/main1675244.shtml

  • Minion of URKOBOLD||

    MISUSE OF WORD 'MEME'. YOUR DIKE SHALL HAVE BE WHITHERED.

  • Rhywun||

    When you suggest the gvmt should pay for the destruction resuting from the destruction of the levees, this is exactly what it sounds like you are advocating.

    If the government was at fault for the levees breaking, the government is responsible for reimbursing the residents for the full value of their houses and property. This has nothing to do with rebuilding. Residents are free to rebuild with these funds or move somewhere else as they wish. But first the government must unequivocally say they are either going to build proper levees or not, and insurance companies can set their fees based on that information.

  • Nola supporter||

    I messed up the second link in my previous post, so here is a correction:

    - Corps of Engineers mismanaged levees
    http://www.pulitzer.org/year/2006/public-service/works/neworleansps09.html

  • robc||

    Nola supporter,

    Why would anyone want to rebuild behind a mismanaged levee? Do you think suddenly the government is going to get competent?

  • ||

    robc:

    Are you suggesting that none of the infrastructure built by the Army Corp of Engineers is safe?

  • Nola Supporter||

    robc

    >Why would anyone want to rebuild behind a mismanaged levee? Do you think suddenly the government is going to get competent?

    I don't live in New Orleans, so I do not feel qualified to answer this question. My guess is that the reasons vary from person to person.

    You are welcome to disagree with people's decision to remain in New Orleans, but that does not absolve the federal government of its legal and moral responsibility.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Geopolitically speaking, the very quality that makes New Orleans a potential target of disaster, the fact that it is a port city on the Mississippi Delta, makes it an extremely valuable and necessary part of the US economy."

    Uh Huh.

    But maintaining a port does not necssitate rebuilding and maintaining a large city to go with it.

  • Gibert Martin||

    "You are welcome to disagree with people's decision to remain in New Orleans, but that does not absolve the federal government of its legal and moral responsibility."

    You haven't proven that the federal government does have an "legal and moral responsibility" to rebuild New Orleans.

  • robc||

    Are you suggesting that none of the infrastructure built by the Army Corp of Engineers is safe?

    I am suggesting that it is the responsibility of property owners whose property is being protected by said infracstructure to determine that for themselves.

    I think the "safe" assumption is to assume that it isnt safe.

  • Titties n Beer||

    Pfft. If you want to show your tits go work in a strip club and get paid for it. Cash beats the hell out of cheap plastic beads.

    From the side of the consumer that's kinda the whole point. If I wanted it to be expensive, I'd go someplace else.

  • ||

    "You haven't proven that the federal government does have an 'legal and moral responsibility' to rebuild New Orleans."

    I think [s]he established the the federal government was responsible for the levees and the levees were what caused most of the damage. It's a well known legal principle that if something is done (i.e., living in NOLA) in reliance on a party's assurances (i.e., that the levees were good) and the item sworn to by that party fails causing damage, that party is responsible for the damage.

  • robc||

    the levees were what caused most of the damage.

    I thought the water caused most of the damage. Sure, if the levee fell on your house....

    On a more serious note, isnt it a well known legal principle that you cant sue the government without the government's permission? "Legal and moral responsibilities" dont apply to the state unless the state wants it to.

  • ||

    "I am suggesting that it is the responsibility of property owners whose property is being protected by said infrastructure to determine that for themselves."

    i.e., those people who died after falling off of the Minnesota bridge deserved to die because they had the responsibility to 'determine' whether the thing was safe enough to drive over? Get real, man. I'm an advocate of private infrastructure, but you seem incapable of realizing the magnitude of your suggestion. No roads are safe, no bridges are safe, no levees are safe, no dams are safe.....and anybody who is harmed by such infrastructure's failures had it coming.

  • robc||

    Lamar,

    I almost brought up the Minn bridge in my post. Deserve to die? No. Accept the danger when you start to cross? Yes. I know everytime I get on the road I may not make it to my destination alive. Do I deserve to die? Well, I cant say, maybe I do. But, I know the risks and I take my chances.

    When a government spokesperson starts telling me something is safe, that is when I pull out my engineering textbooks - unfortunately, most are for Nuclear Engineering, so not usually helpful.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "I think [s]he established the the federal government was responsible for the levees and the levees were what caused most of the damage. It's a well known legal principle that if something is done (i.e., living in NOLA) in reliance on a party's assurances (i.e., that the levees were good) and the item sworn to by that party fails causing damage, that party is responsible for the damage"

    No I don't think that's a "well established" legal principle" at all when it comes to dealing with the government.

    That's in the same category with you can't sue the police department for failing to prevent someone from robbing you.

  • Russ 2000||

    that party is responsible for the damage.

    Responsible for damage, yes. Pay 'em off and be done with it. That isn't the same thing as being responsible for rebuilding.

  • Nola supporter||

    Gilbert,
    In many instances, the federal government is protected from legal culpability. Not always though.

    http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/CrisesArticle.aspx?storyId=N02288008&WTmodLoc=World-R5-Alertnet-4

  • ||

    "No I don't think that's a 'well established legal principle' at all when it comes to dealing with the government."

    I didn't mean to imply that a person could sue the government for some tort in this issue. I simply meant to point out that the law recognizes (and has for centuries) that entities have to live up to their promises or pay the consequences. The federal government should do the same, perhaps as Russ2000 suggests, with a payoff.

  • ||

    Funny, at the beginning of today I would have said, "let 'em rot." After Chapman's asinine logic, and the example of Galveston, I think I'm on the other side of the fence now.

  • ||

    If the government was at fault for the levees breaking, the government is responsible for reimbursing the residents for the full value of their houses and property.

    Of course, without the levees the property is worthless in the first place.

  • Jennifer||

    Funny, at the beginning of today I would have said, "let 'em rot." After Chapman's asinine logic, and the example of Galveston, I think I'm on the other side of the fence now.

    What? What is it about Galveston that made you change your mind? I doubt you'd say that a city built in a location inherently prone to enormous, deadly, costly natural disasters has some sort of "right" to be just as prosperous and popular as a similar city built in a safer location, so what IS the point about Galveston you're trying to make?

  • robc||

    entities have to live up to their promises or pay the consequences.

    Do any of the residents of NO have a contract with the Army Corp of Engineers? If so, I agree. If they do, what was the consideration (is that the right legal term?) they gave to the CoE? Contracts cant be one way.

  • Nola supporter||

    robc,
    >Do any of the residents of NO have a contract with the Army Corp of Engineers?

    No, full authority over the levees was granted to the Corps by the Flood Control Act of 1965. Local residents do not have any authority over design, construction, contracts, etc. When I talk about a legal responsibility for the levees, I mean it more in the legislative sense than a judicial sense (although some residents are attempting the judicial route).

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "I didn't mean to imply that a person could sue the government for some tort in this issue. I simply meant to point out that the law recognizes (and has for centuries) that entities have to live up to their promises or pay the consequences."

    No - entities have to live up to legal contracts (as robc said) - not "promises" that some person or persons not party to any explicit contract claims they relied on.

    And just when did the federal government ever "promise" that the levees could absolutely never fail in the first place?

  • Nola Supporter||

    Gilbert

    >And just when did the federal government ever "promise" that the levees could absolutely never fail in the first place?

    The Hurricane Protection Act of 1965

    From the GAO Report on Hurricane Protection Act:
    The original project designs were developed based on the equivalent of
    what is now called a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane that might strike
    the coastal Louisiana region once in 200-300 years.

    The levees did not sustain a Category 3 (or a 2 for that matter).

  • ||

    "And just when did the federal government ever 'promise' that the levees could absolutely never fail in the first place?"

    Why the fuck build them in the first place? The federal government was responsible for the levees, and the levees were subpar, they knew they were subpar, and the fucking city was destroyed because of the subpar levees that the federal government was responsible for.

    Yeah, no responsibility there. Whatever, dudes.

    "entities have to live up to legal contracts "

    I think we've established that the federal gov't does whatever it wants. Hell, entities aren't allowed to steal from you either, but the federal gov't has a whole department devoted to it. Spare me the literalist K approach.

    No, robc, nobody had a contract with the Army Corps of Engineers, 'cept old Jimbo down at the corner and his ol' dog Skootch. He walked to Washington on dem tired ol' bones, and signed the papers with LBJ himself. He was the only one who knew that the government would fail to maintain the levees and then shrug its shoulders when the city was destroyed.

  • ||

    I think it's useful to point out that the Corps was not the only culprit and was not the only entity responsible for New Orleans levees.

    The Orleans Levee Board was created in the late 19th century to protect the city from floods. I'm a native of N.O. and can attest to the fact that the Levee Board became a place for politicians to appoint those (and their spouses) who have helped them. Instead of ensuring that the levees were constructed and maintained properly, the Board spent its monies on such things as fountains along Lake Ponchartrain and bridges to make it easier to reach casinos.

    I think post-Katrina the State now controls regional levee boards.

    Disclosure: One of my cousins -- as a patronage job -- served on the levee board years ago.

  • ||

    I should title this post, "The Problem With America".

    Reasons to not rebuild New Orleans:
    1) Americans are not bright enough to solve the levee problem. The technology required is simply too complex for simple American minds. Maybe we are no longer a nation of people who know how to get things done. But we are persistent so rest assured that we will continue to hamfist the solution until N.O. floods all over again. Unfortunately, we will not learn anything next time, either.

    2) New Orleans culture is primarily black culture and I think we can all agree on how badly the US want to preserve THAT. Now I don't know if George Bush cares about black people or not, but I am pretty sure he doesn't care about New Orleanians. We seem to care an awful lot about Iraqis, though.

    3) Hey, New Orleans can be moved! What a great idea. We can put it in the middle of Montana. There's a whole heckuva lot of empty space out there. And it won't be so darned hot. Or we could put it in Iraq. New Orleans would stand a better chance of getting rebuilt then.

    4) What will America really lose anyway if New Orleans goes away? Unique food, music, art, architecture, culture? America doesn't care about all that mess. When America thinks about N.O., it thinks about a place to get hammered and see some boobs. America's idea of culture is more akin to a McDonalds inside a Walmart than Cafe Du Monde on Jackson Square.

    I grew up in New Orleans and having been all around the world, I truly believe New Orleans is the greatest city in America. You can't come to New Orleans and not feel it. I believe that an America unwilling to preserve New Orleans doesn't deserve New Orleans.

  • Nola supporter||

    Francesca

    It's hard for me to give any credence to your comment when you say this:

    >instead of ensuring that the levees were constructed and maintained properly, the Board spent...

    Um, the levee boards have no authority over construction (or design). Maintenance, yes, but the levee failures were a result of poor construction and design, not lack of maintenance.

  • NolaAlone||

    Jennifer

    "... a similar city built in a safer location ..."

    To what mythical city are you referring? Are you implying that Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Miami or even New York are immune from natural disaster?

    I wonder if the next time an earthquake strikes Los Angeles will there be talk of moving it to a safer place. If you think a category 5 hurricane can't hit New York, you would be wrong.

  • robc||

    NolaAlone,

    1. If levees are so easy to build, why havent the people of NO done it themselves?

    2. Too silly to respond to.

    3. Why does everyone keep saying Nebraska or Montana? What the fuck is wrong with rebuilding a couple of miles away above sea level? Is the current spot some sort of sacred ground? Will the unique food, culture, art, music not be able to adapt to a few mile move? Is there something to being under sea level that makes it all work?

    4. Yeah, it got combined with 3.

    Ive been to NO. It isnt the greatest city in the world. I dont really care to ever go back, but if you like it, go for it, rebuild it. Just dont ask me for the money to do it. Is there something about NO that prevents anyone from doing all of this themselves, why would you want the governments help when they couldnt get it right the first time?

  • robc||

    NolaAlone,

    I have suggested many times that ANY and EVERY city hit by a natural disaster shouldnt get federal funds to rebuild. Earthquake, tornado, flood, locusts, whatever, buy insurance if you want to rebuild.

  • Nola supporter||

    NolaAlone

    It's saddening to think that no other city has (and probably will) receive nearly the heartless reaction as has been directed at New Orleans.

    After 9-11, I did not hear a single person say:
    "Well, hey, I'm not gonna have sympathy for those New Yorkers because they decided to live in a terrorist target! They better not expectt help next time."

  • robc||

    http://www.house.gov/paul/nytg.htm

    Crockett's "Not Yours to Give" speech.

    For those who dont understand the difference between sympathy and government spending.

  • lolz||

    robc

    >Why does everyone keep saying Nebraska or Montana? What the fuck is wrong with rebuilding a couple of miles away above sea level? Is the current spot some sort of sacred ground? Will the unique food, culture, art, music not be able to adapt to a few mile move? Is there something to being under sea level that makes it all work?

    A few miles? Are you kidding? Most of south Louisiana is below sea level.

  • robc||

    Nola supporter,

    Not 1 dollar of federal money should be used to rebuild the WTC.

    Is that what you wanted to hear? I have plenty of sympathy, I will donate myself, but I cant support federal money going to the rebuilding.

  • robc||

    lolz,

    Not even all of NO is below sea level.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "I grew up in New Orleans and having been all around the world, I truly believe New Orleans is the greatest city in America. You can't come to New Orleans and not feel it. I believe that an America unwilling to preserve New Orleans doesn't deserve New Orleans."

    Anybody living in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia or any other city could say the same thing. And it's not any more convincing when you say it.

  • Nola supporter||

    robc

    > Not even all of NO is below sea level.

    Look at this elevation map. Most of Louisiana is below, at, or slightly above sea level. In a practical sense, it's really all the same. Sea level is kind of a made up term computed in a relatively arbitrary manner. The water does not get to 0 sea level and magically retreat to lower ground.

    If you honestly think moving the New Orleans a couple of miles will protect the city from flooding, you are delusional.

    http://geology.com/state-map/louisiana.shtml

  • ||

    The solution is simple--a giant, transparent dome.

  • Jennifer||

    To what mythical city are you referring? Are you implying that Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Miami or even New York are immune from natural disaster?

    I never said anyplace is "immune"; I said some places are, quote, "safer." Houston, for example, is not immune to hurricanes, but far less likely than Galveston to suffer such damage from one. So I'd still like Lamar to answer my earlier question about how, exactly, Chapman's "point" about Galveston made him change his mind, and what Lamar's counterpoint would be.

  • robc||

    A few feet makes a big difference in flooding.

    20 ft above sea level vs 8 below takes a much bigger storm surge before the flooding starts. There is a reason that parts of NO had reasonably minimal damage vs parts being totally wiped out. Leave the parts below sea level as a buffer for next time and rebuild on the high ground.

    Or move the city to a location ranging from 10-30 above sea level instead of -10 to 10. Flooding will still happen, you would still be in the hurricane zone. Heck, I live well above sea level and we get flooding in my neighborhood sometimes. Last year, only 1 of the 3 routes into my neighborhood was navigable from water over the road, I still had to cross a creek coming over the road to get home. We didnt demand federal money to fix it though.

  • Mark Bahner||

    The cost of the levee system envisioned by Sen. Clinton is tabbed at $40 billion.



    I think a movable, temporary hurricane storm surge protection system can be built and deployed within days to protect ANY city on the Gulf or East coast for approximately $10 billion. (And probably less than $1 billion for each deployment.) Why spend money protecting each city on the Gulf and East coasts, if a system could be developed for the same or less cost that would protect ALL cities on both coasts?

    Here's the question that ought to be considered: Would those people prefer that the money be spent shoring up dikes around a natural lake? Or would they rather get the money themselves and decide whether to stay or migrate to less soggy terrain?



    Why give New Orleans residents the equivalent amount of money to move elsewhere, and leave people in the dozens of other cities on the Gulf and East coasts of equal or greater value exposed?

    What would be the price of reimbursing all the citizens of NYC and Long Island for relocating elsewhere, if a Category 3-5 hurricane hits NYC/Long Island? Reimbursing the citizens of New Orleans to move elsewhere doesn't help anyone but the couple hundred thousand people being reimbursed. Building and deploying a portable temporary storm surge protection system for the Gulf and East coasts would potentially help 30+ million people whose homes or businesses could be destroyed storm surge.

  • Nola supporter||

    robc

    > Heck, I live well above sea level and we get flooding in my neighborhood sometimes. Last year, only 1 of the 3 routes into my neighborhood was navigable from water over the road, I still had to cross a creek coming over the road to get home. We didnt demand federal money to fix it though.

    So I would assume that you have flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance program, which is a government-subsidized program.

  • Nola supporter||

    Mark Bahner

    >I think a movable, temporary hurricane storm surge protection system can be built and deployed within days to protect ANY city on the Gulf or East coast for approximately $10 billion.

    Wow, this idea is new to me. If you could point me to more info, I would be much appreciative. Thanks!

  • Mark Bahner||

    I think a movable, temporary hurricane storm surge protection system can be built and deployed within days to protect ANY city on the Gulf or East coast for approximately $10 billion.



    Wow, this idea is new to me. If you could point me to more info, I would be much appreciative. Thanks!



    It's new to you because the world is filled with people stuck in their own little boxes, yapping pointlessly at the world, and completely unable to think outside their box.

    Let's look at the problem logically:

    1) The U.S. Gulf and East coasts cover over 3000 miles...and anywhere along those coasts from Brownsville, TX to Boston, MA can be hit by hurricanes.

    2) It simply doesn't make sense to build protection for every city.

    3) It also doesn't make sense to first let cities get destroyed, and then try to rebuild. Roger Pielke Jr. has estimated the cost of the 1926 Miami Hurricane hitting Miami again in 2020 at $500 BILLION. And others have estimated the costs of a Category 3+ hurricane hitting New York City/Long Island at a similarly staggering amount. Go to Google Earth, and look at satellite photos of NYC/Long Island, or Miami, or Tampa, or dozens of other cities, and you can see that even a 15 foot storm surge would seriously damage tens of thousands, or even more than 100 thousand, homes and businesses.

    5) Now, envision a barrier erected from Pascagoula, MS (off the map to the east), out to the Chandeleur Islands, and on to the Mississippi delta:

    Mississippi River delta map

    Katrina storm surge

    If such a barrier had existed, and had not failed, New Orleans and coastal Mississippi would have been spared virtually all damage from Katrina, because most of the damage in both areas was related to storm surge.

    6) But could such a barrier be built and deployed in just a few days? Of course! Engineers can do ANYTHING (well, almost anything) given enough money.

    7) So the real question is, "How much would this barrier cost?" Well, let's spitball $100 million a mile, times 100 miles. That's $10 billion.

    8) What would such a barrier look like? THAT should be addressed only after many attempts at brainstorming by many different people. But one possibility would be something remotely resembling this:

    reply to this

  • robc||

    So I would assume that you have flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance program, which is a government-subsidized program.

    I have no idea. I live in a condo complex (2nd floor, in a high area, I aint flooding) that buys the insurance thru my fees. I live in a county that participates in the program (we are along the Ohio, we have some flood plains. We even have a flood wall.) but I have no idea if my condo is subsidized, it shouldnt be, our flood insurance is cheap. Just because I oppose something doesnt mean I turn it down when offered - it just shouldnt be offered (Im going to cash social security checks if I ever receive any, I hope I dont, but any I get Im cashing).

  • chicory libertarian||

    "Katrina was only a Cat 2 when it hit Nola and the damage was minor UNTIL the levees breached. According to federal law, the Corps of Engineers is fully responsible for these levees and there is evidence that the Corps new about the design flaws that led to the destruction of Nola. Thus, the Feds have a ethical and legal obligation to pay destruction resulting from this mismanagement."

    Which is why it is in all of our interest to buy you out and move you to higher ground, instead of trusting an inept federal agency to safeguard your rebuilt homes. Also, it is in our best interest to disclaim this responsibility from here on out.

    Concur. The feds need to fully pay for rebuilding New Orleans, and the State of Louisiana needs to seize control of the levees from the Strangeloves running the US Army.

  • meg||

    I tend to read rather than comment, but this finally pushed me out of lurkerdom:

    Historian Douglas Brinkley, writing in The Washington Post, fears the Bush administration is trying to do to New Orleans what was done to Galveston, Texas, after a terrible 1900 hurricane. "Galveston, which had been a thriving port, was essentially abandoned for Houston, transforming that then-sleepy backwater into the financial center for the entire Gulf South," he says.

    No, Galveston was effing RAISED ABOVE SEA LEVEL in one of the greatest engineering projects of the 20th century. Took years - years in which everyone in town got around via wooden paths laid over the unpleasant-smelling sludge that was being piped in to fill in the areas under buildings that had been jacked up. Galveston has survived plenty of big hurricanes since then. Would it be unscathed by a Category 5? Hell no. But the city found a way to lower its vulnerability significantly, and I can find no record of anyone arguing that everything should be built back the way it was before.

    What turned Galveston from a thriving city to a small tourist town, really, was the construction of the Ship Channel to Houston, allowing Houston to act as a port. Houston then charged fees that were significantly lower than the ones Galveston was charging. The normal rules of economics applied; shipping started to be routed to Houston, turning the Port of Houston into the 10th-largest in the world. Did it help that Houston was and is safely above sea level? Certainty. But the supplanting of Galveston by Houston is not a story of a change forced by an outside authority - it's a tale of economic forces. But I guess that's not "romantic" enough for Brinkley.

    As for New Orleans, I fail to see why it must be either entirely rebuilt as it was or entirely ditched. Roughly half of the city is at/above sea level. Leave that be as residential/commercial space - shore up the levees, strengthen the port, seek to increase urban density and bring back the streetcars. Turn the areas below sea level into parks, which can flood with abandon if needs be. The reason that the Lower Ninth is a black neighborhood isn't because God gave it to a people who suffered mightily from racism - it's a black neighborhood because of persistent economic racism. The fact that people want it rebuilt EXACTLY THE WAY IT WAS BEFORE is almost...macabrely amusing. These people's families have lived there for generations because in the beginning white people either wouldn't pay them enough to let them live above sea level or just plain wouldn't let them live in higher neighborhoods no matter what their financial status! THIS is the legacy that so many are fighting tooth and nail to preserve?

  • ||

    "The feds need to fully pay for rebuilding New Orleans"

    Perhaps "fully pay" is too strong, but certainly the feds needs to pony up. Let's not forget that a rebuilding project of such a magnitude will change the landscape of private development. Private interests that benefit from such reconstruction should pay their fair share. Also, the local governments share in some of the blame, and should also pony up. Of course, the more "localized" the ponying up is, the more the burden rests on those unable to pay. There simply has to be a tripartite or more solution to NOLA.

  • ||

    Meg: The example of Galveston might just be what pushed me over to the "rebuild the place" side of the debate.

  • ||

    TO: Steve, et al.
    RE: Looking to the Future

    Let New Orleans 'go'.

    The mighty Mississippi River is no longer interested in going through that town. Nor through Baton Rouge.

    If you've access to the Weather Channel and their new map, go to the interactive weather map and see for yourself where the great river WANTS to go.

    [1] Go to the interactive map.
    [2] Move the cross-hairs that mark the middle of the map to just above where the border of the states of Louisiana and Mississippi go from North-South to East-West.
    [3] Zoom in.
    [4] Check out what is going on on the river a bit to the north of the cross-haris.

    You'll notice a series of dams along the Mississippi in the vicinity of a community called Coochie.

    These dams are the Army Corps of Engineers valiant effort to keep the river flowing through Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

    If these dams were removed, the majority of the water would be flowing along a more North-South channel to the Gulf through one of the many channels the river has used over the eons. And the new major river port would be New Iberia.

    Trying to maintain the untenable position of a city that is below water level doesn't make much sense.

    Katrina was a 'warning shot'. The first Cat 5 that comes roaring ashore will utterly destroy the city.

    Hope that helps.

    Regards,

    Chuck(le)

  • ||

    New Orleans: A cesspit enlivened by the occasional transsexual prostitute.

  • ||

    I find it wonderfully ironic that the same end of the political spectrum that wants the country to pitch in and rebuild New Orleans finds it appalling that Santa Barbara wouldn't support the "artist" who was painting waves on the streets where the Pacific would be if it rose twenty-three feet because all the ice in Greenland melted. Query: what will it take to improve the levies so that they will keep a cat 5 hurricane out with the water level where it's going to be when global warming hits full stride?

  • ||

    I found your entire comment ironic for a number of reasons.

    Probably none of which you intended.

  • ||

    MlR - What do you find ironic about my comment? What do you think I intended?
    Or did you intend your comment to be condescending, arrogant and unsupported?

  • ||

    The argument that the city should never have been built there is ridiculous. Of course it shouldn't have, but it was. Just like LA was built on a fault-line.

    Historically N.O. is one of the most important cities in the world, and as such deserves to be rebuilt and protected.

    I mean jeez guys... you will have spend a trillion dollars on a war that failed, and made everybody in the world hate you. A mere 40 billion to save the city that helped make America what it is today is a bargoon by comparison.

  • ||

    Unless there is another suitable place in the Missisipi delta to build a huge international port in a few years, its not practical to simply abandon the city. However,

    Simple solution: Let people continue to live and opperate on NO's higher ground, the parts that weren't flooded the last time. This would supply enough of a labor pool to keep the very valuable port running the the tourists coming. End federal subsidies for those building on the lowest ground, the parts that were flooded. Improve teh levees and pumps sufficiently to protect those living in the relatively safe areas.

    Of course somebody will have a fit about this solution because the most flood prone areas of NO were typically the poor neighborhoods.

  • ||

    I do not feel like the historical importance of New Orleans means it deserved to be expensively protected so it can be inhabited by millions of people. If we NEED the NO port, we should protect it. If not,as a tribute to its historical importance, we can turn it into another Williamsburg if that makes the artsy fartsy types happy. However, we should not let millions of poor people live in a flood plane in a hurrican zone just becuase NO is historically important.

  • Mark||

    I do live in New Orleans, and I used to be a libertarian. I still believe in small government and free trade, but I no longer call myself a libertarian, even with a small "l", and this thread is a good example of why.

    So much opinion, so little knowledge!
    So much dogma, so little sense of the limits of one's knowledge.

    The person "nola supporter" has gone to a lot of trouble here to present actual facts, and seems to be nearly the only one doing so. Most of the responses are just mud-throwing.

    The situation is New Orleans truly is an extremely interesting testing ground for libertarian ideas, or rather, it could be -- if libertarians were able to close their mouths and open their ears for ten minutes.

    90% of America and 90% of the folks in the forum are extremely misinformed about the facts concerning New Orleans.

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