Friday, February 10, 2006

Leave Me Alone `Til I Need Your Help

Seymour D. Fair gives his thoughts on levee-board consolidation at The Third Battle of New Orleans.


It's no surprise the all-out consolidation probably won't fly with the state's politicians. For instance, Livingston Parish wants out. The Westbank portion of Jefferson Parish wants out. (Or at least certain politicians from these areas have voiced they don't want to reform). They'd like to see the levee boards remain over their jurisdictions stay just the way they are.

Their angle: we didn't flood during KTMB and we're happy just the way things are. It all works just fine for us. And also, this whole thing is New Orleans' problem--why should the whole state have to deal with it?

The truth is the relationship between New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana (and even the neighboring parishes to New Orleans--especially St. Bernard and Plaquemines) has always been rocky. I have always said that the City of New Orleans is a northeast-type city (the era of development, the ethnic/racial diversity, the cultural aspects, etc.) cast by itself in the rural Southern United States. The other 63 parishes have always felt slighted that New Orleans drains an unfair proportion of the state's resources and the other areas don't get their fair share. The proposed levee consolidation idea is no different in their eyes. This proposal is viewed as a power grab by the New Orleans area politicians (and therefore a power loss for eveyone else). Also, the past (from their perspective) tells them their problems will always be given the back seat to those of New Orleans and they perceive the centralized levee board as focusing primarily on the New Orleans issues while neglecting their flood protection interests and concerns.

A flooding Mississippi River or Atchafalaya River or hurricane-driven storm surging Gulf of Mexico or Lake Pontchartrain or Terrebonne Bay or Vermilion Bay knows no political boundaries or jurisdictions. Therefore, protection of Louisiana from these threats should not be impaired by political boundaries or jurisdictions. If nothing else, there needs to be an independent oversight commission to assure the flood protection elements within the various jurisdictions work in unison and also to monitor and assist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who ultimately has sole responsibility for Louisiana's flood protection. Hey, they decided they'd handle it--twice--in 1927 and 1965.
Read the whole thing.

The West Jefferson Levee Board does have a point that in that it is in a different basin and therefore has different needs from Orleans and East Jefferson. A quick look at a map of SE Louisiana will show that a storm surge threatening the east bank poses less of a threat for the west bank and vice versa. But a major hurricane making landfall to our west will put the west bank in great peril. But west bank politicians seem to think that because they survived major flooding from Katrina that their flood protection is more than adequate for all future storms is outright baloney.

The whole southeast Louisiana region is vulnerable to storm surge and therefore storm-surge protection needs to be regional.

Take the Regolets for example. It is the waterway that connects Lake Ponchartrain to the Breton Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. Storm surge could be kept out of the lake ff a series of locks would be constructed across the Regolets that could be closed prior to its arrival thereby protecting the entire east bank and northshore from major flooding. Because the Regolets falls between the jurisdictions of the Orleans Levee Board and the St. Tammany Levee Board, it is unlikely that these two entities will get together to build something this enormous. With a single board, there will be no jurisdictional squabbles to doom such an undertaking.

The westbank on the other hand is at serious risk of a storm surge coming up the Barataria Waterway. The Harvey Canal levee has overtopped or threatened to overtop during other, during less severe storms as a result of storm surge entering the Intracoastal Waterway which connects to the Harvey Canal. Although most of the developed area of the westbank is protected by hurricane protection levees, it has the same vulnerabilities that the east bank has.

The fact that our politicians are more interested in protecting their fiefdoms than protecting their constituents means that some major housecleaning is due in the next round of elections.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I have to admit that dividing protection east of the Atchafalaya into Pontchartrain and Barataria basins makes sense.

However, I think you're right about the West Bank. I was working for Guide Newspapers in Gretna when Juan parked off shore, and recall that the entire hurricane protection system came within an inch of having a Katrina-scope failure.

I have a friend who lived on Belle Air and knows the construction barge was still in the 17th. Street Canal when the breech occured. A different wind direction, having one line fail before the other, and that barge could just as easily have been smashing into the floodwalls on the Metairie side.

The suburban politicians need to accept that Katrina was as much a warning for them as a disaster for NOLA. If they don't act accordingly, we may have to post he NOPD on the Pontchartrain Expressway to stem the flood of people out of Gretna and Marrero.

How quickly they forget.