September 10, 2005


A Barrier That Could Have Been
: Congress OKd a project to protect New Orleans 40 years ago, but an environmentalist suit halted it. Some say it could have worked. (Ralph Vartabedian and Peter Pae, September 9, 2005, LA Times)

In the wake of Hurricane Betsy 40 years ago, Congress approved a massive hurricane barrier to protect New Orleans from storm surges that could inundate the city.

But the project, signed into law by President Johnson, was derailed in 1977 by an environmental lawsuit. Now the question is: Could that barrier have protected New Orleans from the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina?

"If we had built the barriers, New Orleans would not be flooded," said Joseph Towers, the retired chief counsel for the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans district.

Tower's view is endorsed by a former key senator, along with academic experts, who say a hurricane barrier is the only way to control the powerful storm surges that enter Lake Pontchartrain and threaten the city. Other experts are less sure, saying the barrier would have been no match for Katrina.

The project was stopped in its tracks when an environmental lawsuit won a federal injunction on the grounds that the Army's environmental impact statement was flawed. By the mid-1980s, the Corps of Engineers abandoned the project.

The project faced formidable opposition not only from environmentalists but from regional government officials outside of New Orleans who argued that the barriers would choke commerce and harm marine life in ecologically sensitive Lake Pontchartrain.

The barrier would have protected New Orleans from storm surges barreling into the lake through two narrow passages — the Rigolets and the Chef Menteur Pass.

While there's plenty of blame to go around at the federal, state and local level for how we responded once the catastrophe took place, the reality is that New Orleans was exactly as secure as we all chose to make it. In a democracy we're all to blame...or to credit.

The Case for a Cover-Up (JOHN TIERNEY, 9/10/05, NY Times)

Suppose, for instance, investigators try to find out who had the brilliant idea of putting the Federal Emergency Management Agency inside a new department with an organizational chart modeled on the Soviet Ministry of Agriculture and Food Economy. One Democrat, Hillary Clinton, did question whether FEMA would suffer, but the idea was originally championed by her colleagues, particularly Joe Lieberman.

Mr. Lieberman joined Mrs. Clinton this week in calling for a "re-examination" of FEMA's status, but he was against independence before he was for it. After the Sept. 11 attacks, he helped lead the charge to create the Department of Homeland Security.

Republicans first resisted, as the Democratic National Committee pointed out during the presidential campaign last year. Its radio advertisement declared: "John Kerry fought to establish the Department of Homeland Security. George Bush opposed it for almost a year after 9/11."

Or suppose the investigators try to find out why the Army Corps of Engineers didn't protect New Orleans from the flood. Democrats have blamed the Iraq war for diverting money and attention from domestic needs. But that hasn't meant less money for the Corps during the past five years. Overall spending hasn't declined since the Clinton years, and there has been a fairly sharp increase in money for flood-control construction projects in New Orleans.

The problem is that the bulk of the Corps's budget goes for projects far less important than preventing floods in New Orleans. And if the investigators want to find who's responsible, they don't have to leave Capitol Hill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 10, 2005 7:31 AM

"...the reality is that New Orleans was exactly as secure as we all chose to make it."

Just so, unfortunately. Does anyone *really* believe that the citizens of NO or LA would have ponied up the fantastic sums required to well and truly protect the city?

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at September 10, 2005 12:09 PM

If they wouldn't spend the money before (or it was misused) how can they justify spending it now when NO's population may decrease by at least 1/3 after this is all done?

Posted by: AWW at September 10, 2005 7:05 PM


Rage towards Bush and overall liberal guilt.

But mostly rage.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 10, 2005 10:20 PM