Thursday, September 01, 2005

Wetlands needed to protect New Orleans

So why wasn't more done to prepare for the worst? City officials blame the feds, who have provided little funding to restore the 300,000 acres of wetlands that once acted as a hurricane buffer for the Crescent City and no funds to raise the city's levees to provide protection from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. New Orleans's levees were designed to protect from a Category 3 storm, but they've been sinking for decades, and local experts say they are not up to even that task.

Along with coastal development, the main cause of the wetlands' disappearance is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' leveeing of the Mississippi River, which has prevented the waterway from depositing silt to replenish the marshlands around New Orleans. So local officials say wetlands restoration is the federal government's responsibility.

"I think Congress and the federal government don't fully understand the risk to this jewel of New Orleans," New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told U.S. News earlier this summer. "They spend billions on the Everglades and on the Big Dig in Boston . . . yet our coastal erosion issues are real, but we haven't had the corresponding investment."

Ivor van Heerden, director of Louisiana State University's Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes, says that every mile and a half of marshland stands to lower a storm surge by about a foot or so and that about 30 miles of marshlands have been eliminated in the past half century.

"The wetlands between New Orleans and the Gulf shoreline have disappeared," he says. "That used to dampen the surge and the wind energy, but the friction is no longer there."

The Corps of Engineers, meanwhile, facing shrinking budgets in recent years, says even a feasibility study to raise New Orleans's levees for protection against a Category 4 or 5 storm is still years away.

With no immediate plans for marshlands restoration or levee raising, New Orleans officials say they've focused their hurricane preparation efforts on evacuating as many citizens as possible. After residents fleeing last fall's Hurricane Ivan got stuck for up to 10 hours on the 90-mile car trip to Baton Rouge, the state police instituted a "contra flow" for Katrina that reversed inbound lanes on highways that feed the city, greatly expediting the evacuation.

But because New Orleans is home to a large poor population–more than 20 percent of its 480,000 residents are living below the poverty line, according to a 2003 U.S. Census report–1 in 6 households reports having no car. And though there were free buses to the city's famed Superdome, which was itself surrounded by 3 feet of water this morning, there was no attempt to provide public transportation out of town for the poor.
Why not more preparation?

And besides New Orleans wasn't Bush's "base".

See post below for link to reference on article showing that Bush cut the Army Corps budget every year in office and cut so much starting in 2003 that nothing more was even attempted to shore up the levees, let alone restore the wetlands.


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