Thursday, May 22, 2008

NOLA/Gulf: Deja vu all over again

There's another NOLA/Gulf Blogathon going on at Daily Kos. I'm a participant. Here's my post from today. To visit the site and read the comments, click on the headline of this post.

• • •

Two news stories conspired this week to remind New Orleans residents just how fragile their recovery is — and how indifferent the Bush administration it to that recovery.

The first story was that a combat brigade of the Louisiana National Guard has been notified it will be heading back to Iraq.

The second story was that, after millions of dollars spent re-engineering and re-building one of the levees which failed after Katrina, the 17th Street Canal levee is leaking now.

The stories, each ominous in their own right, are reminders of how the war and Bush administration incompetence diminish our ability to respond to genuine needs at home.

Hurricane season begins on June 1. This will be the third hurricane season since levees in New Orleans failed after Hurrican Katrina delivered the city what amounted to a glancing blow.

Since that time, the Bush administration has delivered on some promised resources to help residents and businesses rebuild, but as the leaking 17th Street Canal levee story illustrates, it is failing the fundamental test of providing the city secure reliable levee protection that will prevent a repeat of the post-Katrina flooding.

Here are the first paragraphs of the Associated Press story on the leaking new levee:
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Despite more than $22 million in repairs, a levee that broke with catastrophic effect during Hurricane Katrina is leaking again because of the mushy ground on which New Orleans was built, raising serious questions about the reliability of the city's flood defenses.

Outside engineering experts who have studied the project told The Associated Press that the type of seepage spotted at the 17th Street Canal in the Lakeview neighborhood afflicts other New Orleans levees, too, and could cause some of them to collapse during a storm.

The Army Corps of Engineers has spent about $4 billion so far of the $14 billion set aside by Congress to repair and upgrade the metropolitan area's hundreds of miles of levees by 2011. Some outside experts said the leak could mean that billions more will be needed and that some of the work already completed may need to be redone.

"It is all based on a 30-year-old defunct model of thinking, and it means that when they wake up to this one -- really -- our cost is going to increase significantly," said Bob Bea, a civil engineer at the University of California at Berkeley.

The eye-catcher here is that the seepage in this levees is showing up in other new levees. As the UC-Berkely engineer explains, this is a product of the brain-dead approach to the problem of New Orleans' levees taken by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps, for its part, says it believes there is "an adequate margin of safety" built into the 17th Street Canal levee and the other 50 or so leaking levees it has repaired in the almost three years since the levee failures of 2005.

So, the people who vouched for the original failed levees are now vouching for the newly 'repaired' levees after spending about $4 billion on what apparently hasn't alleviated the problem the money was intended to remedy.

Sounds a lot like the imperial adventure in Iraq.

Which is where the story about the decision to send the LNG's 256th Combat Brigade back to Iraq comes in to connect the dots.

While the specific deployment date has not been announced, the fact is that when it does happen, it will leave New Orleans and South Louisiana without the big vehicles that can drive through flood waters to help with evacuation and rescue. This is precisely what the situation on the ground in New Orleans and all of South Louisiana was when Katrina hit.

The Times-Picayune reminds readers about what happened and why this deployment will diminish Louisiana's ability to respond to natural disasters:
Based in Lafayette, the 256th is the largest single unit in the Louisiana Guard, comprising more than one-quarter of the total number of soldiers and airmen in the state.

The brigade has subordinate units throughout the state, including the 1st Battalion, 141st Field Artillery Regiment, whose buildings at Jackson Barracks were destroyed by flooding during Katrina. Until replacement facilities are built, the battalion is based at Michoud in eastern New Orleans.

The brigade was winding down from its yearlong combat tour in 2005 when Katrina struck. Many of its soldiers who began arriving home in the weeks that followed were immediately pressed into recovery duty.

So, after spending billions supposedly fixing the problem that resulted in the flooding of the city which killed at least 1,300 people, the levees are still leaking and the Bush administration has put us on notice that it is preparing to send Louisiana's best responders to natural disasters back to Iraq.

Welcome, 2008 (and 2009, 2010, and probably 2011) hurricane seasons!

As the Dear Leader famously said, "Bring 'em on!"

Mike Stagg

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