What the Gulf Coast Is Really Owed

Friday, May 18, 2007

The May 13 news story "Victims of Katrina File Rash of Lawsuits; Federal Government Faces More Than 250,000 Claims," citing information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-sponsored investigation of its own work in New Orleans: "Katrina was worse than the type of storm the levee system was designed for."

That statement by the Corps is not true. The Corps had assured residents that they were protected from the conditions of a Category 3 storm; such were the conditions of Hurricane Katrina when it hammered New Orleans. In fact, the three outflow canals that flooded the heart of the city broke when the water was still three feet from the top. These design flaws are the fault of the Corps; they were noted in the same report and are not disputed.

The article, quoting the same investigation, said that the devastation "was aided by the presence of incomplete protection, lower than authorized structures [levees], and levee sections with erodible materials." These admissions of culpability by the Corps are not only true, but two other independent studies have said the degree of the Corps' culpability is even greater.

If a building full of people crashed to the ground, you wouldn't blame the janitor, and you certainly wouldn't blame the survivors. You would go looking for the architect, the contractor and the engineer. In the case of New Orleans and Katrina, the Army Corps is all three of these.


Founder and Executive Director


New Orleans


Contrary to the view expressed by John M. Barry in his May 12 op-ed, "Our Coast to Fix -- or Lose," I believe the Bush administration should continue to withhold money for coastal restoration in Louisiana. The projects being served up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are little more than traditional Louisiana pork.

Most of the Mississippi Delta, some 10,000 square miles, lies less than three feet above sea level. Beset by land subsidence and rising sea levels, much of this vast area will inexorably sink beneath the waters by the end of this century.

Congress should suspend all coastal funding until the Corps and Louisiana prepare a comprehensive and realistic land-use plan for the entire delta, applying modern science and fiscal discipline to determine what can and cannot be salvaged.



The writer was secretary of the interior from 1993 to 2001.

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