Sunday, December 25, 2005

Coal in my Stocking

I was hoping to post something for the holidays that was positive. Reading over my last few posts, I realized that I need to lighten up.

However, Christmas came, and I found coal in my stocking. Thanks, L.A. Times:
Levees Weakened as New Orleans Board, Federal Engineers Feuded
Quick points from the article:

1) It was the Army Corps versus the Orleans Levee Board, not the Army Corps *and* the Levee Board, working to protect the city from a major hurricane:
Corps engineers wanted to install gates in front of the city's three main internal canals to protect against violent storm surges from Lake Pontchartrain. The Orleans Levee District, the city's flood protection agency, preferred to build higher flood walls for miles along the canals. For five years, neither side yielded.
Higher flood walls didn’t work, and the plan on the books now more closely resembles the Army Corps’ early plans.

2) Just because you are politically connected doesn’t mean you can’t be effective. However, this doesn’t look right:
All three engineering consultants who were selected by the Orleans board to design the levees contributed to the political campaigns of officials with sway over the board.


Levee board contractors also frequently gave campaign money to Francis C. Heitmeier, a powerful state legislator from New Orleans who has long wielded influence over Orleans levee district affairs.


Just last month, Heitmeier again played obstructionist, helping to snuff out a post-Katrina attempt by reformers to create a unified state levee board.
3) Sometimes people say that East Jefferson was lucky because the breach at the 17th Street Canal could have been on the E.J. side. But, luck probably had nothing to do with it:
Harvey recalls staring jealously at East Jefferson Levee District's well-trimmed border of the 17th Street canal, then at untamed foliage and trees massed along the Orleans levee wall. "I'd look at the Orleans side and get depressed," he said.

Neither the corps nor the Orleans board had a rigorous program for scanning for structural defects. Instead, the two agencies joined twice a year for five-hour-long inspection tours. A caravan of officials would make random stops along the floodwalls. Sometimes corps officials issued citations. Then they would head out for long lunches.
Merry frickin’ holidays.

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