Saturday, September 03, 2005

New Orleans Officials Worried In 2004 That Federal Cuts Would Bring Disaster

The Bush Administration ignored warnings last year that New Orleans' east bank hurricane levees were left vulnerable as the administration diverted money from an Army Corps of Engineers project to the Iraq War.

When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA. Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained.

But, according to an article in the Philadelphia Daily News: "(A)fter 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars."

In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, La., told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Also that June, with the 2004 hurricane season starting, the Corps' project manager Al Naomi went before a local agency, the East Jefferson Levee Authority, and essentially begged for $2 million for urgent work that Washington was now unable to pay for.

From the June 18, 2004 Times-Picayune: "The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking, and if we don't get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can't stay ahead of the settlement," Naomi said. "The problem that we have isn't that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can't raise them."

The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades. In spite of that, the federal government came back this spring with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history. Because of the proposed cuts, the Corps office there imposed a hiring freeze. Officials said that money targeted for the SELA project -- $10.4 million, down from $36.5 million -- was not enough to start any new jobs.

There was, at the same time, a growing recognition that more research was needed to see what New Orleans must do to protect itself from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. But once again, the money was not there.

As the Times-Picayune reported last Sept. 22: "That second study would take about four years to complete and would cost about $4 million, said Army Corps of Engineers project manager Al Naomi. About $300,000 in federal money was proposed for the 2005 fiscal-year budget, and the state had agreed to match that amount. But the cost of the Iraq war forced the Bush administration to order the New Orleans district office not to begin any new studies, and the 2005 budget no longer includes the needed money, he said."

The Senate was seeking to restore some of the SELA funding cuts for 2006. But now it's too late. One project that a contractor had been racing to finish this summer: a bridge and levee job right at the 17th Street Canal, site of the main breach on Monday.


Anonymous kgfnally said...

Criminal negligence.
Callous disregard for human life.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have a legal case now.

3:02 AM  
Anonymous alias: "cutiepie" johnson said...

The Bush Administration got what it paid for.

3:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howard Fineman, posting on MSNBC, wrote this:

"(L)ast year the government ran a simulation of just this kind of event. All you had to do was read National Geographic or watch the Weather Channel to know, for example, that Lake Pontchatrain could slosh around like a shallow pan of water — and easily overtop the berms and floodwalls. As soon as Katrina started heading for New Orleans — and certainly from the moment it hit land — the president had every reason to expect disaster."

3:20 AM  
Blogger liberalyankee said...

Heads will roll

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Woody said...

Budgets are always a matter of choices based upon money available, priorities, and risks. You can always find something for which money wasn't spent and for which someone, somewhere predicted would be a problem. If there is an earthquake in California, someone would say that Bush should have done more. If an asteroid heads toward us, Bush should have done more. Well, Bush didn't because Congress and others who manipulate and pass the budgets didn't think that more money to New Orleans was more important than some other projects which got the money--and, so did Clinton, who could have handled this before Bush. You can't fix everything at one time.

Be realistic. This is a natural disaster. The city survived the hurricane strike, but fell to a broken levy after the storm. Higher levies wouldn't help. This one had a weak spot, and the various projects may not have even located this.

Most people need to step back and think about this rather than blame Bush for natural disasters and for lack of defenses passed on by previous presidents.

1:29 PM  
Anonymous rob of wilimington, del. said...

Woody, you didn't read the post closely. Follow the timeline.

Clinton, who was president in 1995, oversaw the creation of the SELA project. It was funded properly until 2003, when Bush was president.

Bush then decided, with the help of his Republican-led Congress, to divert money from SELA to Iraq, according to the various people in New Orleans quoted in the story.

This is not a case of "he could have spent more money." It's a case of "he shouldn't have diverted money from a project that was not yet finished, and which locals believed was poised for disaster if not finished." And-or: "He should not have diverted money away from research to determine whether the levees could withstands a Category 4 or 5 hurricane."

I agree with "Cutiepie": Bush got what he paid for.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Woody's answer is right from the conservative spin guide playbook:

When in doubt, find a way to blame Clinton -- even if you have no logical basis for that blame.

3:01 PM  
Blogger don dzikowski said...

Count me among those who think Woody should get his facts straight.
Bush cut money ALREADY AUTHORIZED by the Clinton Administration in 1995 for projects those in the know - the Army Corps of Engineers -- felt critical and necessary to prevent the exact type of disaster that has now befallen New Orleans. Got it, Woody?
We mustn't forget that FEMA predicted in 2000 of a catastrophic hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of the three top areas of concern for the United States.
All Americans must cringe when Bush told that worthless news hack Diane Sawyer that "no one predicted" that the levee would break. What a boldfaced lie. Sawyer pulled off an injustice to all Americas as well as to the very name of beneficial journalism when she failed to offer a rebuttal of all the widely known facts JABBS addresses above. At the very least, Bush demonstrated he lacks both the knowledge competence to be top in the chain of command of Homeland Security. As for Sawyer, she deserves to be tossed out on her fat ass for her display of utter journalistic incompetence.
As I said in an earlier posting, let the congressional hearings to find accountability begin immediately.

10:05 PM  
Blogger TR said...

Bush was right when he said nobody predicted the levee would BREACH. Everyone predicted that the levees which were built to withstand a Cat 3 storm would be OVERTOPPED by the storm surge... NOT BREACHED.

And Clinton and the Greens spent a great deal of the 1990s trying to prevent the Corps from working on the levees because of the "environmental impact". (

Just another chance to blame Bush from the experts in hindsight.

11:29 AM  

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