Thursday, September 01, 2005

Reality Interdiction Field At Full Power!

"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" -- our President, this morning.

Despite continuous warnings that a catastrophic hurricane could hit New Orleans, the Bush administration and Congress in recent years have repeatedly cut funding for hurricane preparation and flood control. -- reality, trying its hardest to be heard. As is usually the case with this administration, the reality-based head of the Army Core of Engineers was dismissed in 2002.

Here is a complete timeline of the administration's latest failure. Meanwhile, instead of visiting the city or helping to restore structure and sanity to the region with his power as Commander in Chief, he's too busy talking about looters. People are starving, but some people always will value property over life.

What do you say, America? Wish you had a real President right now?


Blogger Management said...

Funding cuts led way to lesser levees

By Andrew Martin and and Andrew Zajac
Washington bureau
Published August 31, 2005, 10:24 PM CDT

WASHINGTON -- Despite continuous warnings that a catastrophic hurricane could hit New Orleans, the Bush administration and Congress in recent years have repeatedly cut funding for hurricane preparation and flood control.

The cuts have delayed construction of levees around the city and stymied an ambitious project to improve drainage in New Orleans' neighborhoods.

For instance, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested $27 million for this fiscal year to pay for hurricane protection projects around Lake Pontchartrain. The Bush administration countered with $3.9 million, and Congress eventually provided $5.7 million, according to figures provided by the office of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

Because of the budget cuts, which were caused in part by the rising costs of the war in Iraq, the corps delayed seven contracts that included enlarging the levees, according to corps documents.

Much of the devastation in New Orleans was caused by breaches in the levees, which sent water from Lake Pontchartrain pouring into the city. Since much of the city is below sea level, the levee walls acted like the walls of a bowl that filled until as much as 80 percent of the city was under water.

Similarly, the Army Corps requested $78 million for this fiscal year for projects that would improve draining and prevent flooding in New Orleans. The Bush administration's budget provided $30 million for the projects, and Congress ultimately approved $36.5 million, according to Landrieu's office.

"I'm not saying it wouldn't still be flooded, but I do feel that if it had been totally funded, there would be less flooding than you have," said Michael Parker, a former Republican Mississippi congressman who headed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from October 2001 until March 2002, when he was ousted after publicly criticizing a Bush administration proposal to cut the corps' budget.

A corps plan to shore up the levees began in 1965 and was supposed to be finished in 10 years but remains incomplete. "They've never put enough money in to complete it," Parker said. He complained that the corps' budget has been regularly targeted by the White House because public works projects are perceived as pork and aren't considered "sexy."

"Go talk to the people who are suffering in New Orleans," Parker said. "Ask them, `Do they think it's pork?' "

Joseph Suhayda, an emeritus engineering professor at Louisiana State University who has worked for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the corps simply didn't have enough money to build the levees as high as the designs called for.

"The fact that they weren't that high was a result of lack of funding," he said, noting that part of the levee at the 17th Street Canal--where one of the breaches occurred--was 4 feet lower than the rest. "I think they could have significantly reduced the impact if they had those projects funded. If you need to spend $20 million and you spend $4 or $5 million, something's got to give."

Officials for the Army Corps of Engineers declined to comment on the reasons for the budget cutbacks.

Fred Caver, who retired in June as the corps' deputy director of civil works, said there is always competition for funding and "you're never going to get everything you want."

But he said a reluctance to invest in unglamorous public works projects and especially heavy demands on the budget, from the war in Iraq and entitlement programs, have added to the difficulty in securing funding for corps projects.

Scott Milburn, a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, declined to comment about the specific allegations regarding funding for hurricane-related projects in Louisiana. However, he said, "The president signed into law a $100 million increase for the corps for the current fiscal year compared to the previous year's level."

Historically, New Orleans has built bigger and more ambitious levees every time the city floods, Suhayda said.

"They would live with the conditions that they had until there was an event," he said. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 prompted a major upgrade to the levees around New Orleans, he said. The levees were upgraded again to handle a Category 3 storm after Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans in 1965.

In the years since then, local officials have warned that a catastrophic storm was inevitable and sought more funding to improve the area's hurricane preparedness to handle larger storms. In July 2004, for instance, federal, state and local officials staged a simulation in which a "Hurricane Pam" slammed into New Orleans with 120 m.p.h. winds and created havoc that was eerily similar to that of Hurricane Katrina, including widespread building damage and death.

"Since 1995, we've been replaying these scenarios out in various degrees. As we got together to do these, the people in the parishes would say, `Make them as bad as possible so we can get some attention,' " said Suhayda, who participated in the Hurricane Pam exercises.

"Unfortunately, our way for dealing with these disasters is after the fact," he said.

Funding cuts led way to lesser levees

By Andrew Martin and and Andrew Zajac
Washington bureau
Published August 31, 2005, 10:24 PM CDT

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J. David Rogers, chairman of the geological engineering department at the University of Missouri-Rolla, said politicians have refused to spend money to improve the levees to handle a Category 5 storm because of the low probability of such a storm occurring.

"The politicians were convinced that they had their 100-year event with [Hurricane] Camille," he said, referring to the Category 5 storm in 1969 that obliterated a large swath of the Gulf Coast. "The fact that we had a big event 20 years ago, or we dodged one last year, doesn't mean it's not going to happen tomorrow."

While corps officials were trying to determine the cause of the levee breaches, they said they believed it was caused by water lapping over the top of the levees, which eroded the back side and eventually caused them to give way.

There are at least three major breaches of 200 to 300 feet long, corps officials said. Once the corps plugs the leaks, with huge bags of sand and gravel dropped by helicopters, it will begin repairing and replacing pumps in the city to remove the water.

Estimates of how long it will take to pump out the water varied from several weeks to several months, depending on which corps official was asked.

The Corps of Engineers has been working on two flood-control projects in New Orleans and is awaiting approval of a third, according to Caver, the former corps officials.

The Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection Project, begun in 1965, originally was to include a movable barrier on the eastern edge of the lake to block a tidal surge during a hurricane. Planners opted for a cheaper, less desirable alternative of building up levees to keep the lake from spilling into the city, Caver said.

A second project, the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, aims to improve water drainage within New Orleans. It required hundreds of millions of dollars but has been funded around $50 million a year, Caver said.

A third project, the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Project, remains in a planning stage. It aims to counter the effects of erosion on the state's coastline for a better buffer against storm surges. A huge swath of Louisiana coastline has disappeared, in part because of manmade dikes, canals and levees.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Management said...

CHRONOLOGY....Here's a timeline that outlines the fate of both FEMA and flood control projects in New Orleans under the Bush administration. Read it and weep:

January 2001: Bush appoints Joe Allbaugh, a crony from Texas, as head of FEMA. Allbaugh has no previous experience in disaster management.

April 2001: Budget Director Mitch Daniels announces the Bush administration's goal of privatizing much of FEMA's work. In May, Allbaugh confirms that FEMA will be downsized: "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program...." he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."

2001: FEMA designates a major hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of the three "likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country."

December 2002: After less than two years at FEMA, Allbaugh announces he is leaving to start up a consulting firm that advises companies seeking to do business in Iraq. He is succeeded by his deputy, Michael Brown, who, like Allbaugh, has no previous experience in disaster management.

March 2003: FEMA is downgraded from a cabinet level position and folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission is refocused on fighting acts of terrorism.

2003: Under its new organization chart within DHS, FEMA's preparation and planning functions are reassigned to a new Office of Preparedness and Response. FEMA will henceforth focus only on response and recovery.

Summer 2004: FEMA denies Louisiana's pre-disaster mitigation funding requests. Says Jefferson Parish flood zone manager Tom Rodrigue: "You would think we would get maximum consideration....This is what the grant program called for. We were more than qualified for it."

June 2004: The Army Corps of Engineers budget for levee construction in New Orleans is slashed. Jefferson Parish emergency management chiefs Walter Maestri comments: "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."

June 2005: Funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit areas is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes.

August 2005: While New Orleans is undergoing a slow motion catastrophe, Bush mugs for the cameras, cuts a cake for John McCain, plays the guitar for Mark Wills, delivers an address about V-J day, and continues with his vacation. When he finally gets around to acknowledging the scope of the unfolding disaster, he delivers only a photo op on Air Force One and a flat, defensive, laundry list speech in the Rose Garden.

A crony with no relevant experience was installed as head of FEMA. Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to be one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately downsized as part of the Bush administration's conservative agenda to reduce the role of government. After DHS was created, FEMA's preparation and planning functions were taken away.

Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of operational competence. It's the Bush administration in a nutshell.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Management said...

FEMA THEN AND NOW....So what does James Lee Witt, former director of FEMA in the 90s, think of his agency's response to Hurricane Katrina?

In the 1990s, in planning for a New Orleans nightmare scenario, the federal government figured it would pre-deploy nearby ships with pumps to remove water from the below-sea-level city and have hospital ships nearby, said James Lee Witt, who was FEMA director under President Clinton.

Federal officials said a hospital ship would leave from Baltimore on Friday.

"These things need to be planned and prepared for; it just doesn't look like it was," said Witt, a former Arkansas disaster chief who won bipartisan praise on Capitol Hill during his tenure.

Read the rest of the story for a blow-by-blow indictment of the weak federal response to Katrina. FEMA just isn't what it used to be.

UPDATE: Here's a story on Bush's mismanagement of FEMA that ran in the Independent Weekly last September:

Among emergency specialists, "mitigation" — the measures taken in advance to minimize the damage caused by natural disasters — is a crucial part of the strategy to save lives and cut recovery costs.
But since 2001, key federal disaster mitigation programs, developed over many years, have been slashed and tossed aside. FEMA's Project Impact, a model mitigation program created by the Clinton administration, has been canceled outright.

....[In 2001], President Bush appointed a close aide, Joe Allbaugh, to be the agency's new director....The White House quickly launched a government-wide effort to privatize public services, including key elements of disaster management. Bush's first budget director, Mitch Daniels, spelled out the philosophy in remarks at an April 2001 conference: "The general idea — that the business of government is not to provide services, but to make sure that they are provided — seems self-evident to me," he said.

In a May 15, 2001, appearance before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Allbaugh signaled that the new, stripped-down approach would be applied at FEMA as well. "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program and a disincentive to effective state and local risk management," he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."

Italics mine. There's much, much more in this deeply reported story. Read the whole thing to get a sickening sense of the disastrous effect that the Bush administration's glorification of conservative ideology over managerial competence has had on FEMA's workforce, its morale, and its ability to get things done.

1:32 PM  

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