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DISASTER IN NEW ORLEANS -
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FEMA Claims New Orleans Was Disaster Priority; Bush 2005 Budget Drastically Cut Lake Pontchartrain Levee Funding

Posted in the database on Thursday, September 01st, 2005 @ 19:46:31 MST (1436 views)
by Greg Szymanski    The Arctic Beacon  

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While the Bush administration spends billions in Iraq, a project manager for the repair of the New Orleans levee system said President Bush’s 2005 budget is “totally inadequate,” providing only $3.9 million of the $20 million needed before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

Al Naomi, head of the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Project, told a group of New Orleans business men in early 2004, as the cost of the Iraqi conflict skyrocketed, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Army Corps. of Engineers said was needed to shore up the levee system.

After the Category Four hurricane battered New Orleans this week, the levee system collapsed in three vital areas, flooding 80 percent of the city and leaving thousands dead, according to city officials.

“The $750 million Lake Pontchartrain project remains about 20 percent incomplete due to a lack of funds,” said Naomi about the project, consisting of protection for pumping stations and building up levees on the east bank of the Mississippi River in Orleans, St. Bernard, St. Charles and Jefferson parishes.

According to local papers, in June of 2004, at the height of the hurricane season, Naomi went before the East Jefferson Levee authority, begging for $2 million in “urgent emergency funds” since Washington refused to allocate proper funding to strengthen the levee.

After the levee system failed this week, critics of the Bush administration quickly cited the “lack of priority funding” for the Lake Pontchartrain project, adding the administration failed in its duties to the people of New Orleans by not providing the needed money even though the danger of a major catastrophe was well-known.

"The longer we wait without funding, the more we sink," Naomi told the New Orleans City Business magazine last year. "I've got at least six levee construction contracts that need to be done to raise the levee protection back to where it should be (because of settling). Right now I owe my contractors about $5 million. And we're going to have to pay them interest.

"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. 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."

In its article concerning the lack of funding for the levee system, the New Orleans City Business article added that despite of the 2004 hurricane being one of the worst on recorded record, the President’s budget came back “with the steepest reduction in hurricane funding and flood control funding for New Orleans in history.”

Regarding the lack of federal priority funding, the article added:

“The panel authorized that money, and on July 1, 2004, it had to pony up another $250,000 when it learned that stretches of the levee in Metairie had sunk by four feet. The agency had to pay for the work with higher property taxes. The levee board noted in October 2004 that the feds were also not going to pay for a hoped-for $15 million project to better shore up the banks of Lake Pontchartrain.

Two days after the New Orleans was left in chaos, Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the government’s point man for hurricane assistance, said the New Orleans levee system was always one of the government’s highest priorities.

However, his statements issued to the nation on CNN, appear to directly conflict with the stark reality that the Bush administration cut funds to repair the levee system even though it was a known danger if a major storm hit.

New Orleans has long been known as a flood threat from a direct hit from a hurricane, the federal government working with state and local officials since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts.

And when flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people in New Orleans, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (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, with $50 million in local aid.

But Naomi pointed out that at least $250 million in crucial projects remained under funded, even though New Orleans had a near miss in 2004 from a major hurricane.

Due to the 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,” according to New Orleans City Business magazine in a June 5, 2004 article.

The disaster surrounding Hurricane Katrina, largely affecting Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, is still unfolding, officials saying recovery is going to take years not months since it has been declared the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

Two days after the storm’s devastating blow, looting and lawlessness has been reported in New Orleans, but police have largely ignored the problem due to its first priority of looking for survivors.

It is estimated that 250,000 people remained in the city despite a mandatory evacuation order. New Orleans city officials feared the death toll could reach as high as one-third of that figure, since many people were trapped in their homes unable to escape from rising flood waters that reached 20 feet high in some parts of the city.

The federal government has not yet arrived with mass assistance, although officials said late Wednesday evening, help was on the way with food, water and other necessities. In the interim, New Orleans remains primarily a “refugee city” with no power or fresh water, officials estimating it could be more than two months before services are restored.



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