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
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
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
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
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.
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.