Saturday, September 17, 2005

The work ahead

In his speech Wednesday, President Bush provided a broad outline for the resurrection of New Orleans from the floodwaters of the Mississippi Delta. It's an outline I approve of hardily, and I approve because New Orleans is history that should not perish, but should come back better than before. I won't mention the exciting engineering challenges in the offing, (Yeah, don't mention it! -ed.) but I will mention that the free enterprise and a hand up for individual responsibility leanings are the way to go, though they only go so far.

And I do not doubt for an instant that restoration of the devastated areas, particularly New Orleans, will occur and quickly. Americans are an impatient people which is good because that means things get done. They get it done by their own initiative for things that can be done individually or collectively on a voluntary basis. It is done via the government for those they can't, initiated and/or spurred by the petition process. (In Katrina, this petition process was a vehement public spurring, mostly of informal moral suasion.)

And things are getting done not only in New Orleans but throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Unofficially, small portions of New Orleans are already open for business. Mayor Nagin has announced the official opening for (if memory serves of one news clip I saw) "Saturday, Sunday, um Monday." The losses and damage will, obviously, not allow complete reoccupation, nevertheless I expect that by the end of the month there will be an ant colony of activity throughout the city by the end of the month. This activity will have one goal, rebuilding.

While Bush looks to have the government help in the rebuilding, i.e., suggesting astounding amounts in aid for the stricken areas of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, by the same token, the government will be hard pressed to postpone it. Any activity in regard to the latter will be met with a firestorm of petition.

And therein lie my concerns. One general concern springs from these words by Bush (from the transcript at he link, above):
"The federal government will be fully engaged in the mission, but Governor Barbour, Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin, and other state and local leaders will have the primary role in planning for their own future. Clearly, communities will need to move decisively to change zoning laws and building codes, in order to avoid a repeat of what we have seen."
I hope to see a follow-on press conference or two before Wednesday of next week in which the Feds outline the minimum floodproofing and windproofing standards that will be required and the States and Locals explain the details of their process in meeting those standards. I also hope to see explained how these standards and plans address the risks of 'inclement' weather that frequent their areas from a geographical perspective. And let me say with regard to Louisiana, my confidence level for leaving much in the hands of their state and local officials, is not as high as Bush's above words seem to imply. I want in depth, detailed oversight from start to finish there.

To further that oversight and to increase transparency for the public, I heartily recommend an official, combined website explaining the wide range of issues involved, the processes being taken to address the issues and the status of the activities. Coverage by this website should extend down the community ladder as much as possible. It ought to include all three states.

But just as importantly, what is to be done in addressing the main reason this disaster is the debacle it is and the costs we will have to bear are what that $200B is indicating? The New Orleans metropolitan area is the answer. Just repairing the broken flood barriers and making the barriers better is insufficient. New Orleans will still be only be ready for the next nasty Category 3 hurricane for Americans to pay astounding restoration costs.

Not good enough. I certainly hope no one else thinks so, and I doubt it will be that feeble a rebuilding but I have not heard a thing, officially, on the subject. So, I am hoping to hear a significant outlined commitment by President Bush to address that one fundamental issue. And very quickly, also by the middle of next week. And now is not the time to wait for unending design studies and cost-benefit studies and environmental studies and economic impact studies, not too mention the likely litigation delays that drain the life out of any course of action. This outlined committment should take the force of law, cutting through the all the red tape necessary to make it happen quickly, like by the next hurricane season.

If he does not, by 2007, if not sooner, we will be stuck with a New Orleans no better than what we have now -- a patchwork of protection daring Mother Nature to take shots at. And this is no time to dare Mother Nature while she is still in the peak of her 30 to 40 year hurricane cycle.

Some may want to pay for reconstruction with the unthinking attitude that we'll cross that inundation when we come to it. That's been the thinking for the last 40 years. I want this significant amount of money spent based on the attitude that we've already come to it

In my next post, I note some of the issues that will need to be confronted.


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