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FYI: Trib on Bush underfunding flood control due to Iraq war

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  • Carl Davidson
    chicagotribune.com HURRICANE KATRINA: THE LEVEES HURRICANE-PROTECTION PROJECTS Flood-control funds short of requests By Andrew Martin and Andrew Zajac
    Message 1 of 2 , Sep 1, 2005
      chicagotribune.com

      HURRICANE KATRINA: THE LEVEES

      HURRICANE-PROTECTION PROJECTS

      Flood-control funds short of requests

      By Andrew Martin and Andrew Zajac
      Washington Bureau

      September 1, 2005

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

      That has 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 shortfalls, 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.

      Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the corps' chief of engineers, said late
      Wednesday that the corps' requests cited in Landrieu's figures were
      the amount that would be needed to finish the work in a given year.
      But he said the corps, working with the administration, rarely
      requests the full amount in the budget.

      "There are limited resources and there are huge demands on it," he
      said. "Very rarely do we fund at full capability."

      Even if the projects had been funded at the highest amounts, Strock
      said it might not have changed the situation in downtown New Orleans.
      He said the levee near the 17th Street Canal, where one of the
      breaches occurred that emptied water into the city, was fully completed.

      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 said 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 underfunding.

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

      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 official.

      One of these, the Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection Project,
      begun in 1965, originally was slated 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.

      ----------

      ajmartin@...

      azajac@...

      Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune
    • Dennis Dixon
      Carl, I think this idea that entitlement programs can be brought into the mix of reasons why this happened is totally bogus. The Committee for New Priotities
      Message 2 of 2 , Sep 1, 2005
        Carl,
        I think this idea that "entitlement programs" can be brought into the mix of reasons why this happened is totally bogus. The Committee for New Priotities (CNP) has long pointed out that entitlement programs come nowhere hear the level of the War budget when all aspects of military spending are brought into consideration. If we were to make a statement on this article, the argument would have to be broadened to include the CNP point of view. Nonetheless, the article does point out once again the idiocy of the Bush Administration......Dennis Dixon

        Quoting from the article:
        "Fred Caver, who retired in June as the corps' deputy director of civil works . . . 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."


        Carl Davidson carld717@... wrote:
        Chicago Tribune

        HURRICANE KATRINA: THE LEVEES
        HURRICANE-PROTECTION PROJECTS

        Flood-control funds short of requests

        By Andrew Martin and Andrew Zajac
        Washington Bureau
        September 1, 2005

        http://tinyurl.com/c9fmw

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

        That has 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 shortfalls, 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.

        Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the corps' chief of engineers, said late Wednesday that the corps' requests cited in Landrieu's figures were the amount that would be needed to finish the work in a given year. But he said the corps, working with the administration, rarely requests the full amount in the budget.

        "There are limited resources and there are huge demands on it," he said. "Very rarely do we fund at full capability."

        Even if the projects had been funded at the highest amounts, Strock said it might not have changed the situation in downtown New Orleans. He said the levee near the 17th Street Canal, where one of the breaches occurred that emptied water into the city, was fully completed.

        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 said 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 underfunding.

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

        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 official.

        One of these, the Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection Project, begun in 1965, originally was slated 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.

        http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0509010170sep01,1,5853346.story
        ----------

        ajmartin@...

        azajac@...

        Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune
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