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article imageNew Orleans: Citizens worry over intimidation, broken promises Special

By Carol Forsloff     Aug 26, 2009 in Environment
Is Hurricane Katrina old news? Those who think it is need to know a good number of American cities are built near levees. Failures of the past can influence the future, and there are numbers of failures now impeding New Orleans’ protection.
Ongoing news sources relate many of the same problems continue four years after the flooding of New Orleans that came on the heels of Hurricane Katrina. Folks say the pattern remains the same as it has been for some time. New Orleans continues to wait for strong levee protection promised years ago.
Breeches, the newly coined word from Hurricane Katrina, was not a word in ordinary vocabulary related to storm problems prior to the levee problems that created the floods in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Many people maintain they never suspected the levees had faults, cracks and breakdowns that would result in New Orleans’ devastation. It remains an ongoing issue, as Levees.org reports. Furthermore the readiness problem is spelled out in recent news. Is New Orleans ready for the next Big One? Presently, the answer is no, according to experts.
I spoke with Sandy Rosenthal, President of Levees.org who recently returned from a trip to the Netherlands with Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. She told me, “The Netherlands doesn’t think of can’t when lives are at stake. The Netherlands doesn’t repeatedly ask its people why they live in the Netherlands, in a country with the waters at the gate."
Instead, Rosenthal say, “the Netherlands takes a “can do” approach that means it protects its citizens.” She went on to say how the government of the Netherlands is committed to using the money, manpower, dedication, spirit and honesty to protect its people.
Bicycle path in the Netherlands
People in the Netherlands can ride their bicycles along the levees without worry, according to those who visited the country lately to learn what might help New Orleans, because the country is dedicated to protecting its citizens.
Sandy Rosenthal
But New Orleans status remains largely the way it was before Hurricane Katrina four years ago, the news suggests. Just yesterday USA Today reported the flood control pumps not reliable. After Katrina the Army Corps of Engineers installed huge flood-control pumps since found by federal investigators to be inadequate to help protect the city. Proven equipment wasn’t purchased, and apparently the same pattern exists of buying cheap equipment as opposed to proven materials when preparing protection for a major American city. This was the criticism of independent engineers from Hurricane Katrina, that materials were bought cheaply and the least costly personnel used in terms of wages and experience. All of that combined to create a perfect storm. What the federal investigation has recently discovered is that the Army Corps of Engineers might have saved $430 million in replacement costs by buying appropriate and proven equipment. The Defense Department, under whose jurisdiction the Army Corps falls, maintains the pumps are adequate even as independent investigators say otherwise. Still that may not be the worst of it according to a number of experts and citizens concerned about these issues.
People involved in questioning the Army Corps have been intimidated in online postings according to information provided by Nola.com and Levees.org. Those who raise concerns about the levees have been targeted, Levees.org maintains. The organization has had to appeal to Senator Landrieu’s office to investigate and ask those involved to stop harassment of its members. An investigation is underway regarding this, according to Rosenthal. The principal problem is having a reliable agency – public trust that can ensure the work gets done in a timely, thorough and sensitive manner so that New Orleans citizens get the protection they need.
This is a further expansion of what went on between Levees.org and the Army Corps and the claims made about intimidation according to information obtained from Levees.org. US Senator Mary Landrieu D-LA has asked the Pentagon to investigate what is being called “questionable activity” at the New Orleans District of the Army Corps of Engineers. According to Rosenthal Louisiana’s senior senator has asked the Defense Department’s Inspector General, Gordon Heddell, to look into what is claimed to have been the inappropriate use of federal computers to harass and intimidate people. Along with Landrieu’s letter was a sworn affidavit of the founder and former editor-in-chief of NOLA.com, which is the online version of Times Picayune, the city’s principal newspaper. The affidavit signed by Jon C. Donley attests to what he declares was a coordinated attack campaign by the Corps of Engineers on the citizens who criticized the work on the levees and related issues.
“The American people deserve to know the full extent of this activity,” said Sandy Rosenthal, executive director of Levees.org. “Is this the handiwork of a few bad apples, or does it indicate a deception campaign funded with taxpayer money?”
Sandy Rosenthal
Sandy Rosenthal is Chairperson of levees.org, a group dedicated to helping New Orleans recovery efforts and in promoting an investigation team to review the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, including governmental inefficiencies
Carol Forsloff
Since many people might consider Hurricane Katrina old news in spite of issues like this, concerned citizens believe these new issues need to be examined. They want the story to continue to be important to the American people for a number of reasons. It is especially critical, they say, to get the information straight as opposed to listening to or reading myths and stories.
A recent report in the Times Picayune related how comic Harry Shearer put the problem to several hundred bloggers about what happened to New Orleans and why people should care. These people were at an annual meeting of writers committed to continuing the story of New Orleans. Shearer was reported as saying to these writers that the villain in the piece continues to be Hurricane Katrina as opposed to the Army Corps of Engineers that failed the city by not constructing the levees to the specifications required or maintaining them adequately. He told the writers the story has to be accurate and relate instead the responsibilities that were not met properly and therefore created conditions for flooding to occur.
Submerged restaurant during Katrina
Submerged restaurant during Katrina
Photo by au_tiger01
Shearer bemoans the fact that many people continue to think of New Orelans residents as a bunch of fools that complain about nothing and are lazy while waiting for handouts from the government. Furthermore, Shearer maintains he often gets email that asks the question, “Why do you live down there? It’s below sea level?” He goes on to say how important it is that bloggers and journalist are accurate about telling the New Orleans story and why they need to care about New Orleans.
Levees.org gives these facts they believe represent the important details people need to know about the flooding of New Orleans so that people understand the events as they happened from the perspective of independent engineers and ordinary citizens who studied and lived through the crisis:
Fact 1
New Orleans and nearby St. Bernard parish flooding was a civil engineering disaster, not a weather event. This was spelled out in a 2007 study by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Fact 2
The US Army Corps of Engineers has the ultimate responsibility for the design and construction of flood protection for New Orleans.
Fact 3
The failures of the construction took over 40 years with hundreds of millions of dollars spent to build a system that the calculations of the Army Corps itself considered inadequate.
Fact 4
Most of the US Army Corps of Engineers are civilians and their mistakes have no relationship to those who are fighting abroad. So the work done in the past and ongoing with the levees does not disparage our fighting men.
So why should anyone care right now, and is this old news? These are the things Levees.org and others maintain are critical. First of all, if the levees of New Orleans are inadequate, wouldn’t that suggest risks to other infrastructures throughout the country, is their contention. If government choices are made badly, then covered up, isn’t that an issue for everyone else, is a thesis they underline as important to continue to focus on the New Orleans problems. They also underline New Orleans as a major port city, a center of commerce, and a repository of much of the early history of the country’s expansion. These are serious issues to consider with respect to adequate protection, according to Levees.org.
This week Levees.org will memorialize the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina at a cocktail/ors d’ouvres reception and film screening from 6:30 pm – 8:15 p.m. at the Touro Synagogue on St. Charles Avenue in uptown New Orleans. The films shown include “The Dutch Say We Do” a documentary filmed in Holland and an 8-minute film showing an interview with a journalist who wrote comprehensively about the flooding of New Orleans and how a mistake led to finding the way past myths and stories to learning more about the truth.
More about New orleans levees, Army corps engineers, Hurricane Katrina
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