Okay, there's finally some movement and perhaps even a little energy behind the words coming out of the White House. The initial $1.6 billion that President Bush promised weeks ago was dedicated to getting the levee protection "back to pre-Katrina levels." Needless to say, that gave ZERO comfort to anybody here, since pre-Katrina levels got us a tsunami without the earthquake.
Now today, President Bush announces an additional $1.5 billion that will get us "true" Category Three protection, the best protection the city has ever had. ("Honest! We promise it'll work this time!" says the Corps.) Bush's Gulf Coast Rebuilding Czar, Donald Powell, said, "The federal government is committed to building the best levee system known in the world."
The news is being spun so positively that my friend from California called to talk about the good day we in Louisiana had (and it was good).
If that last statement from Powell is true, however, then this request is a good-faith down payment--nothing less, but nothing more either. I'm not an engineer, but everything I've read recently seems to indicate that levees are only part of the full solution to our problem. Outer barriers--a combination of restored natural barrier islands and manmade structures like a gate at the Rigolets entrance to Lake Pontchartrain--are also important. Finally wetlands restoration is CRITICAL, and I haven't heard a word about that out of Washington.
As the estimable Oyster puts it, today the feds commited to building the best levee system in the world, or "at least the best Category 3 levee system in the world." It's good, but it's too much to say that it's really comforting.
Please note that Mr. Powell said that there could still be "manageable type" flooding. (Manageable type flooding is flooding that takes place in somebody else's city, usually a city full of people poorer and darker than you are.)
Folks in the Lower Ninth and St. Bernard shouldn't feel good at all, and the LSU expert Ivor Van Heerden, who's been right all along, says it's not enough. The new money is to be spent over two years while a plan is being worked up. Van Heerden, however, says in response some of the most encouraging words I've read since the storm:
I think we don’t need two years to come up with a plan. All we need to do is bring in some of the experts from the Netherlands, and some from the University of Cal-Berkley and some of our own great people in Louisiana and we could come up with a plan very quickly that would be far greater than category-3. Mr. Powell said that we will have the best levees in the world and if that’s the case, they have to be more than one in every 10,000 years strength.To belabor the food imagery I started with, we need a solid three-course meal. President Bush and his buddy Donald Powell have somehow managed to put together a small but nice appetizer order of shrimp remoulade (that picture above is waaay bigger than the order we got today from Bush's kitchen). That's only going to go so far, and the Lance's saltines on the red-checked tableclothed table are going to get old. We're going to be needing that main course from the kitchen real soon. And according to Chef Van Heerden, the people in Bush's kitchen do in fact know the recipe for the main course.