Thursday, February 9, 2012

New Orleans Could Have Been Spared: The Consequences of Environmentalism

It's been almost six years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans-and the city is still recovering. The 2010 census for Orleans Parish shows 343,829 people; the 2000 census gave the number at 484,674, a drop of almost 141,000. That's about the size of Metairie, the largest suburb of New Orleans, or of Bridgeport, CT., Savannah, GA.,  Sunnyvale, CA., et al.

So it's not an exaggeration to say that Katrina was an apocalyptic event for New Orleans.
Most of us saw the pictures of the dead bodies floating in the floodwater-over 1,800 people were killed. But it's more than that: New Orleans was once noted for several vibrant, distinct neighborhoods. Many of those neighborhoods  have either vanished, the houses and buildings demolished , or the people who once lived there have simply...gone. The population decline in New Orleans has never before been seen in any American city-as Katrina was one of the worst storms in history. And New Orleans will never be the same again.

But it really wasn't Katrina that decimated the city of New Orleans. It was the levee breaches that did the damage, and killed 1,800 plus people.

Let me repeat that: the winds and even the torrential rains associated with the hurricane did not decimate New Orleans, it was when the levees broke that the disaster started. New Orleans has endured close brushes with hurricanes before. This time, the eye of the storm passed well to the east of the city-a fact that contributed to the levee breaks to be sure, but caused only typical wind damage. Yes, some of the levees broke because there was a lot of water being forced into Lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne. Some sort of barrier at the key access points of storm surge-the Rigolets and Chef Menteur pass-would have stopped all of this from happening. Stronger levees might have saved the city, too-but the first line of defense, an actual storm wall at strategic locations, was never built.

Why not? How could it be that New Orleanians  did not build adequate flood protection? It's been general knowledge since the nineteen forties what would happen if a levee break occurred during a powerful storm. It's not impossible to fully protect any city from flooding and storm surges. Click here for a video on what the Dutch have done about this problem in their country.

It's a relevant question to ask. After hurricane Betsy did extensive damage in 1965, Congress approved the money for New Orleans to build protection. The Army Corps of Engineers went to the drawing board and came up with a plan of first defense: build water barriers at the Rigolets and at Chef Menteur Pass, then shore up the levees. Although a very large volume of water is involved here, a volume that's really hard to even imagine it's so massive, we have the engineering capability to control such things. Just look at what's going on right now with the Morganza and Bonnet Carre spillways keeping the Mississippi flood away from New Orleans. And the Dutch have been keeping the North Sea out of their lands for years. But the protection was never built, at least not the floodwalls at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur.

As for why, this question has been part of the culture of New Orleans since I can remember. People like to speculate on it-but few New Orleanians like to actually do something about it (but that's another story). Anyway, most of us would say it was the corrupt politicians who wasted the money on other things, or it was the notorious New Orleans Levee Board doing what it does best (nothing, except maybe creating patronage jobs for well connected politicos.) Perhaps corruption and cronyism played a major part here, but there was something else involved that killed the whole deal.

To recap: the breaches in the levees at New Orleans were primarily caused by the massive storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. There was no protection against this storm surge because, although there was money allocated to build it, and the project was taken on by the Army Corps of Engineers, environment groups successfully sued to stop the project. Here are a few of them: The Sierra Club, Save Our Wetlands, The Mississippi River Basin Alliance, and others. These groups claimed that if the barriers were built, the swamps and marshes ("wetlands") in the vicinity would be negatively impacted.

Over 1,800 people dead. Tens of thousands of people displaced from their homes. But the wetlands were saved! Because for the environmentalists, Mother Nature is more important than people. Is it a stretch to come to this conclusion? There are other examples in other places where the consequences of environmental policies have caused harm to human beings.   For a menu list from the National Center for Policy Analysis, click here.

I am reluctant to hate anyone. But I find it very difficult to be charitable towards the Greens. New Orleans was decimated, nearly annihilated, by the levee breaches that could have been avoided. Over 1,800 people dead, and thousands more displaced from their beloved homes. An exquisitely beautiful, lovely city reduced to mold and ruin. The fact that the Greens do not care about this, in fact many of them secretly applaud the reduction in our overall population (humans are the problem, after all), makes me hate them. I will see them broken and defeated if I can.


Anonymous said...

Well now that many years have passed since Katrina, has the Corps of Engineers been allowed to implement their original plan (the plan that the greens killed) to protect the city? Or has a new plan (providing much better protection) been put in place in lieu of the original plan.
Also hasn't Katrina devastated the precious wetlands that the greens were trying to preserve?

John Russell Turner said...

I don't know, but I'm doing research on the subject. Yes, isn't it ironic how often the greens achieve unintended consequences from their policies? Thanks for your comment.