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Katrina: Louisiana Federal Money Not Spent on Levees

It turns out Louisiana has gotten more than its fair share of federal dollars for infrastructure but its own lawmakers thought the New Orleans levees were not a priority.

Money Flowed to Questionable Projects (WaPo, A1)

Before Hurricane Katrina breached a levee on the New Orleans Industrial Canal, the Army Corps of Engineers had already launched a $748 million construction project at that very location. But the project had nothing to do with flood control. The Corps was building a huge new lock for the canal, an effort to accommodate steadily increasing barge traffic. Except that barge traffic on the canal has been steadily decreasing.

In Katrina’s wake, Louisiana politicians and other critics have complained about paltry funding for the Army Corps in general and Louisiana projects in particular. But over the five years of President Bush’s administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state, about $1.9 billion; California was a distant second with less than $1.4 billion, even though its population is more than seven times as large.

Much of that Louisiana money was spent to try to keep low-lying New Orleans dry. But hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to unrelated water projects demanded by the state’s congressional delegation and approved by the Corps, often after economic analyses that turned out to be inaccurate. Despite a series of independent investigations criticizing Army Corps construction projects as wasteful pork-barrel spending, Louisiana’s representatives have kept bringing home the bacon.

For example, after a $194 million deepening project for the Port of Iberia flunked a Corps cost-benefit analysis, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) tucked language into an emergency Iraq spending bill ordering the agency to redo its calculations. The Corps also spends tens of millions of dollars a year dredging little-used waterways such as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, the Atchafalaya River and the Red River — now known as the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway, in honor of the project’s congressional godfather — for barge traffic that is less than forecast.

[...]

Administration officials also dramatically scaled back a long-term project to restore Louisiana’s disappearing coastal marshes, which once provided a measure of natural hurricane protection for New Orleans. They ordered the Corps to stop work on a $14 billion plan, and devise a $2 billion plan instead. But overall, the Bush administration’s funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton administration’s for its past five years. Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the chief of the Corps, has said that in any event, more money would not have prevented the drowning of the city, since its levees were designed to protect against a Category 3 storm, and the levees that failed were already completed projects. Strock has also said that the marsh-restoration project would not have done much to diminish Katrina’s storm surge, which passed east of the coastal wetlands.

“The project manager for the Great Pyramids probably put in a request for 100 million shekels and only got 50 million,” said John Paul Woodley Jr., the Bush administration official overseeing the Corps. “Flood protection is always a work in progress; on any given day, if you ask whether any community has all the protection it needs, the answer is almost always: Maybe, but maybe not.”

The Corps had been studying the possibility of upgrading the New Orleans levees for a higher level of protection before Katrina hit, but Woodley said that study would not have been finished for years. Still, liberal bloggers, Democratic politicians and some GOP defenders of the Corps have linked the catastrophe to the underfunding of the agency.

“We’ve been hollering about funding for years, but everyone would say: There goes Louisiana again, asking for more money,” said former Democratic senator John Breaux. “We’ve had some powerful people in powerful places, but we never got what we needed.”

That may be true. But those powerful people — including former senators Breaux, Johnston and Russell Long, as well as former House committee chairmen Robert Livingston and W.J. “Billy” Tauzin — did get quite a bit of what they wanted. And the current delegation — led by Landrieu and GOP Sen. David Vitter — has continued that tradition. The Senate’s latest budget bill for the Corps included 107 Louisiana projects worth $596 million, including $15 million for the Industrial Canal lock, for which the Bush administration had proposed no funding. Landrieu said the bill would “accelerate our flood control, navigation and coastal protection programs.” Vitter said he was “grateful that my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee were persuaded of the importance of these projects.”

Louisiana not only leads the nation in overall Corps funding, it places second in new construction — just behind Florida, home of an $8 billion project to restore the Everglades. Several controversial projects were improvements for the Port of New Orleans, an economic linchpin at the mouth of the Mississippi. There were also several efforts to deepen channel for oil and gas tankers, a priority for petroleum companies that drill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We thought all the projects were important — not just levees,” Breaux said. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but navigation projects were critical to our economic survival.”

Louisiana’s politicians are no different from those of other states: they want to get as many federal dollars as they can and spend them on projects that will have the biggest economic impact. They judged the risk of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane taking a direct path over New Orleans sufficiently low as to permit the money to go to projects that were seemingly more urgent. Obviously, they guessed wrong–with tragic consequences.

Louisiana got tons of federal money that could have easily been earmarked for flood control and chose, reasonably enough, to generate jobs to boost its poor economy. I don’t blame Mary Landrieu for that. It would be nice, though, if she would refrain from going on television with tears in her eyes and threatening to punch the president.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Don’t forget what Nikita Kruschev said

    And for that we have over a thousand people dead in Louisiana. I don’t expect anyone to step up and take the blame for that.

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  2. Anderson says:

    This is indeed the problem with blaming the Bushies for why there was a flood in the first place. Even had the White House tried to hamper flood prevention, the La. delegation could’ve raised a hellish row about it every year. But no, so long as the pork kept coming, never mind the fusty old hurricane stuff.

    The feds’ real failures were in the response, not in the disaster’s happening at all. The levees could’ve been built to Category 5 level … but so what? I personally doubt that anyone really knows how to build a practicable levee that will resist ANY Cat 5 storm. On some measures, Katrina was one of the most intense storms ever recorded, even tho she hit as a Cat 4.

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  3. Steve Verdon says:

    For example, after a $194 million deepening project for the Port of Iberia flunked a Corps cost-benefit analysis, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) tucked language into an emergency Iraq spending bill ordering the agency to redo its calculations.

    Does this mean that Sen. Landrieu will be punching herself in the nose?

    Gee, I wonder how much it would have cost to have upgraded those levees to withstand a Cat4 or Cat5 hurricane?

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  4. Money Flowed to Questionable Projects

    Congress survives on pork, and it just gets worse and worse. This sort of thing will continue to happen until there is a constitutional ammendment giving the President a line item veto.

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  5. Breeze says:

    “The feds’ real failures were in the response, not in the disaster’s happening at all.”

    Wow. Surprised they let you say that here. I thought the current GOP company line was to blame the response failures on state/local types, while simultaneously chiding anyone who says otherwise as finger-pointers playing the “blame game.”

    Someone must not have gotten the memo…

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  6. You Want Finger Pointing? I’ll Give You Some Finger Pointing.

    That hive of arch-Conservative Rovian dupes, the Washington Post, has an article today that, in a sane world, would throttle the Bush-Gutted-Corp-of-Engineers-Flood-Control-Funding-To-Pay-For-Halliburton’s-Iraqi-Conquest meme in its cradle. But in the…

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  7. Steve Verdon says:

    The feds’ real failures were in the response, not in the disaster’s happening at all.

    Oh please, of course we can blame the feds for the disaster. After all, it is a well known fact that the federal government orders a specific number of hurricanes every year, and also specifies the intensity level of each hurricane.

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  8. Senate Holds Hearing on Gas Price Gouging

    Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, said Tuesday that they suspect price gouging as gasoline c

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  9. jim says:

    Let’s see….Halliburton “loses” $9 Billion in Iraq…Alaska gets a $100 mil bridge to an island with 50 people on it…sure is a shame how liberals are spending our tax dollars.

    Look – you can nickel and dime every spending bill, trying to find equivalents. That’s all irrelevant. You know it and I know it.

    It’s quite simple: Bush is in charge of the Fed.

    Bush cut funding to levees, specifically.

    Bush said “No one expected the Levees to break.” It turns out he was briefed repeatedly on just this possibility, by that well-known group of liberal whackos, the Army Corps of Engineers. (You’ll go after Bush for this lie, right?)

    More to the specific point at hand, which this is all a distraction from:

    Bush accepted the commitment to take care of Louisiana, when he declared it a disaster area, at Governor Blanco’s request.

    Bush then continued with his vacation, only leaving his ranch to do photo ops. His incompetent and inexperienced appointee, Brown, only found out that people needed water in the Superdome, by watching cable news, days later.

    We responded to the Indonesian tsunami quicker.

    Military resources were standing by, waiting for Bush’s call to go in. It could have come the hour after the hurricance left. It didn’t come for days. Thousands of Americans DIED waiting for Bush to get off his ass and DO HIS JOB!

    Bush failed utterly. If you as conservatives believe in accountability, you will stop making excuses for his criminal negligence.

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  10. Red Cross Prevent from Going to Superdome

    Readers know I’m not fond of the blame game. I have been posting a few items that seriously question the…

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  11. McGehee says:

    Alaska gets a $100 mil bridge to an island with 50 people on it…sure is a shame how liberals are spending our tax dollars.

    Yep.

    Oh — you didn’t know about Alaska’s jurassic Sen. Ted Stevens, who makes even Robert Byrd look fiscally restrained?

    I lived there, I’ve seen him in action. The only thing Stevens is conservative about is his own money.

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  12. Robert says:

    Nice story.

    BTW, Bush is STILL the worst President in the history of this republic.

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  13. How Louisiana Spent Federal Money

    . . . which was apparently higher in that state under Bush vs. Clinton….

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  14. Richard Gardner says:

    I recently spent a few moments perusing a moonbat “Republicans are evil” site. Selective facts, and inflammatory words. I found it interesting to skim to see what some people believe.

    http://www.waynemadsenreport.com/

    Disclaimer: I do not endorse the views of the site linked above at all. However, they might have a few facts others don’t (yet).

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  15. R Weis says:

    It was a Category 5 Hurricane, I went thru the Prieta Loma Quake in SF, the Ninth US Army under LT Gen Harrison, took charge, all civilains politicals reported to him, I seen them going there , they had that town in control in less 24 hours,and had inspections done for over 30,000 buildings there in 2 days , then transported all effected persons to the Presido where there were US Army living quarters with US Army Lettermen hospital there to treat any problems , FEMA was there on the base as there HQ for operations, schools were opened to make room for additional effected persons, power was out in many places for over 30 days, Diasters must be run by the US Military, why the press has not mentioned this, I can only surmise they have had a blank moment in there brain, You effected by this request the US Military take command and suspend civilain order, until the US Military restarts it, that is the ” shortest distance between two points” from diaster to business as usual, get the professionals in there, they are trained to deal with tough situations.
    Your dismissed

    Mister Bigger and Better than You

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  16. R Weis says:

    It was a Category 5 Hurricane, I went thru the Prieta Loma Quake in SF, the Ninth US Army under LT Gen Harrison, took charge, all civilains politicals reported to him, I seen them going there , they had that town in control in less 24 hours,and had inspections done for over 30,000 buildings there in 2 days , then transported all effected persons to the Presido where there were US Army living quarters with US Army Lettermen hospital there to treat any problems , FEMA was there on the base as there HQ for operations, schools were opened to make room for additional effected persons, power was out in many places for over 30 days, Diasters must be run by the US Military, why the press has not mentioned this, I can only surmise they have had a blank moment in there brain, You effected by this request the US Military take command and suspend civilain order, until the US Military restarts it, that is the ” shortest distance between two points” from diaster to business as usual, get the professionals in there, they are trained to deal with tough situations.
    Oh..Th Red Cross was taken over by US Military and provided the food and Security, when they were there on the spot, otherwise base security patrolled.
    Your dismissed

    Mister Bigger and Better than You

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  17. realist says:

    This blame game is all very nice and I’m sure that local officials are very responsible.

    However I voted for a president who claimed that he would prioritize dangers and respond to catastrophes.

    This was potentially a big one, a very big one, this was known. And now it’s not potentially any more.

    I voted for leadership, one that would recogonize the “big 3″ and even big 10 dangers and start responding. That didn’t happen.

    Our Republican leaders allowed politics as usual to determine priorities. We’d heard warnings about this type of choice before, focus on airports, not enough to chemical plants and ports. Always glossed over.

    Gloss over some more. Yes many governments in the south are disgraceful. And yes these states which are usually Republican get more from the federal government than they pay in. But we were talking about a vital part of the nation here.

    If you were running a business and you blew it like his, you’d be gone. 100 billion in tax dollars gone. If there had been some effort to prepare then it would be bad luck, but now it’s irresponsibility.

    You sound like a Washington parasite so you don’t pay.

    Just like you believe that if the terrorists or some other disastor hit your region the big shots will make sure military respurces are mobilized in minutes not days.

    But I for one found out that the administration lied, they did not prepare us.

    I despise those who are so smug they feel there is no need for such preparation so long as certain political interest are protected.

    Have you no shame?

    Yeah blast the local authorities from top to bottom, they deserve it. But this game of “they were bad so we aren’t responsible for wat we did” is pathetic.

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  18. Andrew

    People forget, and they forget quickly. That’s what those in power rely on. It’s not too far-fetched an idea to think that the kind of mind control seen in 1984 could actually occur. As long as the information that’s out there says one thing and no …

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