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Saturday, September 08, 2007

A time for solutions

As I mentioned in my previous post - The great hurricane of 1900 - shortly after Hurricane Katrina passed and the political football came alive, I submitted an Op-Ed piece to the New York Times for publication. They rejected it. I'd like to think that it is either because I'm not famous or because I was offering a solution that does not blame anyone and does not require a general tax increase from the Federal government.

My suggestion is to learn from the recovery and rebuilding of Galveston after the 1900 hurricane. The city pumped in silt and sand and raised the elevation of the majority of the city by 17 feet. Jacks were brought in to raise the buildings and the sand was pumped in underneath. A seawall was then constructed to protect the city from storm surge. It was paid for with local funds. Federal money was not used until the seawall was extended to protect a fort on the western end of the city.

I suggest a temporary toll for Mississippi River traffic of 2.5 cents per pound of product. The money is only to be used for the rebuilding of New Orleans and specifically for raising the elevation of the Ninth Ward and other low areas and for installing state of the art flood control and water barriers. The money would be controlled locally with no Federal involvement outside of the Army Corps of Engineers to make sure the technology was best available.

Communities frequently vote to enact bonds - temporary taxes for capital projects such as building schools and stadiums. Then the general tax fund is used for maintenance, upkeep and daily operation. This would be similar and would be local and specific.

The politicians in Louisiana and the democrats in Washington think that the only way to solve a problem is to throw tax money at it. A locally controlled well defined program makes much more sense to me. Raising the elevation of the city provides a solution against a natural phenomenon that is likely to occur again. Simply rebuilding the city as is will guarantee that the same catastrophe will be repeated.

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There are very few constants in this world. We are all familiar with the death and taxes part. The one given that we all laugh about is that politicians will blame each other for why something went wrong. It must be part of the job description because no one seems to be capable of offering solutions but everyone has the ability to point out what went wrong after the fact.

The catastrophe in New Orleans is no different. Society is collapsing, people are in trouble. The various government agencies are doing what they can to varying degrees of success, none of which is enough. And, of course, the local government is blaming the state and federal government, the state is blaming the feds, and senators are blaming the President. At the time that this is being written, the President is on his way to Louisiana and Mississippi to help “improve the results” of all the efforts that are underway. Hopefully his intervention will have a positive affect. Now, four days after Hurricane Katrina, it finally looks like there is a possibility that we may be able to help these people who are suffering so much.

But where do we go from here? If we stay true to course, we will discuss this until the next calamity and accomplish nothing to solve the problem. The Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, has already suggested that it would be bad policy to rebuild New Orleans as it was - being below sea level. He is correct to question this and begin the discussion, but we cannot simply eliminate this great city from the Louisiana coastline. There is a reason that New Orleans is located where it is. The Mississippi River. Controlling commerce on The River is as important now as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries when the city was first built. Many commentators are deriding the fact that the city is below sea level. Well practically the entire nation of the Netherlands is below sea level. The engineering required to keep the sea back is capable of doing so IF we maintain those controls.

After the storm of 1900, the citizens and government of Galveston, TX decided to raise the city and add a seawall. This project was completed over 10 years and the city was elevated by as much as 11 feet. This was done by the people and government of Galveston. Some financial help was received from the federal and state governments but the majority of the burden was carried by the city.

We live in a society that expects the federal government to do everything for us. If Washington doesn’t send the money then we simply give up. Elevating the city of New Orleans would not be trivial, and it would not be cheap, but it is possible. The levees and flood walls are already in place. The estimate for Coast 2050, as described by Mark Fischetti in a column on September 2, is $14 billion dollars. According to the National Park Service’s website on the Mississippi River and Recreational Area, 286 million tons of goods were transported over the river in 2001. A temporary fee for river shipment can be added to the current shipping costs. The $14 billion can be raised by adding two and a half cents on every pound shipped on the river. This amount would be negligible to the cost of most of the goods shipped on the river and would generate the money needed to restore the delta, improve the flood protection system and elevate the city. After 5 years ($70 B) the fee can be eliminated and New Orleans will be safe, without having to use federal tax money.

Saving New Orleans is the right thing to do. Now we simply need to fortitude to do what is necessary and what has been shown to be successful in the past.





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