Thursday, September 22, 2005


Environmentalist groups caused New Orleans flooding

(Sorry about the lurid headline...just wanted to see what it feels like to be an editor in the MSM and write really catchy headlines that overstate the contents of the article.)

In a real eye-opener of a piece of writing, Human Events Online has reported on a long history of environmentalist lawsuits that may well have contributed to the massive flood damage caused in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project designed to prevent a Category 5-hurricane-storm surge from filling Lake Pontchartrain and flooding New Orleans was blocked by environmentalists intent on preserving “natural water flow” in 1977.

Save Our Wetlands (SOWL) used a lawsuit against the Corps based on the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) to halt the Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection Project.

These folks have a
website where they brag about battling the Army Corps of Engineers and New Orleans officials over flood-control measures, all of which, of course, they see as evil plots to drain wetlands and promote development. But I’m obviously not the first or only one to pick up on this issue, because in the last few days they’ve been busy getting stuff up on their website to explain why the flood control measures they blocked wouldn’t have helped.

Which is just plain stupid. Would it have prevented all damage? Who knows? Probably not? Would it have helped? Well, duh, common sense tells you that less flooding is better than more flooding, so anything that would have lessened the impact would have helped.

Furthermore, please note that their argument against the project wasn’t that it wouldn’t be beneficial, or even that it was unnecessary… but that the paperwork wasn’t adequate to demonstrate that the project was absolutely necessary:

SOWL’s argument against the Corps’ Lake Ponchartrain project claimed the Corps’ environmental impact statement was inadequate. U.S. District Judge Charles Schwartz, Jr., agreed, issuing an injunction prohibiting the project. “Testimony reveals serious questions as to the adequacy of cost-benefit analysis of the plan,” he wrote in his opinion. “It is the opinion of the court that plaintiffs herein have demonstrated that they and in fact all persons in this area, will be irreparably harmed if the barrier project based on the August 1974 FEIS [Federal Environmental Impact Study] is allowed to continue.” Schwartz also ruled that associated flood prevention plans in Chalmette and New Orleans East must be stopped.

Perhaps Judge Schwartz would like to take another look at the “cost-benefit analysis” today. He might also wish to re-evaluate his assertion that “all persons in this area will be irreparably harmed if the barrier project … is allowed to continue.” In retrospect, it kind of seems like maybe some folks were irreparably harmed because the barrier project didn’t continue.

We (you and me, U.S. taxpayers) will now be expected to spend billions of dollars repairing damage that might very well have been avoided. How many lives would not have been lost? Or disrupted or destroyed? And what do you suppose is the environmental damage sustained as a result of Katrina?

So what was the nature of this plan the environmentalists scuttled?

The project would have built flood gates to block storm surges from moving into Lake Pontchartrain from the Gulf of Mexico, and also would have built additional levees in flood-prone areas. It had been drafted in the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy in 1964, and authorized as part of the Flood Control Act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, five years before NEPA came into effect.

But you see, that project can’t be considered in a vacuum. You have to look at the big picture…which seems to make environmentalist groups even more culpable:

In 1986, nine years after they had been blocked in court, the Corps formally dropped the Lake Ponchartrain Hurricane Protection Project as part of a compromise with environmentalists that allowed the Corps to raise the levees around St. Bernard, Orleans, East Jefferson and St. Charles parishes. But the levee-raising program was not designed to protect the area against anything stronger than a Category 3 storm.

In other words, to settle a group of suits by environmentalist groups and be allowed to do something about flood control, plans intended to guard against a category 5 storm were abandoned in return for being allowed to go forward with plans to protect against a category 3 storm.

Are you following along, boys and girls? Plans developed in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s to guard against a category 5 storm were abandoned in order to settle environmentalists’ lawsuits and proceed with plans to guard against a category 3 storm. We have all heard it a trillion times… Katrina was a category 5, the levees were only designed for a category 3. Because the environmentalists had used the federal courts to block plans for a system to protect against a category 5 hurricane.

The 1986 settlement, of course, was not the end of it:

The House Task Force on Improving National Environmental Policy said NEPA lawsuits have prevented protection plans in New Orleans at least twice. In addition to the 1977 SOWL suit, the task force cited a 1996 suit brought against the Corps by the Sierra Club to stop a plan to raise and fortify Mississippi River levees. This suit argued that the Corps had not considered “the impact on bottomland hardwood forest wetlands” and the effect on Louisiana black bears and bird breeding.

Wonder how three to six feet of water have effected those birds and bears? And what do you suppose is “the impact on bottomland hardwood forest wetlands” of massive uncontrolled flooding?

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