The first bit of news tells us that the rebuilt levees are not in accordance with new FEMA standards. A few weeks back, I did a diary showing how the levees were being rebuilt with substandard materials, so while this isn't unexpected, it is still disgusting.
The other piece of news estimates that it will now take 25 years to fully rebuild New Orleans.
According to the new report on the substandard levees, the estimated cost to bring them up to standard is a paltry $6 billion (yes, with a "b"):
FEMA has long based its flood planning on whether an area is protected against a flood that might have a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year, also known as a 100-year flood. Without that certification, the agency's flood maps have to treat the entire levee system as if it were not there at all, which means that people hoping to build in the affected areas might have to rebuild their homes at elevations of 15 or even 30 feet above sea level in order to meet new federal building standards.
But since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the agency has toughened its 100-year standard, based on new information about land subsidence and the increasing severity and frequency of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. There is also new data about weak soils in the area and the failure of some of the city's floodwalls.
As a result, the levees that the Army Corps of Engineers is now building will not meet the new FEMA standard. Donald Powell, the federal coordinator for Gulf Coast rebuilding, said Thursday that the Corps now believes it cannot meet that standard without spending additional billions to upgrade the flood protection system still further.
Great fucking planning, jackasses. First you cut the funding so that the levees aren't strengthened enough to withstand a hurricane like Katrina, even though FEMA said as recently as 2001 that this was one of the three most likely disasters to hit the US. Then you underfund the recovery and use substandard materials. And after all that, you act surprised when the FEMA standards aren't met.
Lousiana Governor Blanco was outraged to just find this out now:
"This means that, just two months before hurricane season, the Corps of Engineers informs us they cannot ensure even the minimum safety of Southeastern Louisiana," Ms. Blanco said in a statement. "This is totally unacceptable."
Blanco also demanded that the Federal Government to supply the additional funding.
Without the additional cash, Blanco said, the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes likely wouldn't receive the levee repairs needed to give them the protection they had before Katrina.
"Obviously all sections will not be secure," she said.
And the response from Donald Powell, the federal coordinator for Gulf Coast rebuilding (a man who doesn't have to rebuild his house in New Orleans)? Cut more corners....
Mr. Powell said that to start the process of getting the new flood maps, the federal government only needs to state that it does intend to meet the certification standard -- a process that it can undertake for the entire system at the full $6 billion, or pick and choose projects to cut costs.
But Mr. Powell said in a news briefing yesterday that the $2 billion that the Army Corps of Engineers is currently spending and the $1.4 billion in additional funds it has requested will make the system stronger and better than it has ever been. Asked if he would feel comfortable living in the area despite the government's inability to certify the levees, he responded, "after the Corps completes its work, yes."
Mr. Powell called the difference "a regulatory issue, not necessarily a safety issue." When the current work on the levees is complete, he said, there might be flooding from a storm like Hurricane Katrina, but the levee system would not fail catastrophically again.
And as far as it taking 25 years to rebuild, we have more of that "compassionate conservatism" that we have grown so accustomed to:
The White House so far has asked for $108 billion in Gulf Coast relief and recovery aid, all but $19 billion of which has been approved by Congress. The remainder is under consideration by lawmakers.
The new levee costs are not included in that spending pot, Powell said, adding that he does not know how many more federal dollars the government will commit to the region.
What the storm-ravaged region will look like in upcoming years is largely up to state and local officials, Powell said, though the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will have authority to "tweak" some of the housing plans.
The four parishes that make up New Orleans and its immediate suburbs have been waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to issue the flood maps for months.
Powell said he expects FEMA to release the maps soon, but that the data largely is tied to the new levee cost estimates.
Well, that is real comforting. And how many billions are we spending in Iraq EACH WEEK?