[StBernard] The plan on rebuilding New Orleans? - Post-Katrina: A
problem bigger than the Big Easy
westley at da-parish.com
Thu Feb 23 01:17:44 EST 2006
Opinion - From the Washington Examiner
The plan on rebuilding New Orleans? - Post-Katrina: A problem bigger than
the Big Easy
By Frank Sietzen Jr.
More than two decades ago, when I was the director of Safety and Permits for
St. Bernard Parish, La., the issue of potential flooding from disastrous
hurricanes was neither new nor ignored. I had been born in nearby New
Orleans, and grew up in the north shore community of Slidell. Hurricanes and
the possibility that one could follow a path that would wipe out our
communities were never far from our minds. Our challenge then was the scale
and scope of solving the problem. St. Bernard lay south and east of our
bigger brother, the Crescent City, but was situated on land that was just as
low - if not even lower - than New Orleans itself. A study done in the
mid-1980s had shown that the escape route for St. Bernard residents fleeing
from rising storm-driven waters had to traverse the eastern edge of New
Orleans. It turned out that the roadways that our people would need to
navigate in their escape were on even lower ground than the location of the
homes they would be fleeing. That meant that if the flooding had become so
bad as to require people to leave, their means of escape would be soon
Any solution would require massive spending on erecting some form of small
wall all along the route, on land part of at least two Parishes. In terms of
the mid-'80s, it could cost tens, if not hundreds of millions. None of our
communities had that kind of money, and even getting people to think alike
about the problem was daunting. The solution would need to protect more than
Orleans Parish alone. Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes, too, were all
situated on lands just as low as the big city nearby. Eventually, the scale
of the problem and the uncertainty of when such a devastating storm might
arise forced us to abandon attempts at crafting a solution. After all,
experts suggested that such a disaster might not even happen for 50 years.
It didn't take 50 years, only half that time. Now, New Orleans leaders have
announced the rebuilding plan for their city. Planners there are calling for
the old city to be basically rebuilt anew, just like it was before the
disaster. Emotions are running high to begin, as the weeks and months
following Katrina's embrace pass with thousands still without homes, jobs,
or prospects for the future.
But all of this is the wrong public narrative. It's not really a question of
whether New Orleans should be rebuilt. But what else it should include. And
why the rebuilding should not leave out those oft-forgotten neighbors to the
east and south.
All of southern Louisiana sits atop an alluvial plain that has been sinking
slowly for decades. And all of it is well below sea level. Planners hope to
protect the flooded parts of New Orleans, the lower 9th ward, Gentilly and
Lakeview with stronger and higher levees. Everything else would remain the
same as it was. The low-lying areas of New Orleans, rebuilt at the cost of
billions, would still be just one levee wall failure away from another
And what about the other, nearby parishes? More than 40,000 homes in St.
Bernard were destroyed by Katrina. Slidell and St. Tammany were also hard
hit. Farther south Plaquemines Parish was also devastated. But in the heated
rush to start the rebuilding process, these other communities are being
overlooked in the glare of the needs of more popular New Orleans.
Before a single spade of soil is moved to rebuild anything, the needs of
these adjacent areas should be included in any rebuilding plan. This means
rebuilding New Orleans is really about rebuilding all of southern Louisiana,
not just one city. It also means hard decisions must be made about what
can't be protected. Solving the problem of how to protect - and possibly
relocate - parts of these communities will be as hard now as it was when I
lived in St. Bernard so many years ago. But a comprehensive, rational and
thoughtful conversation that includes everyone affected by Katrina should
start now. For all who live in southern Louisiana - or long to return - the
danger of another Katrina is no post-Mardi Gras hangover.
It's only a question of where - and when.
Frank Sietzen, Jr. was born and raised in New Orleans. Currently, he is a
writer living in Arlington.
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