Thursday, August 30, 2007

I hope this doesn't become one of those big election issues

Just a real, real good read at Reason on what to do about post-Katrina New Orleans.

The Democratic debate over the future of New Orleans somehow passed over the instructive example of Valmeyer, Ill. In 1993, the town of 900 was swamped, not for the first time, by a rain-swollen Mississippi River. It hasn't been swamped since, because it's not there anymore. Rather than remain in a vulnerable spot, the residents voted to relocate their village to a bluff 400 feet above the river.

But no one wants to suggest similar discretion in Louisiana.

New Orleans, like Valmeyer, had long been a natural disaster waiting to happen. Most of the city lies below sea level, surrounded by water on three sides, and it's sinking. On top of that, it's steadily grown more exposed to hurricanes, thanks to the loss of coastal wetlands that once served as a buffer. It's a bathtub waiting to be filled.

As one scientist said after Katrina, "A city should never have been built there in the first place." Now that we have a chance to correct the mistake, why repeat it?

Theoretically, it's possible to keep New Orleans dry. All you have to do is surround it with levees designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. That's what Hillary Clinton urges.

The cost of the levee system envisioned by Sen. Clinton is tabbed at $40 billion. Restoring other infrastructure would increase the cost. The question is whether that's the best use of our resources. For $40 billion, you could give more than $61,000 to every Louisianan displaced by Katrina -- nearly a quarter of a million dollars for a family of four.

Here's the question that ought to be considered: Would those people prefer that the money be spent shoring up dikes around a natural lake? Or would they rather get the money themselves and decide whether to stay or migrate to less soggy terrain?

Maybe it's just me, but I'd take the money.


Blogger John said...

A few quick comments...

- Many people get attached to where they live and I'd assume that would go double for the people of New Orleans. I met a Katrina survivor this past Mardi Gras at Black Eyed Sally's in Hartford and he wants nothing more than to move back to New Orleans. It's a city full of history and culture and it's home to the greatest party in the country. People have friends, family and lives in New Orleans and I doubt something as common as money could persuade people to move on.

- You know as well as I do that the people who have had to relocate would not get a check for $61,000 and change. God only knows the channels people would have to go through and the overall stress of doing everything.

If it's possible to re-build the levees and if you can build that city into a fortress against natural disasters, then you do it. You say you'd take the money and that's crap. You don't know what you would do in that situation. And while we're at it, why not abandon San Francisco, who knows when there will be another earthquake. Might as well abandon the the major mid-western cities too, tornadoes can be a real problem. And you know what, Miami got hit pretty bad by Hurricane Andrew, let's just move everyone there too. The fact of the matter is, you can look all over the country and find some major concern about natural disasters or weather but that doesn't mean you give up on the place once it's damaged. Try offering a life-long New Orleans native $61,000 for their lives basically, I'm sure that'll go over real well.

9:04 PM  
Blogger QU 3L said...

I am being a bit facetious with the money comment - you're right of course, that we'd never get the government writing people $61,000 checks, and even if they did, it would be a disaster.

Here's the problem when it comes to all this Katrina recovery in New Orleans - what exactly are you trying to do? Are you trying to rebuild the city as it was, poverty and all? Or are you trying to build something better? Sure, it's a noble goal, but even ignoring the question of whether you can build a better city in the first place, why does New Orleans deserve to be built up to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars more than any other city suffering from poverty (say Detroit for example).

It's not really an issue of abandoning the city, it's just a question of what sort of rebuilding should occur. Would it really be a good idea for the government to spend billions rebuilding the poor neighborhoods most prone to flooding? The point really isn't that New Orleans is prone to hurricanes, it's that more than half the city was actually built under water. Obviously, you can't eliminate every risk, but should the government encourage people- with billions of dollars of funding- to build and rebuild in places that would be unlivable if not for human ingenuity? We can talk about risk everywhere, but the point is that New Orleans, to be a viable city as it was, really requires a constant source of funding and attention to pay for the levees and their upkeep. Government failed before and I wouldn't trust them again.

And by the way - I'd damn well take that money - do you really think that I'd put my faith in government to spend it wisely?

10:30 AM  
Blogger Jim Fryar said...

I have often wondered myself why the place is where it is.

While I can understand people wishing to keep their home in its current location, I seriously ask why the rest of America should have to pay out these extraordinary sums to allow them to do so.

6:01 PM  

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