TOPIC: Katrina and New Orleans

Army Corps v. California trees

Six years and thousands of miles away from the poorly designed flood walls and levees whose post-Katrina failure inundated New Orleans, environmental groups in California have filed a federal lawsuit to prevent what they contend is an unproven, costly and potentially damaging flood protection strategy ordered by US Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps, under scrutiny after a natural disaster became a man-made catastrophe, decreed in 2007 that local levee districts would in the future lose guarantees of federal aid and loans unless all trees and shrubs were removed from levees under its nominal jurisdiction around the nation. (more…)

GIMBY UPDATE: FED SUPPORT FOR FARGO MEANS NO KATRINA OF THE NORTH

Washington pushed hard to help North Dakota and Minnesota deal with the rising waters of the Red River. Monica Davey of the New York Times brings information and insights about all the outsiders ready to pitch in:

Along with teams from the Coast Guard, the Department of Health and Human Services, Customs and Border Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers, hundred of Federal Emergency Management Agency Employees were dispatched to the two states, including Nancy L. Ward, the acting administrator of FEMA.  And this was all before the worst of the flooding was predicted to hit.

Wait — the federal government got involved in this problem BEFORE IT BECAME A COMPLETE DISASTER?  Is that even POSSIBLE?  Who knew that government could actually solve problems?

Truth is the good people of Fargo, ND felt a little overwhelmed by the help.  Fargo’s city administrator told Davey that "we had federal people . . . and National Guard people on the ground to the point where they were getting in the way" but he also said "that’s the way we want it."  The locals were quite ready to try and deal with this problem — including thousands of volunteers who stuffed sandbags and built temporary levees against the flood waters.  But they appreciated the help from federal authorities and people from out of state.  Here’s a case of local and federal authorities working together to stop a major threat to people’s lives and livelihoods in its tracks. -NH

PREVENTIVE JOURNALISM ALERT: ECOMIGRATION

Ready for some new neighbors?  The Washington Post‘s Shankar Vedantam has the beginnings of a story which includes Americans moving to New Zealand, Israelis moving to Indiana, and 100,000 citizens of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati seeking a new home in anticipation of rising seas.  These are the "early adopters," though — and exceptions to the rule of countries and people who could be caught off guard by climate change much sooner than we think.  In the U.S., Vedantam writes, some folks are moving out of coastal territories now rather than face the next big hurricane.  But most people won’t think about moving until the water’s six feet high and rising. -NH

LOSING THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST IN THE BIG EASY

Donald E. Powell, the Bush Administration’s federal coordinator of the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, is resigning his post.  In Washington, appointees usually say that they need “more time with family” or cite “a desire to return to the private sector.”  Powell chose the latter formulation.  It’s clear from Spencer S. Hsu’s piece in the Washington Post that Powell leaves a frustrated man; his departing words talk more about plans than accomplishments.  Powell notes that “[a]ll we’ve got up is schools. What about fire stations? Police quarters, water, sewer, libraries?"  Louisiana officials see his resignation as another blow to efforts to bring post-Katrina New Orleans back from the brink.  Read Hsu here.

PREVENTIVE JOURNALISM ALERT: FLOOD PREVENTION INFRASTRUCTURE

We can’t say nobody warned us.  That’s the key to preventive journalism, and one of the reasons Understanding Government will be giving away $50,000 to the best piece of preventive journalism published in the year-long period ending on June 30, 2008.  And there’s no shortage of potential topics, as Alex Prud’homme’s column in the New York Times makes clear:  even after Hurricane Katrina, few journalists are looking at the threat posed by America’s aging network of levees and earthen berms. (more…)

ONLY IF YOU ASK ME NICELY

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were ready to investigate possible health threats from formaldehyde in FEMA trailers given to Hurricane Katrina victims more than a year ago, according to a report by Alison Young in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  But they did not launch an investigation because, according to CDC officials, they can only do so after receiving a formal request from another government agency.  Worse, FEMA officials initially asked about the health threat for stays in the trailers of two weeks or less, and CDC investigators, though aware that people were living in the trailers for months on end, fulfilled the brief to the letter.  According to a CDC spokesman, the organization "doesn’t have the authority to act on its own to investigate a health threat."  Read Young here.

DESTROYING A VILLAGE IN ORDER TO SAVE IT

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has authorized the razing of 4500 apartment units that were damaged during Hurricane Katrina, as part of a plan to build 3000 new units of subsidized housing for poor and displaced residents of New Orleans.  Some of the apartments coming down are still occupied, and many residents are asking whether it is possible to build new housing for displaced citizens before razing these buildings.  Leslie Eaton of the New York Times reports.

THERE REALLY IS NO DOUBLE STANDARD!

Spencer Hsu reports in the Washington Post on the decision to bar FEMA employees entering the same kind of temporary trailers now being used by thousands of citizens in Louisiana and Mississipi.   It turns out that FEMA’s position on this is entirely correct — as long as you understand their point of view. (more…)

ARMY CORPS SURFACES IN EVERGLADES DEGRADATION

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is at the center of a rapidly deteriorating picture in the Florida Everglades, where a $8 billion federal program  aimed at renewing this unique natural resource has stalled. (more…)

FEMA TRAILERS: TEMPORARY HOUSING IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE?

The "temporary" trailers in which more than thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims are still housed emit formaldehyde gas at levels 75 times higher than those determined safe for the American workplace.  (Note that said "workplace" — where one assumes you and your children are not sleeping and spending half your waking hours.)  The Federal Emergency Management Agency is now moving trailer residents into hotels, motels, and apartments, increasing the costs to the taxpayer of housing Katrina victims.    Could the $3+ billion dollars spent on temporary housing have been used to build something a bit more permanent and safe?  See Spencer Hsu’s story in the Washington Post here.