The Time Is Now
It is time for Congress, specifically House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate President Bill Frist to explain to the American people why Congress cut funding to levee improvements and other hurricane protection measures in southeast Louisiana.
Despite messaging by Bush Administration officials to the contrary, America has known for years that the New Orleans "bowl effect" was a disaster waiting to happen. In fact, after the flooding of 1995 Congress enacted a law called The Southeast Louisiana Project, which earmarked funding for such things as levee improvements and pumps.
According to the US Army Corps of Engineers' report entitled "Comprehensive Hurricane Protection Plan for Southeast Louisiana" some $734 million was dedicated to the Lake Ponchartrain and vicinity area along the northern border of New Orleans alone. Construction on these projects began in 1998 and $550.9M was spent until the end of 2000.
However, during the years of 2001 to 2004 combined only 23.6 million dollars were spent on flood control improvements in northern New Orleans.
In the Army Corps of Engineers' Project Fact Sheet dated 1/26/05 the army stated that funding for 2004 was "not sufficient to support all on-going contracts," and that exhaustion of funding for that year occurred in February of 2004.
It further went on to state that the funds that were made available for FYE 2005 were "just adequate" to cover existing contracts, leaving some fourteen other improvement contracts unfunded.
It has been roughly nine years since Congress enacted SELA and still the work is largely not done. The first levee breach happened at the 17th St. Outflow Canal, which was a site of recently completed work. Nonetheless, reinforcement and seating work had not been completed and the levee gave way when the force of the water became too great.
The bottom line is that Congress did its job in 1996 but the funds were never made available to complete the work in a timely manner.
As rescue work continues it is time that Congress begin to hold elected officials accountable for the loss of life in New Orleans. Rebuilding New Orleans and its economy must become America's greatest priority and the investigations of those who caused this disaster by their actions (or lack thereof) should begin now, not later.