And I am sure I will take more flak from continuing to point this out, but the meme that the recent cuts cuts somehow caused the levee to break is so nasty, it has to be killed. Andrew Sullivan appears to be leading the charge, and that is again reiterated by MoDo today in the NY Times:
In June 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, fretted to The Times-Picayune in New Orleans: “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.”
Not only was the money depleted by the Bush folly in Iraq; 30 percent of the National Guard and about half its equipment are in Iraq.
Again, the assertion is that this funding cut somehow kept the levees from holding, because maintenance and construction was stopped. There is, however, more and more evidence that this is not the case. I have already written about this at length, and I have noted the response by the Army Corps of Engineers:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that a lack of funding for hurricane-protection projects around New Orleans did not contribute to the disastrous flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina.
In a telephone interview with reporters, corps officials said that although portions of the flood-protection levees remain incomplete, the levees near Lake Pontchartrain that gave way—inundating much of the city—were completed and in good condition before the hurricane.
However, they noted that the levees were designed for a Category 3 hurricane and couldn’t handle the ferocious winds and raging waters from Hurricane Katrina, which was a Category 4 storm when it hit the coastline. The decision to build levees for a Category 3 hurricane was made decades ago based on a cost-benefit analysis.
“I don’t see that the level of funding was really a contributing factor in this case,” said Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, chief of engineers for the corps. “Had this project been fully complete, it is my opinion that based on the intensity of this storm that the flooding of the business district and the French Quarter would have still taken place.”
Apparently this is not good enough for Andrew Sullivan, who puts up an email claiming that anything the ACE says will be a whitewash:
To sum up: Gen. Strock is asking us to accept that the Army Corps could maintain the structural integrity of every last mile of levee built on subsiding soils in a District that had taken a $71 million budget cut in one year. AND that they would admit it if they hadn’t, when the reputation of the President is at stake. All my experience rejects both propositions.
In other words, Andrew knows what he knows, and anyone who says anything to the contrary is just providing cover. Who then does Andrew trust? Perhaps Michael Parker, who Sullivan quoted several days ago:
“‘I’m not saying it wouldn’t still be flooded, but I do feel that if it had been totally funded, there would be less flooding than you have,’ said Michael Parker, a former Republican Mississippi congressman who headed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from October 2001 until March 2002, when he was ousted after publicly criticizing a Bush administration proposal to cut the corps’ budget.”
Parker has apparently had time to gather more information, because last night on Aaron Brown, he stated the following:
BROWN: There was a plan to shore up the levee system that protects the city. The levees were breached in three places as you now know, but there was a plan to shore them up long before. At one point, money was sent on the table. And then, money was lost.
Mike Parker was the head of the Army Corps of Engineers three years ago when he criticized the administration for its, I guess, budgetary priorities. He was forced to resign over his opposition. He’s in our Washington bureau tonight.
If the money had been spent, if the levee project had been completed, I don’t think you believe, do you, that the city would be dry?
MICHAEL PARKER, FMR. HEAD, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: It would not be dry. No, no. In fact, the president of the United States, when he first came into office, and we’d given him $100 million. It would not have made much difference as far as this incident.
BROWN: Why would it would not have made much difference? I thought the idea was to take it sort of raise the level of its strength from – to withstand a Category 5 hurricane?
PARKER: But you have to understand, these projects are huge in nature. And they take a long time to build. I think we need to put it in perspective. Infrastructure is not something that we build for ourselves. We build it for our children and our grandchildren. Just like the infrastructure we have in place, we owe that – we own it simply because it was given to us by our parents and our grandparents.
The levee that failed was upgraded to maximum capacity as designed, and it simply would not have mattered.
That doesn’t answer the question I don’t understand, which is why we would only have levees designed to Cat 3 strength, and not the best possible. I would not live there.
But the idea that the deaths in New Orleans can be pinned on people because of some small budget cuts (albeit, in my opinion, horribly stupid ones), should be put to rest unless some new information becomes available. There is enough legitimate criticism and blame to be found without this nastiness.