Editorial: Criticism of Army Corps of Engineers warranted

The upgraded levee system that protects the City of New Orleans passed the test provided by Hurricane Isaac.

That’s the good news. However, the

Category 1 hurricane revealed other problem areas outside the major

levee system with catastrophic

flooding in Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes and along the

southwestern and northern rim of Lake Pontchartrain.

Garret Graves, chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, called the storm’s impact a ‘‘tale of

two cities’’ for those residents and businesses inside the federal levee system and their neighbors on the outside.

While New Orleans proper remained relatively high and dry because, unlike Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the levees held and did

exactly what they were intended to do, communities like Braithwaite, LaPlace and Slidell endured major flooding with some

subdivisions suffering damage caused by 10- to 12-feet-high surges.

During a recent Senate hearing in Gretna to review the storm’s impact on the area, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came under

heavy criticism.

U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La., and Congressman Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, asked the corps

to review the improvements made to the federal levee system that protects New Orleans to ensure that those changes did not

cause the flooding in other areas.

Corps Major Gen. John Peabody,

commander of the Mississippi Valley, said he did not believe a review

will show that the alterations

caused flooding elsewhere, but said the possibility could not be

ruled out.

Landrieu and Vitter hammered Peabody about levee protection projections that have been in the planning and review stages for

years, but have never constructed.

Landrieu pointed to a West Shore Levee project that was authorized in 1971, but never built. She said had it been constructed,

it would have prevented some of the flooding downriver from New Orleans.

‘‘The study has been in the budget 40 years and has not progressed one iota,’’ she said.

Peabody didn’t garner any sympathy when he pointed out that the corps has a $60 billion backlong in construction projects.

Vitter said a levee project that would

have protected communities in lower Jefferson Parish from the

Isaac-induced flooding

had been canceled after $10 million was spent studying it. The

reason? Peabody said the cost-to-benefit ration could not be

justified.

That’s no consolation for those residents of Lafitte, Barataria and Crown Point that saw their homes and businesses inundated

by Isaac’s rains and storm surge.

“I’m afraid the corps is back to their

old norm — a vicious cycle of bureaucracy, delay and cost overruns — and

it seems to

be returning with a vengeance,” Vitter said Thursday. “First we

need to find out exactly where their funding and contracting

miscues are coming from; then we need to make necessary reforms to

cut through red tape and make their handling of flood control

projects much more efficient. There are clear safety risks for

backlogged and over budget flood control projects, but they

could also be putting our economic recovery at risk if they are

unable to sustain our country’s water infrastructure.”

If true, that borders on dereliction of duty by the corps.

•••

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,

Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.