Thursday, September 15, 2005

"It's not about blame - that's history."

Engineers examining the phycial mechanics of Katrina's effects on Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans are saying that floodgates proposed decades ago could have prevented the flooding of much of New Orleans in the wake of the hurricane. In 1965, Hurricane Betsy came ashore near New Orleans and caused flooding, though not as severe as what we saw 2 weeks ago. President Lyndon Johnson ordered the Army Corp of Engineers to build floodgates on the Lake at that time because studies showed that a Category 3 hurricane could cause the Lake to rise by as much as 12 feet which would put the water level over the top of the levees and flood the city. (Sound familiar?) The floodgates were never built.

Why, you ask? Because an environmental group called "Save Our Wetlands" filed a lawsuit to stop the project, citing the interests of marine life in the area. As a result of that lawsuit the gates were never built. No floodgates, no method of reducing the water level in the Lake. So, when Katrina blew past she raised the water level in the Lake and it overtopped the levees. That the 17th Street levee was breached only added to the problem - the flooding was already in progress. The reason the flooding happened was foreseen 40 years ago and the effort to deal with it proactively was halted in its tracks. So, what does this group have to say about that now?

::::::::It is not about blame — that’s history. What this is about is saving and protecting lives,” said Valsin Marmillion of American Wetlands. “Any proposal has to be done in concert with saving the wetlands. It is not either/or. It is people figuring out the best science to do this.”::::::::

Emphasis mine. In the past 2 weeks there's been a huge amount of commentary suggesting that the government didn't do what it was supposed to in years past and that this lapse should have ramifications descend upon the current government because, well, they're to blame. Now, when the shoe is on the other foot, suddenly that's all just history and we need to just move right along. Nothing to see here. If they want this to be "not about blame" then they need to make an effort to avoid casting blame as their first order of business. Oh, and we can have both lifesaving methods and wetlands protection if someone will just figure out the best science.

They did figure out the best science to handle things, 40 years ago. But the short-sightedness of a group who placed fish above people rather than recognize that people have every right to survive and protect themselves, too, kept that science from being applied. How am I supposed to trust that the descendents of that group will recognize "the best science" when they see it?

(Updated to correct the date of Hurrican Betsy from 1968 to 1965. Thanks to my readers for pointing that out!)