A Year After Katrina, Corps of Engineers Lacks a Flood Plan for New Orleans

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Last month, on the anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, George W. Bush told a New Orleans audience:

I take full responsibility for the federal government’s response, and a year ago I made a pledge that we will learn the lessons of Katrina and that we will do what it takes to help you recover. (Applause.) I’ve come back to New Orleans to tell you the words that I spoke on Jackson Square are just as true today as they were then.

Since I spoke those words, members of the United States Congress from both political parties came together and committed more than $110 billion to help the Gulf Coast recover. I felt it was important that our government be generous to the people who suffered. I felt that step one of a process of recovery and renewal is money.

Today, the Washington Post adds a little nuance to that assessment:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lacks a strategic plan to spend more than $7 billion approved by Congress for levee and flood-control projects in greater New Orleans, risking a repeat of the piecemeal approach that led to catastrophic systemic failures after Hurricane Katrina last year, congressional auditors reported yesterday.

While the Corps has spent more than $1 billion to repair southeastern Louisiana’s broken levee system by this summer — more than the $738 million it cost to build over 40 years — billions more are coming for further work, such as adding pumps and canal gates, raising and reinforcing levees and storm-proofing pumping stations, the Government Accountability Office said in a report.

The money comes before the Corps outlines a long-term strategy to protect the region from the most powerful hurricanes, due to Congress by December 2007, which early estimates said might cost $10 billion to $20 billion, or more.

“We are concerned that the Corps has embarked on a multi-billion repair and construction effort in response to the appropriations it has already received, without a guiding strategic plan,” reported the GAO, Congress’s audit arm. The Corps is “once again . . . taking an incremental approach that is based on funding.”

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