Hurricane Katrina breached a levee on the New Orleans Industrial Canal,
the Army Corps of Engineers had already launched a $748 million
construction project at that very location. But the project had nothing
to do with flood control. The Corps was building a huge new lock for
the canal, an effort to accommodate steadily increasing barge traffic.
Except that barge traffic on the canal has been steadily decreasing.
Katrina's wake, Louisiana politicians and other critics have complained
about paltry funding for the Army Corps in general and Louisiana
projects in particular. But over the five years of President Bush's
administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil
works projects than any other state, about $1.9 billion; California was
a distant second with less than $1.4 billion, even though its
population is more than seven times as large.
of that Louisiana money was spent to try to keep low-lying New Orleans
dry. But hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to unrelated water
projects demanded by the state's congressional delegation and approved
by the Corps, often after economic analyses that turned out to be
inaccurate. Despite a series of independent investigations criticizing
Army Corps construction projects as wasteful pork-barrel spending,
Louisiana's representatives have kept bringing home the bacon.
example, after a $194 million deepening project for the Port of Iberia
flunked a Corps cost-benefit analysis, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.)
tucked language into an emergency Iraq spending bill ordering the
agency to redo its calculations. The Corps also spends tens of millions
of dollars a year dredging little-used waterways such as the
Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, the Atchafalaya River and the Red River
-- now known as the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway, in honor of the
project's congressional godfather -- for barge traffic that is less
The Industrial Canal lock is one of
the agency's most controversial projects, sued by residents of a New
Orleans low-income black neighborhood and cited by an alliance of
environmentalists and taxpayer advocates as the fifth-worst current
Corps boondoggle. In 1998, the Corps justified its plan to build a new
lock -- rather than fix the old lock for a tiny fraction of the cost --
by predicting huge increases in use by barges traveling between the
Port of New Orleans and the Mississippi River.
fact, barge traffic on the canal had been plummeting since 1994, but
the Corps left that data out of its study. And barges have continued to
avoid the canal since the study was finished, even though they are
visiting the port in increased numbers.
Dashiell, president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association,
remembers holding a protest against the lock four years ago -- right
where the levee broke Aug. 30. Now she's holed up with her family in a
St. Louis hotel, and her neighborhood is underwater. "Our politicians
never cared half as much about protecting us as they cared about pork,"
Yesterday, congressional defenders of
the Corps said they hoped the fallout from Hurricane Katrina would pave
the way for billions of dollars of additional spending on water
projects. Steve Ellis, a Corps critic with Taxpayers for Common Sense,
called their push "the legislative equivalent of looting."
politicians have requested much more money for New Orleans hurricane
protection than the Bush administration has proposed or Congress has
provided. In the last budget bill, Louisiana's delegation requested
$27.1 million for shoring up levees around Lake Pontchartrain, the full
amount the Corps had declared as its "project capability." Bush
suggested $3.9 million, and Congress agreed to spend $5.7 million.
officials also dramatically scaled back a long-term project to restore
Louisiana's disappearing coastal marshes, which once provided a measure
of natural hurricane protection for New Orleans. They ordered the Corps
to stop work on a $14 billion plan, and devise a $2 billion plan
But overall, the Bush administration's
funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the
past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton administration's
for its past five years. Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the chief of the Corps,
has said that in any event, more money would not have prevented the
drowning of the city, since its levees were designed to protect against
a Category 3 storm, and the levees that failed were already completed
projects. Strock has also said that the marsh-restoration project would
not have done much to diminish Katrina's storm surge, which passed east
of the coastal wetlands.