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Context of 'July 1, 2004: Jefferson Parish Property Taxes Increased to Fund Levee Repairs that Washington Fails to Fund'

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During the 75-year period between 1930 and 2005, more than 1.2 million acres of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands disappear. From 1932 to 1956, Louisiana loses 9,600 acres (15 sq. miles) of wetlands per year. The rate peaks between the years 1956 and 1978 at 26,000 acres (41 sq. miles) per year and then declines, falling to 20,000 acres (31 sq. miles) per year during the 1978-1983 period, and 16,000 acres (25 sq. miles) per year between 1983 and 1990. (Wicker 1980 pdf file; Dunbar, Britsch, and Kemp 1992; Barras, Bourgeois, and Handle 1/1994; Barras et al. 2004 pdf file) After state and federal governments initiate a coastal restoration program in 1990 (see November 29, 1990) at a total cost of more than $400 million, the rate decreases to about 15,300 acres (24 sq. miles) per year. (Barras et al. 2004 pdf file) The decades of wetlands loss brings the Gulf Coast 30 miles closer to New Orleans; so by 2005, only about 20 miles remain between the below-sea-level city and the Gulf waters. (Perin 7/11/2003) Studies have projected that Louisiana’s coast will continue to lose land at a rate of about 6,600 acres per year (10 sq. miles) over the next 50 years, (Barras et al. 2004 pdf file) resulting in another 1000 square miles of wetlands being lost, an area almost equivalent in size to the state of Rhode Island. (Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority 1998) The net loss of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has been attributed to several factors, including the maintenance of shipping lanes, the dredging of canals, construction of flood control levees, and the withdrawal of oil and gas. (Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey 4/1987 pdf file; National Wetlands Research Center 9/20/2005) The US Corps of Engineer’s flood control system of levees and dams is considered to be a major cause of wetlands destruction, as it prevents the Mississippi River from depositing sediment that is needed to sustain the wetlands. The oil and gas industry is also responsible for the net loss of wetlands. Thousands of canals for pipelines and drilling rigs are plowed during this period, often by the US Army Corps of Engineers, creating a scarred landscape and eroding the marshlands year after year. (Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey 4/1987 pdf file; McQuaid and Schleifstein 7/26/2002; Perin 7/11/2003) A study in 1982 estimated that as much as 90 percent of Louisiana’s land loss can be attributed to canals. (Turner, Costanza, and Scaife 1982 pdf file) Furthermore, the extraction of oil and gas from beneath the Louisiana coast is believed (see 2002) to have increased the rate of subsidence, a term used to describe the phenomena whereby land slowly sinks. (Morton, Buster, and Krohn 2002 pdf file) Other causes of wetland destruction include wave erosion, land reclamation, and rising sea levels. (Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey 4/1987 pdf file) Louisiana’s coast is a vitally important ecosystem and natural feature. It makes up about 40 percent of all US coastal wetlands and provides over-wintering habitat for 70 percent of the migratory birds that come down the Central and Mississippi flyways. (Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey 4/1987 pdf file; Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority 1998; US Army Corp of Engineers 11/8/2004) The wetlands and barrier islands (some 80 percent of these islands are lost during this period) serve as a natural protective barrier against hurricanes by reducing the size of storm surges. (Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey 4/1987 pdf file; Perin 7/11/2003; van Heerden 2004) The region is also of vital importance to the US economy. By the late 1990s, the region contributes 30 percent by weight of the total commercial fisheries harvest in the continental US; 18 percent of US oil production; and 24 percent of US gas production. Louisiana’s ports outrank all other US ports in total shipping tonnage. (Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority 1998; US Army Corp of Engineers 11/8/2004)

Congress passes the Breaux Act, formally called The Coast Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), establishing a task force charged with planning and prioritizing wetland restoration projects that would then be sent to Congress to be included as part of the president’s annual budget submission. CWPPRA specifies that 70 percent of its authorized funds must go to Louisiana restoration projects; 15 percent to the Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program, a program that provides federal funds to restoration projects in other coastal states; and 15 percent to North American Wetlands Conservation Act projects. All projects funded under the terms of this act will require non-federal matching contributions. (US Code Vol. 16, secs. 3952-3956) Louisiana will generate its portion of funding for projects though taxes on fishing equipment, small engine, and motorboat fuels, as well as import duties. The act is set to expire in 2009 (National Wetlands Research Center 9/20/2005) , but will be renewed at least until 2019. (ESA Policy News Update 10/15/2004) By 2004, some $400 million will have been spent on coastal restoration projects as part of the program (van Heerden 2004) , resulting in at least 52,000 acres being created, restored, or protected. (Louisiana Coastal Area Study 7/2004 pdf file)

The US Army Corps of Engineers works on the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA) spending $430 million to shore up the levee system in the greater New Orleans area and build pumping stations. Local governments contribute $50 million, or about 12 percent. (Bunch 8/31/2005)

The State of Louisiana, the US Army Corps of Engineers, federal agencies, local governments, academics, and local community groups work together to develop a comprehensive restoration plan aimed at rebuilding Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. The plan, named “Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coast,” outlines more than 80 restoration concepts that will serve as the basis for the more technical “Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Comprehensive Coastwide Study” that will eventually be submitted to the White House in 2004 (see October 2003). The Coast 2050 plan is a direct outgrowth of lessons learned from implementation of restoration projects under the Breaux Act (see November 29, 1990) and reflects a growing recognition that a more comprehensive systemic approach is needed. It is estimated that the Coast 2050 plan would cost $14 billion over the next 30 years to implement and require an annual budget of $470 million. It would restore natural drainage along Louisiana’s coast and direct the movement of sediment from the Mississippi to rebuild marshes. One of the plan’s strategies would be to install sediment traps at key locations in the river, from where sediment would be pumped through 100-mile long pipelines to rebuild wetlands and barrier islands. (Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority 1998; Louisiana Coastal Area Study 1/2003 pdf file; Westerink and Luettich 6/2003; Louisiana Coastal Area Study 7/2004 pdf file; Izzo 7/2004; Watson and Kenworthy 8/30/2005) The Coast 2050 plan is endorsed by all 20 Louisiana coastal parishes, the federal Breaux Act (CWPPRA) Task Force, the State Wetlands Authority, and various environmental organizations, including the Coalition to Save Coastal Louisiana. “This approval is unprecedented,” says the Louisiana Coastal Area website. (National Wetlands Research Center 9/20/2005)

Between 2001 and 2005, the US Army Corps of Engineers requests $496 million to strengthen the 300-mile levee system protecting the low-elevation greater New Orleans area from the waters of the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. The Bush administration responds to these requests by proposing a $166 million budget. Congress approves a $250 million budget. (Sullivan 9/1/2005; Serrano and Gaouette 9/4/2005)

Governor Mike Foster (R-LA) endorses the Coast 2050 plan (see December 1998) to spend $14 billion over a 20 to 30-year period to rebuild Louisiana’s coastal wetlands as a means of protecting the mainland from the full destructive force of a major hurricane. (Scully 4/26/2002)

Former petroleum geologist Bob Morton, now with the US Geological Survey, concludes in a paper that the oil and gas industry’s extraction of millions of barrels of oil, trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, and tens of millions of barrels of saline formation water lying with the petroleum deposits has caused a reduction in subsurface pressure causing underground faults to slip and the land above to subside. “Subsidence rates in coastal Louisiana associated with natural compaction and dewatering of Holocene deltaic sediments should decrease with time; therefore historical rates of delta plain subsidence that accelerate and typically exceed geological subsidence rates are most likely influenced by anthropogenic activities, such as subsurface fluid extraction.” (Morton, Buster, and Krohn 2002 pdf file; Bourne 10/2004) The oil industry and its consultants dispute Morton’s theory, but fail to disprove it. If Morton is correct, any restoration efforts in the area could fail as they would be unable to offset the high rates of subsidence. (Bourne 10/2004)

Scientists, environmental groups, and the US Army Corps of Engineers work together on a comprehensive technical plan to rebuild Louisiana’s disappearing coastal wetlands. The plan aims to “provide a sustainable coastal ecosystem with the essential functions, assets, and values of the natural ecosystem.”The Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Comprehensive Ecosystem Restoration Study, as it is called, incorporates the restoration concepts outlined in the 1998 Coast 2050 plan (see December 1998). The LCA study, unlike the Coast 2050 plan, provides the scientific and technical analyses and engineering details that Congress will use to decide if the project meets congressional requirements necessary to secure WRDA authorization. WRDA, or the Water Resources Development Act, provides federal authorization for water resources projects. The team hopes to submit a Chief’s Report by June 2004 so that the plan can be included as a funded action item in the WRDA legislation currently pending in Congress. (Louisiana Coastal Area Study 1/2003 pdf file; Associated Press 1/29/2004; Associated Press 2/3/2004; Louisiana Coastal Area Study 4/2004 pdf file; Louisiana Coastal Area Study 7/2004 pdf file; Bourne 10/2004)

The New Orleans Times Picayune publishes a five-part series, titled “Washing Away,” which examines what will happen when Southern Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Part two of the series, titled the “The Big One,” begins with a stark warning: “It’s a matter of when, not if. Eventually a major hurricane will hit New Orleans head on, instead of being just a close call. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again.” Such a storm, the article reports, “would turn the city and the east bank of Jefferson Parish into a lake as much as 30 feet deep, fouled with chemicals and waste from ruined septic systems, businesses and homes. Such a flood could trap hundreds of thousands of people in buildings and in vehicles. At the same time, high winds and tornadoes would tear at everything left standing.” John Clizbe, national vice president for disaster services with the American Red Cross, tells the newspaper that between 25,000 and 100,000 people would die in such a scenario. Another expert, Joseph Suhayda, a Louisiana State University engineer, predicts that that New Orleans’ levee system could fail in such a storm. “It’s not something that’s expected. But erosion occurs, and as levees [break], the break will get wider and wider. The water will flow through the city and stop only when it reaches the next higher thing. The most continuous barrier is the south levee, along the river. That’s 25 feet high, so you’ll see the water pile up on the river levee.” (Schleifstein and McQuaid 6/2002; Elsner 9/2/2005)

“The City in a Bowl,” a PBS “NOW With Bill Moyers” program, explores what could happen to New Orleans if it were struck by a major hurricane. The program explains that the shield against damage provided by the area’s wetlands “is breaking apart.… Scientists say if this shield keeps crumbling over the next few decades, then it won’t take a giant storm to cause a disaster. A much weaker, more common kind of hurricane could devastate New Orleans.” Walter Maestri, emergency management director in Jefferson Parish, envisions a scenario where New Orleans “completely fills. And we’ve now got the entire community underwater some 20, 30 feet underwater. Everything is lost.” Jay Combe of the US Army Corps of Engineers says he has been assembling a doomsday manual for such a crisis. He suggests that if a big hurricane hits new Orleans, “I think of a terrible disaster. I think of 100,000 [deaths], and that’s just my guess.” The segment concludes, “If a monster storm strikes New Orleans, this city might never come back.” (PBS 9/2/2002) The content of this segment will be repackaged and broadcast on National Public Radio later this month. (Zwerdling 9/2002)

The Bush administration’s proposed fiscal year 2004 budget includes $297 million for civil works projects in the US Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans district. (Congress will later allocate an additional $40 million.) (Roberts 2/16/2004) Only $3 million of this amount is slated for New Orleans’ East Bank Hurricane Levee project. According to Al Naomi, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ project manager, $11 million is needed. (Congress ultimately approves $5.5 million.) (Grissett 6/8/2004) As a result of the project’s reduced budget, work on the levee system wil halt for the first time in 37 years in June 2004 (see (June 2004)).

The Bush administration announces a policy directive and proposed rulemaking that would significantly restrict the scope of the Clean Water Act, removing as much as 20 percent, or 20 million acres, of the country’s wetlands from federal jurisdiction. Officials claim the measures are necessary in order to comply with a 2001 Supreme Court decision that the US Army Corps of Engineers does not have the authority to regulate intrastate, isolated, non-navigable ponds solely on the basis that they are used by migratory birds. But the proposed rule and policy directive ignores a decision by the Department of Justice that the court’s ruling does not necessitate modifying the scope of the Clean Water Act. The administration’s directive and proposed rule interpret the 2001 decision to mean that all “isolated” intrastate, non-navigable waters are outside the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. (Environmental Protection Agency 1/10/2003; Jehl 1/10/2003 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council 1/10/2003; Environmental Protection Agency 2/28/2003 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council 7/11/2003; Natural Resource Defense Council et al. 8/12/2004 pdf file) Whereas the proposed rule must go through a lengthy federal process before going into effect, the policy directive is enacted immediately. The directive instructs regional offices of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to halt protection of wetlands unless (1) the waterway lies adjacent to navigable rivers, streams and their tributaries or (2) the EPA’s headquarters in Washington has granted explicit approval to exercise regulatory authority. No approval however is required for the commencement of activities that could potentially pollute these waters. As a result of this directive, thousands of acres of wetlands, small streams, and other waters instantly lose federal protection. (Jehl 1/10/2003 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council 7/11/2003; Natural Resource Defense Council et al. 8/12/2004 pdf file) The proposed rule will generate an immense public outcry. Ninety-nine percent of the 135,000 comments submitted to the EPA and Army Corps on this proposal will be opposed to it. Comments supporting the proposed rule will come from the National Mining Association, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, National Association of Home Builders, and other industry groups. Additionally, environmental and natural resource government agencies from 39 states, including 17 with Republican governors, will oppose the plan, while agencies from only three states will support it. Numerous local government entities, scientific groups, as well as a bi-partisan group of 219 representatives and twenty-six senators, will also come out against the proposal. (Natural Resources Defense Council 7/11/2003; Natural Resource Defense Council et al. 8/12/2004 pdf file)

(Show related quotes)

The US Army Corps of Engineers awards Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), a sole-source monopoly contract to repair and operate Iraq’s oil infrastructure. The contract is awarded in secrecy without any competing bids from other qualified companies. Halliburton will eventually charge the government $2.4 billion for its work. The Defense Contract Audit Agency will find that about $263 million of these costs are either questionable or unsupported. Despite this, the US Army will pay Halliburton all but $10.1 million, or 3.8 percent, of the disputed costs. (Glanz 2/27/2006; US Congress 3/28/2006, pp. 3-4 pdf file)

Halliburton issues a press release declaring that it has won a contract from the US Army Corps of Engineers to extinguish oil well fires and do emergency repairs to Iraq’s oil infrastructure in post-invasion Iraq. The firefighting work will be subcontracted to Houston-based companies Boots & Coots International Well Control, Inc. and Wild Well Control, Inc. (Halliburton 3/24/2003)

The US Corps of Engineers submits a draft report package and a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) on the proposed Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) wetlands restoration study (see March 2002-October 2003) to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The Corps is hoping that the report will be released this month, so it can be used to request congressional authorization in fall 2004 for the plan’s basic framework. But its release is held up by questions from the OMB and CEQ. In February 2004 (see February 2, 2004), the Bush administration will provide formal comments about the plan to the Corps in its 2005 proposed budget, directing the Corps to develop a less costly plan that focuses on narrower, shorter term objectives. (Associated Press 1/29/2004; Associated Press 2/3/2004; Louisiana Coastal Area Study 4/2004 pdf file; Louisiana Coastal Area Study 7/2004 pdf file)

The Bush administration announces that it will abandon its January proposed rule (see January 10, 2003) to limit the scope of the Clean Water Act. However, the administration does not retract the policy directive that was announced the same day instructing regional EPA offices and the Army Corps of Engineers to halt protection of certain wetlands. (Natural Resource Defense Council et al. 8/12/2004 pdf file)

The US Army Corps of Engineers (US ACE) issues a waiver relieving Halliburton of the obligation to provide the government with “cost and pricing data” for the fuel it sells to the US military. The company was recently accused of overcharging the military as much as $61 million for fuel deliveries into Iraq (see December 5, 2003). The waiver will make it difficult for auditors to determine whether Halliburton or its Kuwaiti subcontractor overcharged the US government. (US Congress 1/6/2004 pdf file)

During President Bush’s visit to Louisiana, Governor Kathleen Blanco asks the president in a private conversation to include $50 million in his budget to begin construction work on the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) wetlands restoration project. She follows up with a formal letter outlining her request. (Associated Press 2/3/2004)

The Bush administration’s proposed fiscal year 2005 budget sets aside $325 million for civil works projects in the US Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans district—slightly less than the $337 million approved by Congress the year before. According to Marcia Demma, chief of the Corps’ programs management branch, the Corps will need $425 million for 2005. “We have a backlog of contracts, and it’s just been for the past few years that… we haven’t been funded at our full capability,” Marcia Demma, chief of the Corps’ programs management branch, tells New Orleans CItyBusiness. Of the $325 million proposed in the Bush budget, the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA) would receive $30 million, far short of the $42 million the Corps says it needs, and $4 million less than fiscal year 2004’s actual budget. According to Stan Green, SELA project manager, the $30 million would probably allow the Corps to continue its current work on 12 projects in Jefferson and Orleans parishes. But if it were fully funded, he says, it could award contracts for an additional 14 projects. (Roberts 2/16/2004) (Congress ultimately approves $36.5 million for SELA. (Serrano and Gaouette 9/4/2005) ) The administration’s proposed budget includes only $3.9 million for the New Orleans’ East Bank Hurricane Levee Project, a mere fraction of the $27.1 million requested by the Corps. According to Al Naomi, who manages this project, the budgeted allotment would not even cover the $4.5 million required for unpaid fiscal year 2004 work. (The sum ultimately approved by Congress for the east bank project is $5.7 million.) (Roberts 2/16/2004; Grissett 6/8/2004; Martin and Zajac 9/1/2005; Borenstein 9/1/2005; Grunwald 9/8/2005, pp. A01) Additionally, the president’s budget rejects a draft plan, submitted in October 2003 (see October 2003) by the Army Corp of Engineers, to begin a $14 billion dollar project to restore Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. Instead, the president directs the Corps to refocus its ongoing restoration study to produce a single, prioritized list of projects that can be completed in 10 years. Additionally, the corps is directed to include in its study several other larger restoration projects that are not part of the Louisiana Coastal Area study, and determine whether the mouth of the Mississippi can be altered to let sediment create new areas of wetlands to its east and west quickly, while still allowing shipping to reach port facilities in New Orleans and elsewhere along the river. Eight million dollars is allocated to the effort, only a fraction of the $50 million that was requested by Louisiana’s Governor (see January 2004). In the budget’s narrative, the White House acknowledges for the first time that Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands are partly the result of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ channeling of the Mississippi River for shipping and the construction of flood-control levees along the river to protect New Orleans. It also says that canals built by the oil and gas industry, natural subsidence, and rising sea levels are contributing factors to Louisiana’s net loss of coastal wetlands. (Associated Press 2/3/2004; Schleifstein 2/3/2004; Louisiana Coastal Area Study 4/2004 pdf file)

Al Naomi, the US Army Corps of Engineers’ project manager, “begs” the East Jefferson Levee Authority for $2 million to fund necessary levee repairs that Washington has refused to fund. “The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking, and if we don’t get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can’t stay ahead of the settlement,” he says. “The problem that we have isn’t that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can’t raise them.” The authority agrees to fund the repairs. (Bunch 8/31/2005; Vidal 9/1/2005)

The East Jefferson Levee Authority provides the US Army Corps of Engineers with another $250,000 after learning that portions of the levee in Metairie have sunk by four feet. The extra work is funded with increased property taxes in Jefferson Parish. (Bunch 8/31/2005)

In accordance with the Bush administration’s request (see February 2, 2004) to narrow the focus of the Louisiana Coastal Restoration Plan, the US Army Corps of Engineers submits a $2.0 billion restoration plan for Louisiana’s coastal wetlands to the EPA. The plan, downsized from the orginal $14 billion plan and referred to at this point as the Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP), calls for the accelerated implementation of up to five restoration projects that could begin as early as 2006. The projects would cost a total of $786 million. Other projects, such as a 10-year science and technology program, a demonstration program, a beneficial use of dredged material program, and a modification of existing structures program, would also be accelerated and cost about $385 million. The plan also calls for a large scale studies program costing $60 million, and identifies another 10 projects that would be subject to case-by-case authorization by Congress. (Louisiana Coastal Area Study 7/2004 pdf file; Environmental News Service 7/7/2004; National Wetlands Research Center 12/15/2004)

In the southwest Louisiana parish of Cameron, the US Army Corps of Engineers presents its recently downsized Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Restoration Plan (see July 2, 2004) to about 25 local residents, scientists, and environmental activists. People attending the meeting are angered that not one of the 15 major projects included in the revised plan are in southwest Louisiana. Apparently, several proposed projects that were included in the first draft of the LCA plan (see October 2003), including a plan to build major navigational locks at the mouths of the Sabine and Calcasieu rivers to prevent saltwater from seeping into freshwater marshland, are absent in the current plan. In this part of the state, saltwater intrusion has eaten away at the delicate marsh grass, both a key hurricane buffer and marine life breeding ground. (Associated Press 7/29/2004)

The Bush administration orders the New Orleans Army Corps of Engineers district office not to begin any new studies, including one aimed at determining what New Orleans must do to protect itself from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. The proposed 2005 fiscal-year budget originally included $300,000 for the study, but in the current version, this amount has been cut out. (Schleifstein 9/22/2004; Bunch 8/31/2005; Borenstein 9/1/2005)

The East Jefferson Levee Authority complains that the federal government refuses to fund a hoped-for $15 million project to better shore up the banks of Lake Pontchartrain. (Bunch 8/31/2005)

The New Orleans district of the US Army Corps of Engineers formally notifies Washington that if a major hurricane scores a direct hit on the city, two of New Orleans’ biggest pumping stations could be disabled. These pumping stations are needed—even under normal conditions—to keep the city dry. In the event of an overtopped or breached levee and heavy rains, the city would be submerged. (Serrano and Gaouette 9/4/2005)

The House of Representatives proposes the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in history—$71.2 million, or 21 percent. The Bush administration had earlier proposed a $52.8 million reduction for the New Orleans district’s fiscal year 2006 budget. The cut would be the largest single-year spending cut ever incurred by the district. As a result of the expected cut, the local Corps office postpones a study seeking to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane. Additionally, it imposes a hiring freeze and is unable to start any new jobs or award any new contracts. “I’ve been here over 30 years and I’ve never seen this level of reduction,” said Al Naomi, project manager for the New Orleans district. “I think part of the problem is it’s not so much the reduction, it’s the drastic reduction in one fiscal year. It’s the immediacy of the reduction that I think is the hardest thing to adapt to.” One of the hardest hit projects is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA). Its budget is being slashed to $10.4 million, down from $36.5 million. The amount is a sixth of what local officials say they need. Funding for levee repairs and other work on Lake Pontchartrain is scheduled to be cut from $5.7 million (see February 2, 2004) this year to $2.9 million in 2006. “We’ll do some design work. We’ll design the contracts and get them ready to go if we get the money. But we don’t have the money to put the work in the field, and that’s the problem,” Naomi says. (Roberts 6/6/2005; Bunch 8/31/2005; Ivins 9/1/2005)

Before dawn this morning, as Katrina approaches the coast of Southeastern Louisiana, the hurricane’s easterly winds from its northern quadrant shove a rising surge into the marshy Lake Borgne area east of St. Bernard. There, two hurricane levees come together into a large V-shape. Storm surge researchers later say that this point “acts as a giant funnel: Water pouring into the confined area rises up—perhaps as much as 20 feet in this case—and is funneled between the levees all the way into New Orleans.” The water probably tops the levees along the north side adjacent to eastern New Orleans, which average only 14 or 15 feet. The surge reaches the Industrial Canal before dawn and quickly overflows on both sides, the canal lockmaster reports to the Corps. At some point not long afterward, Corps officials believe a barge breaks loose and crashes through the floodwall, opening a breach that accelerated flooding into the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish. (McQuaid 9/7/2005)
Note - Reports about when this breach occurs vary. For example, the Army Corps of Engineers will report this evening that this breach occurs later, “during the storm.” (US Army Corps of Engineers 8/29/2005 pdf file) The Boston Globe will report that this breach occurs around 9:00 am. (O'Brien and Bender 9/11/2005) However, it appears more likely that at least one breach of occurred on this canal early this morning. Army Corps engineers will later indicate that this Industrial Canal breach occurs overnight as the storm is barreling towards New Orleans (McQuaid 9/7/2005) ; while the 17th Street Canal levee-floodwall is not breached until sometime around 9:00 am during the height of the storm’s pass near New Orleans (see (9:00 am) August 29, 2005).

As Katrina’s storm surge pushes inland, it causes significant damage to a large portion of the levee system along the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MGRO). The storm surge also damages a smaller levee built on the northern portions of neighborhoods in St. Bernard along Florida Avenue, from Arabi to Poydras, according to Col. Richard Wagenaar, the Army Corps’ head of engineers for the New Orleans district. The MRGO, shipping channel built in the early 1960s with very strong local support, had a 17-foot high earthen levee that extended for 10 miles and was the area’s easternmost line of defense against storm surges. Although St. Bernard officials initially strongly supported the construction of the MGRO, more recently, officials had charged that building the waterway destroyed wetlands that absorb the impact of storm surges, making the parish vulnerable. (Times-Picayune 9/13/2005)

New Orleans’ pumps have already failed, although the flooding is not yet widespread, according to Greg Allen, National Public Radio reporter. The Industrial Canal floodwall apparently has breached, flooding the Lower 9th Ward. People were trapped in their attics as the waters rose, and rescues are now taking place. Overall, however, the situation “is not nearly as bad as the catastrophe that people were predicting,” Allen reports. (National Public Radio 8/29/2005) Millions of TV viewers watching the disaster unfold in New Orleans will repeatedly see a huge barge floating amongst houses in the flooded area. Whether that barge caused or contributed to the breach of the Industrial Canal floodwall remains unclear as of mid-September 2005. The Army Corps of Engineers will later state that one possible cause was that this barge smashed through the floodwall during the high winds. (Machalaba 9/9/2005; McQuaid 9/13/2005) (Note: Reports incorrectly describe the Industrial Canal structure as a levee. It is, in fact, a floodwall.)

Around 9:00 am this morning, the 17th Street Canal levee-floodwall system is breached. However, according to Al Naomi, Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans project manager, the breach occurs in mid- or late-morning after Katrina’s eye has passed east of New Orleans. By that time, north winds have pushed storm surge water in Lake Pontchartrain south against the hurricane levees and into the canals, and then the wind shifts to the west. “As I remember it the worst of the storm had passed when we got word the floodwall had collapsed,” Naomi later says. “It could have been when we were experiencing westerly winds in the aftermath of the storm, which would have been pushing water against it.” Naomi and other Corps officials will later say that they believe that the water in the canal topped the levee on the Orleans Parish side, weakening its structure on the interior side and causing its collapse. Ivor Van Heerden, LSU Hurricane Center expert, however, will say that he does not believe the water was high enough in the lake to top the 14-foot wall and that the pressure caused a “catastrophic structural failure.” (McQuaid 9/7/2005 Sources: Al Naomi, Ivor Van Heerden)
Note - Reports about when this breach occurs vary. For example, Knight Ridder reports that the breach occurred at 3:00 am this morning, and that the breach was reported to the Army Corps of Engineers around 5:00 am. (Knight Ridder 9/11/2005) Later today, the Army Corps of Engineers will report that the breach occurred “overnight” and that the Industrial Canal breach occurs at this time. (US Army Corps of Engineers 8/29/2005 pdf file Sources: US Army Corps of Engineers) The Boston Globe will report that the breach occurs later this afternoon. (O'Brien and Bender 9/11/2005) The Chicago Tribune will report that the breach does not occur until August 30. (Martin, Simpson, and James 9/11/2005) However, it appears more likely that the 17th Street Canal floodwall-levee is breached around this time, and that the early morning breach reported is the breach of the floodwall(s) in the Industrial Canal.

Floodwalls in the London Avenue canal are breached today, probably around this time, according to Al Naomi, Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans project manager. (McQuaid 9/7/2005 Sources: Al Naomi)
Note - Today’s Army Corps news release will not mention this breach. (US Army Corps of Engineers 8/29/2005 pdf file) The Army Corps initially will indicate that this breach occurs on August 30. (US Army Corps of Engineers 8/31/2005 pdf file)

The Associated Press reports that, according to the National Weather Service, a floodwall has been breached on the Industrial Canal near the St. Bernard-Orleans parish line (see (9:00 am) August 29, 2005). Three to eight feed of flooding is possible. (Nossiter 8/29/2005 Sources: National Weather Service) The Associated Press will report on breaches in New Orleans’ levee system at least 15 times before the end of the day, identifying both the Industrial Canal floodwall breach and the 17th Street Canal floodwall-levee breach.

Around this time, Col. Richard P. Wagenaar, the Army Corp’s district commander, files a formal situation report, via e-mail, with the Corps’ national headquarters. What response, if any, the situation report triggers, remains unclear at this time. (Knight Ridder 9/11/2005)

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