"Improving Louisiana's (and by extension the nation's) flood protection begins with acknowledging that the catastrophic flooding of Greater New Orleans was mostly man-made and avoidable," says Levees.Org's Web site. "In the course of 18 months, scientists and experts worldwide have stated that south Louisiana was devastated by a premature and complete collapse of a federal flood protection system that was not predicted and should have withstood Katrina's storm surge. American lives and livelihoods were lost because, in many cases, safety was exchanged for efficiency and reduced cost."
In lending our voice to the growing chorus in support of the proposed investigation, we recognize that neither America nor Louisiana needs another round of finger-pointing. There's enough of that already in Washington. Moreover, flood protection is not a partisan issue. When the floodwalls failed, Katrina inundated the rich as well as the poor, Republicans as well as Democrats. The good news is that the federal government already has an excellent model for the proposed Levee Commission: the bi-partisan 9/11 Commission, which took a fresh, unbiased look at all the data and studies conducted after the terrorist attacks of 2001 and issued an independent array of conclusions and recommendations. The same needs to be done with regard to the various studies conducted in the wake of Katrina.
No doubt many will say that Katrina has been studied enough already. That would be a good argument if Congress were to heed the conclusions of the truly independent studies, such as those by Team Louisiana (led by LSU) and the National Science Foundation (led by Professor Robert Bea of the University of California, Berkeley). Unfortunately, the federal government's only "official" study -- the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) -- was managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency solely responsible for designing and building south Louisiana's levee system. In effect, our government has allowed the Corps to investigate itself. This is a sham and a conflict of interest on its face. "If you look at the IPET report, you can see for yourself that every chapter is chaired or co-chaired by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employee," Levees.Org notes. "If you investigate yourself, what do you think you're going to find?"
No doubt in response to mounting public pressure, the latest pronouncements from the Corps acknowledge a growing level of responsibility for years of design and construction defects -- not just in south Louisiana, but also in more than 100 communities nationwide. That's commendable, but what's needed now is an arm's-length, objective look at all the data -- and a forward-looking set of recommendations as to how to prevent such a catastrophe from ever happening again, anywhere.
As we approach the next hurricane season, the Corps is reassuring us that it has things under control and that south Louisiana is safe. These are the same kinds of assurances we got prior to Katrina. Should we not question the reliability of the Corps of Engineers' latest flood protection system? In the New Orleans area alone, more than 1.5 million lives are at stake, and many billions of dollars in property and commerce. Congress has appropriated nearly $6 billion to the Corps of Engineers to repair and strengthen south Louisiana's flood protection system -- but, for all we know, the Corps is proceeding on the basis of its own flawed analysis and conclusions. Without an independent review of all Corps decisions, how can anyone expect a different result the next time a killer storm heads this way?
In our view, Congress should welcome the suggestion of an independent Levee Commission, or 8/29 Commission. Only such an objective investigation into what went wrong last time and what needs to be done to prevent that kind of disaster from happening again will assure taxpayers and Congress that the billions now being spent on flood protection are being spent wisely. In addition, an independent review will likely expose glaring weaknesses and inefficiencies in the way Congress funds flood protection. Because of that, Levees.Org says, the Commission's work "must be conducted outside the scope of a Congressional ad-hoc committee." We agree wholeheartedly.
This is a matter of public safety as well as public trust. Just last week, the final IPET report noted, "The system did not perform as a system." South Louisiana cannot afford to let another storm expose the weaknesses in our flood protection system. We need an independent commission to do that -- right now.
For more information on the proposed Levee Commission, go to www.levees.org.