As a practicing engineer, I agree with the premise of "Pump It, Don't Dump It" (Commentary, Dec. 8). However, I think you overlooked the only viable solution. Since you said engineers should be part of the solution, I would like to point out that President Jimmy Carter was the last U.S. president to hold an engineering degree. In 1977, Carter came up with a lengthy laundry list of Corps water projects he thought were economically absurd or frivolous and should be scrapped. Politics eventually derailed Carter's efforts.
Presidents since Jimmy Carter have come to many of the same conclusions about a host of Corps projects, but have had about the same luck reining them in. The Corps of Engineers continues to be a notorious outlet for useless pork-barrel spending, designing projects no one wants in search of congressional sponsorship.
The saga of Corps water projects would be simply another case of inefficient government and Beltway business-as-usual were it not for the catastrophic failure of levees in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Levee failure wasn't just a technical debacle but also a failure of oversight entrusted to Louisiana politicians. Politicos just assumed the levees were "Washington's responsibility." Why then have levee boards, another political patronage body that expends significant capital outlay with no visible results or benefits? Levee boards, politicians, and Corps officials were all complacent about whether the levees would do what they were supposed to do when it counted the most.
There is a sound way to stop Congress from approving boondoggle water projects based on political patronage: (1.) Privatize the Corps immediately. (2.) Mandate technical oversight of projects by registered professional engineers with hydrology, soil stability, structural engineering and detailed design expertise. (3.) Require local politicians to convince their residents and constituents that such projects are worth paying for before the first shovel of dirt is moved.
Newspapers credited a Team Louisiana expert with saying, "The design and construction (of the levee system) is a process that is overseen by federal people at every step." They were directly responsible for the death and destruction that befell New Orleans. They should be in jail cells, not continuing to mislead the public and depriving citizens of the protection the Corps was charged to provide, direct and oversee.
Randall M. Smith
Project manager, Keystone Engineering Inc.
I want to salute y'all for Noah Bonaparte Pais' great article on Soul Sister ("Crate Expectations," Cover Story, Dec. 1).
I had the privilege of watching (Soul Sister) Melissa (Weber) in action countless times when I preceded her on WWOZ with the African/Caribbean Journey Saturday nights. From somebody who's always been fascinated with the science of doing radio, Soul Sister has the most natural flair for it I've ever seen. Simply put, she does radio like she invented it.
A trivia fact that wasn't in the article: Melissa did the very last show that ever came from the old Armstrong Park studio before we battened down the hatches in preparation for Hurricane Katrina. I did my last show just before her. It's nice to have this article to reconnect to that time.
Rodger Collins (aka "The Wizard of 'OZ")
Have a Say
I want to thank Katie Van Syckle and Aariel Charbonnet for "The People's Prescription" (Cover Story, Nov. 22). You put faces to the 80,000 or more people in our region who are without health insurance and, as the article points out, they are not without health needs. I serve the New Orleans Health Alliance, an organization dedicated to providing an affordable medical home for the working uninsured. We are a new health center in Mid-City serving New Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.
I wanted to reach out to those people you interviewed and invite them to serve on our board (call 486-8585). It is important to the work that we do that we have board members who not only understand the challenges of the people we serve but live with those challenges. It is a great opportunity to influence how health care is delivered in our area.
Luanne S. Francis
Executive Director, New Orleans Faith Health Alliance