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A modest proposal for B. Jindal (and B. Obama) on Katrina’s 4th anniversary

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Editor’s note: Dateline August 29, 2009, four years post-Katrina and directly in the bullseye of this year’s hurricane season. Where do we stand after four years? 

State-fed train wreck that could be avoided

Avoidable state-federal train wreck over funding BRLA-NOLA passenger rail service

No matter what you may have heard, comprehensive and sustainable coastal protection and restoration for Louisiana remains a mirage, always on the horizon, a distant and unfunded dream. 

On the technical side an overly rosy scenario has been “graffitified” with a mustache by Drs. Blum and Roberts. These highly credible authorities have documented a fatal discrepancy between delta-building sediment supply and demand. Their projections preclude Sen. Mary Landrieu’s promise to defend at all costs the existing footprint of south Louisiana. 

Speaking of futile goals, many leaders in Terrebonne Parish seem to be abandoning reason in a piecemeal effort to erect dirt walls in the marsh that won’t stand the test of time. In my opinion, this enterprise, which doesn’t meet federal standards, does not justify being called Morganza-to-the-Gulf.

Four years post Katrina, the assumption that the storm would change everything is obviously misplaced and the public-at-large is increasingly and justifiably cynical. On August 26 Mike Tidwell, distinguished author of Bayou Farewellspoke to a capacity audience of honors students and coastal advocates at LSU’s Cotillion Ballroom. His candid assessment was that Katrina I wasn’t a loud enough alarm, but that Katrina II will forever end public support for saving south Louisiana.5131V0V495L._SL500_AA240_

The political picture is also ugly. 

At state and local levels the governor and some other elected officials are clearly distracted by approaching elections. As our state literally washes away, bickering over accepting federal stimulus money is even more hypocritical, partisan and irrational here than in Texas and South Carolina. 

The federal side is not much better. President Obama’s absence from and virtual silence on south Louisiana speaks volumes. The only crumb thrown our way recently by the White House* has been a highly hyped coastal panel involving the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This proposed panel and its authority to do anything raises more questions than it answers.

On August 28 the Jim Engster show on WRKF-FM 89.3 featured an interview with Mark Ballard from the Advocate. The topic was the administration decision to withdraw Louisiana’s application for federal stimulus funding to recreate passenger rail service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

During the interview Dr. Bill Ankner, secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) called in to explain why he and the governor decided to derail the application. He said that DOTD could not identify a feasible source of funding for an estimated $18 million/’year. I would point out that $18 million is 0.06% of Louisiana’s $30 billion budget.

Because Bill Ankner is a member of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) I called in to the show to ask whether he had considered the significant coastal implications of the project. I recounted suggesting to Mayor Ray Nagin four years ago (just before Katrina) that passenger rail service between NOLA and Houston would have important hurricane evacuation (and economic) benefits. He (Nagin) wasn’t interested.

I suggested to Secretary Ankner that future transportation challenges in a sinking coast should warrant CPRA approval to use coastal trust fund dollars. He acknowledged not having considered that option but countered that passenger rail would have to compete with levee projects, etc. More effective hurricane evacuation is a major element of the Multiple Lines of Defense (MLOD) strategy that is endorsed by the state master plan. That alone should justify CPRA funding. As Mark Ballard pointed out however, the official deadline for White House funding request is Monday, August 31.

A possible chink in the dam that is currently holding off a state-federal train wreck is described in an article in Slate.com, in which Governor Jindal praises Craig Fugate, Obama’s FEMA chief. In other words, maybe there’s a chance for cooperation between the White House and the Governor’s Mansion.

As an incurable optimist, after reading this article I developed the following modest proposal for Governor Jindal and for every elected and appointed official in south Louisiana.**

Someone with authority from the governor’s office should immediately notify the Obama administration that after due consideration in light of the Katrina anniversary, Louisiana has decided to reactivate its request to fund development of a BRLA-NOLA passenger rail service project. Because of the special extenuating circumstances – and the chance for the Obama administration to burnish its post-Katrina image – a one month extension to the August 31 deadline should be requested.

This request should be accompanied by a fourth floor press release on Monday, August 31 to state and national media that would make the evening news across the country. In light of the controversy generated by the Jindal decision to recall its original funding request I predict that Louisiana coastal officials and stakeholders with interests in transportation, economic development, and business and industry would strongly support this change of heart. 

Finally I would recruit the ideal bi-partisan team to sell this request to the White House and on Capitol Hill: James Carville and Mary Matalin!

Len Bahr

*Another positive administrative signal was from an EPA official who just hinted at more aggressive efforts to reduce nutrient runoff that causes gulf hypoxia. I’ll post on this soon.

**Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu; Treasurer John Kennedy; US Senate rivals Sen. David Vitter and Rep. Charlie Melancon; Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden; announced and unannounced candidates for NOLA Mayor; Reps. Scalise, Cao and Cassidy, congressional districts 1, 2 and 6, respectively; all state senators and representatives in south Louisiana, including the spanking new senator from district 20 (still up in the air at post time).

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  14. Charlie Viosca says:

    Very interesting reading, I look forward to what will they (various governments) do about it. Probably nothing and Louisiana, over the years, will just vanish away.
    Charlie Viosca

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