Sunday, September 11, 2005

Make It an Island

Finally, there is somebody making sense with what to do about rebuilding New Orleans. Former secretary of the interior, Bruce Babbit, wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times suggesting that after some careful and thorough planning, NO should be made into an island. The article states”:

AFTER the victims are interred and public officials held to account for the destruction of a great American city, Congress must determine what to rebuild and what to abandon to the encroaching waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

New Orleans will survive only as an island surrounded by miles of open water. It will take a national effort, led by our best scientists, engineers and city planners, to achieve even this reduced vision of an American Venice. We must take the time to redesign the city to function as an island, with an island infrastructure, including relocated streets, highways and utilities. The island will need higher, stronger seawalls and levees sufficient to withstand new threats, including the rising sea levels and bigger hurricanes spawned in warming Atlantic waters.

Sea levels are likely to rise two to three feet in this century. Coastal maps drawn from consensus estimates show that virtually all of the delta lands south of Baton Rouge and below Interstate 10 - some 5,000 square miles - will be submerged by the end of this century.

State and local officials are understandably in denial about the impending loss of so much Louisiana land and heritage. The depth of their paralysis is underlined by a recent program to collect discarded Christmas trees from New Orleans to stack on barrier islands against the tides.

In recent years state agencies assembled a $14 billion project called Coastal 2050. One of its proposals was to cut gaps in the Mississippi River levees, which would provide outlets for the river to deposit some of its sediment onshore to help rebuild the delta. This idea may help in a few areas, but it will do little to offset the vastly larger forces of a rising sea.

Other proposals in the package include building coastal barriers, plugging delta channels dredged by oil companies and re-vegetating barrier islands. But overall the Coastal 2050 projects have as much chance of success as King Canute commanding the tides to recede.

Congress should resist the urge to appropriate huge sums for piecemeal reconstruction efforts. Restoration of the city and the delta will be a national effort, and it should be guided by a national plan. Congress should charge a commission of our best scientists, engineers and planners to asses the alternatives, draw up a regional land plan and recommend a realistic course of action.

Bruce Babbitt, a former secretary of the interior, is the author of the forthcoming "Cities in the Wilderness."

I like many others across the country, am confused about how to proceed with restoring NO to its former self – or even if we should at all. I strongly feel that no matter how well built any new levee system is, it will only be a matter of time before the inevitable happens again. Will it be worth it to spend all of our resources rebuilding the city the same way it is now? I am thinking the decisions about the reconstruction of New Orleans v2.0 should be done by qualified people throughout the whole country and not state and city officials.