Katrina – A Man-Made Travesty
August 30, 2010
By Tom Barrett
Today marks the fifth anniversary of a huge loss of life caused, to a large extent, by government incompetence. And the President of the United States is trying to cover up the government’s culpability.
No, I’m not talking about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) slow response to the Katrina disaster. That may have contributed to some deaths. But the vast majority of the 1,600 deaths that occurred can be laid at the feet of the Army Corps of Engineers, according to a recent court ruling.
There is plenty of blame to go around with regard to the evacuation of New Orleans, starting with residents who refused to evacuate. Then there were local officials who wouldn’t let school buses be used and a Democrat governor who was so self-absorbed that she blocked federal recovery efforts to keep the spotlight on herself. And of course there was a massive federal agency obsessed with “assessing” rather than acting. Apparently they forgot the second word in their name: Emergency.
Of course, the Army Corps of Engineers can’t be blamed for the hurricane itself. But according to court documents, they can certainly be blamed for designing and building levees that they knew were a danger to human life, and doing nothing about it.
Before I am accused of military bashing, let me explain that, despite the name, the Army Corps of Engineers is far more civilian than military. It is in fact a political organization with mainly civilian employees that is most often used to build pork barrel projects at the behest of Washington politicos. Yes, a general heads it, and yes, it is technically part of the Army. But if you look at its mission statement, you will quickly see that it is primarily a civilian organization.
From their website: “U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Mission: Provide vital public engineering services in peace and war to strengthen our Nation's security, energize the economy, and reduce risks from disasters.”
“Public engineering services, energize the economy, reduce risk from disasters.” The only thing that comes close to anything military is “strengthen our Nation’s security,” but that could mean anything.
Here’s what the Corps actually does…
“The Corps of Engineers is the nation's largest provider of outdoor recreation, operating more than 2,500 recreation areas at 463 projects (mostly lakes) and leasing an additional 1,800 sites to state or local park and recreation authorities or private interests. The Corps hosts about 360 million visits a year at its lakes, beaches and other areas, and estimates that 25 million Americans (one in ten) visit a Corps project at least once a year.”
“The Corps was first authorized to build hydroelectric plants in the 1920s, and today operates 75 power plants, producing one fourth of the nation's hydro-electric power. This makes USACE the fifth largest electric supplier in the United States.”
“Supporting navigation by maintaining and improving channels was the Corps of Engineers' earliest Civil Works mission, dating to Federal laws in 1824 authorizing the Corps to improve safety on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and several ports. Today, the Corps maintains more than 12,000 miles (19,000 km) of inland waterways and operates 235 locks.”
“The Corps first got involved in water supply in the 1850s, when they built the Washington Aqueduct. Today USACE reservoirs supply water to nearly 10 million people in 115 cities. In the drier parts of the Nation, water from Corps reservoirs is also used for agriculture.”
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers environmental mission has two major focus areas: restoration and stewardship. The Corps supports or manages numerous environmental programs, including helping establish/reestablish wetlands that helps endangered species survive.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of that. But I’ll bet you never thought the tax money you paid for the “Defense Department” was going to pay for playgrounds or saving endangered hamsters.
But now we get to the stuff that the Corps was supposed to have done in the Gulf States, but apparently did very poorly: “Infrastructure support comprises engineering and management support to military installations, global real estate support, civil works support (including risk and priorities), operations and maintenance of Federal navigation and flood control projects, and monitoring of dams and levees.”
This is the work that Judge Stanford Duval, Jr., ruling on November 19, 2009 in Katrina litigation, said “threatened human life.” The MRGO Judge Duval refers to is the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, constructed by the Corps.
In his ruling, Judge Stanford said, “The Corps not only knew, but admitted in 1988, that the MRGO threatened human life, and yet it did not act in time to prevent the catastrophic disaster that ensued with the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.
“The Corps' lassitude and failure to fulfill its duties resulted in a catastrophic loss of human life and property in unprecedented proportions. The Corps’ negligence resulted in the wasting of millions of dollars in flood protection measures and billions of dollars in congressional outlays to help this region recover from such a catastrophe.
“For over 40 years, the Corps was aware that the Reach II levee protecting Chalmette and the Lower Ninth Ward was going to be compromised by the continued deterioration of the MRGO. The Corps had an opportunity to take a myriad of actions to alleviate this deterioration or rehabilitate this deterioration and failed to do so.”
Delivering a devastating blow to the concept of sovereign immunity, he ruled in favor of six plaintiffs, awarding them damages ranging from $100,000 to $317,000, and opening the door for further lawsuits.
And the worst part is that it could all happen again. We are in the midst of hurricane season. The MRGO is finally being damned up by the Army Corps, but a whistleblower in the agency named Maria Garzino has reported that a key part of the hurricane protection system installed following Katrina doesn’t work. These are the giant pumps that are supposed to get water out of the city in an emergency. According to Garzino, they have failed multiple tests. Not surprisingly, the Corps has retaliated against her.
Fully 80% of the flooding in New Orleans was a direct result of levee breaches. And the levee breaches were a direct result of poor design by the Army Corps of Engineers. These design flaws were brought out (and ignored) in 1968 when the MRGO was built, and were brought to the attention of the high brass – and ignored again – in 1988.
So it is no wonder that Louisiana residents were extremely offended when Obama referred in his speech to this disaster caused by a federal agency as a “natural disaster. And no one can blame the ones who called for his impeachment when they found that he had directed federal lawyers to appeal Judge Duval’s decision. In effect, with this slap in the face to the citizens of Louisiana, Obama is attempting to cover up government malfeasance.
Court: Army Corps of Engineers liable for Katrina flooding
Katrina - a Man-Made Disaster
Five years after Katrina, Army Corps still dragging its feet on reforms