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Thread: Rebuilding New Orleans

  1. #31
    Crabby airline hostess - stache's Avatar
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    Bush has signed an order saying contractors will not have to pay the prevailing wage, which means most of the work will be performed by illegals. Regardless of who does the construction, I can understand not wanting to leave the area and have your residence looted by the repair crew.

  2. #32


    All that filthy, toxic water is being pumped from the city's lowlands into Lake Pontchartrain. That really bothers me. First we channel out the river, disrupting the wetlands. Then we build homes in the low-lying flood plains. And when the levees we make to keep the water out fail, water pours into that newly inhabited land and becomes heavily polluted. So we scramble to shore up levee breaks in order to pump infested waters from the overly populated coastal lowlands into an already struggling estuary ecosystem. Smart?

  3. #33
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Reviving a City: The Design Perspective

    NY Times
    September 14, 2005

    Even as the federal government and local developers push to resurrect New Orleans as quickly as possible in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, some architects and urban planners are contemplating the larger question of what form the city should take - whether restored, reimagined or something in between.

    "I hesitate to say there is a silver lining," said Michael Sorkin, director of the City College of New York's graduate urban design program. "But it would be a wasted opportunity if one didn't think in a systematic way about the 21st-century city."

    Among the questions facing architects are whether the city's footprint should be irrelevant, given that so many residents may not return; whether surviving industries should be pivotal to what is built; whether preservation should trump other priorities; and whether bold new architecture can or should rise from the muck and devastation.

    Many experts also warned against moving too quickly, arguing that being away from the city could help residents clarify what was most valued and should be reclaimed.

    "This is one of the few moments in time in which the entire population of a city can tell you what they miss about it," said Mark Wigley, dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. "It's like when people sit around a room wearing black talking about the person who's gone. The French Quarter is probably one of the smallest elements of what people treasure."

    "Any city that only tries to preserve itself is already dead," Mr. Wigley added. "The great tragedy would be to embalm New Orleans by simply rebuilding it the way it was."

    Alexander Garvin, an urban planning professor at Yale University, said: "Here we have a chance to look at the street system, public open space, to ask ourselves what are the things there we want to keep of great historic and cultural significance."

    "If you start with what you want to retain," he added, "you have a framework."

    Most architects and planners say preservation should be a priority. "There was a very unique vernacular," said Angela O'Byrne, president of the New Orleans chapter of the American Institute of Architects. She pointed to the city's mix of Greek Revival, Italianate and Creole styles, and to its cottages and bungalows with porches suited to the climate, adding, "As much as possible, all of it needs to come back."

    Steve Dumez, another New Orleans architect, agreed: "We fundamentally believe New Orleans is too important a city to be a throwaway. We intend to work hard to make certain that it does come back."

    The French Quarter, with its mix of Spanish and French influences, wrought-iron balconies and ornate cornices, is on high ground and was therefore largely spared from the flooding. Damage to the historic Garden District was similarly limited.

    But some architects cautioned that the historic quarters should not be the only focus. "New Orleans - along with San Francisco - is the greatest collection of 18th-, 19th- and early-20th-century residential architecture in the United States," said Reed Kroloff, the dean of the School of Architecture at Tulane University in New Orleans. "You're talking about miles and miles of historic properties.

    "But saving the historic context does not mean necessarily rebuilding everything in it," he added. "I don't think you build a bad 21st-century copy of a brilliant 19th-century building."

    Architects and planners worry that developers might try to recreate some fairy-tale version of the city, compromising its 300-year-old character. "My big concern is that it will become a Disneyland," said Raymond G. Post Jr., a Baton Rouge architect. "If we come up with a plastic New Orleans, then you've got a plastic New Orleans. You lose the charm and the quaintness and the crooked walls and the old shutters."

    Without the rejuvenation of the city's varied industries, and with too much reliance on tourism, the city could become something of a stage set where people work but do not live, some experts said. "That's a recipe for a Venice," said Terence Riley, chief curator of the Museum of Modern Art's architecture and design department, who described that city as being "on life support."

    Trula Remson, president of the Louisiana chapter of the American Institute of Architects, pleaded for deliberation and care. "I'm concerned that particularly residentially, it may be built back cheaply and quickly," she said. "You don't want to build something that's not going to stand the test of time."

    At the same time, the sense of a clean slate offers an opportunity to improve on what was poorly conceived or constructed, and to aim for some contemporary architectural distinction. "I hope we see some progressive design," Ms. Remson said.

    Some architects and planners urged a rethinking of New Orleans's sprawl, arguing that the city should be consolidated. Indeed, given that New Orleans may be uninhabitable for six months to a year, many residents are likely to put down roots elsewhere, planning experts say, greatly reducing what was a population of nearly 500,000.

    "The most difficult thing to do might be the planning of the shrinking of the city," said Mr. Riley, the MoMA architecture curator.

    If the population contracts sharply, he said, any effort to duplicate the city's former footprint will leave some areas largely deserted, robbing the metropolis of its overall texture and vitality.

    Others emphasize that the city's low-income housing was due for an overhaul long before the hurricane. "I think this is an opportunity to rethink some of the urban planning," Ms. O'Byrne said. "Some of the blighted areas probably needed to be bulldozed anyway."

    If there is any social dividend from the hurricane, some architects and planners said, it is the view the storm afforded of how the other half lives, the areas that are not in the guidebooks. "We have to get past the standardized image," Mr. Wigley said. "It didn't include any of the poor people - any of those neighborhoods that we only know now because they're filled with water."

    Any discussion of aesthetics, experts agree, must come second to improving the city's infrastructure. New regulations may be established, for example, about building higher and about where a building's first habitable floor should be.

    "The city needs to be understood as a wetlands that's been drained, with new elevations that move people out of harm's way," said Dan Williams, an urban and regional planner who helped rebuild South Florida after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

    "At what point do you decide, like San Francisco did, like Seattle in the early 1900's, to build up and over an existing structure?" Mr. Williams asked. "It's important to talk right now about strategies in terms of long-term planning."

    Ms. Remson of the architectural institute said: "We're going to try to educate our architects about the technology available now for making things flood-proof. So much will have to be torn down, we're going to want to build better."

  4. #34
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Karl Rove In Charge Of New Orleans Rebuilding Effort…

    Bush to Focus on Vision for Reconstruction in Speech

    September 15, 2005


    WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 - President Bush is to pledge in an address to the nation from New Orleans on Thursday night that the federal government will provide housing assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina and also help reimburse the states for costs they have absorbed in taking in evacuees, a White House official said Wednesday.

    The commitments are part of a series of initiatives that the president is expected to announce as he tries to recover from the political fallout over the government's handling of the storm.

    The initiatives will encompass education, health care and other social services, with specific housing and job assistance for people who return to New Orleans to live. White House officials said the president would not call for any set-asides or quotas for minorities in reconstruction contracts.

    The proposals were still in the planning stages on Wednesday night, and officials said the 9 p.m. address, the president's first major speech on the hurricane, would not be a State of the Union "laundry list" of proposals. Instead, they said, it would focus more generally on Mr. Bush's vision for the reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, with the federal government playing a supportive role to what White House officials are calling a "home-grown" plan that must be created by city and state authorities.

    "We're in the beginning of the rebuilding at this point, and there are a lot of ideas that people are expressing," Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Air Force One on Wednesday. "The president wants people to think big."

    Mr. McClellan indicated that Mr. Bush would not use the speech to name a "reconstruction czar" to oversee the effort. A number of White House officials have advised the president to name such a czar, with Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of forces in the 2001 war in Afghanistan, being a favorite of Republicans who are pushing the idea.

    White House officials also played down the notion that Mr. Bush would offer a "Marshall Plan" for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, as the Senate Republican leadership called for in a letter to the president on Wednesday. "We stand ready to work with you to lay out a comprehensive approach to the coordination of relief and development efforts through a 'Marshall Plan' for the Gulf Coast as soon as possible," said the letter, signed by Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, and others.

    Instead, administration officials and a Republican close to the White House said Mr. Bush would offer some general principles about "building a better New Orleans" with stricter construction standards to try to avoid a replay of the recent catastrophe. Republicans said Mr. Bush would not mention a price tag, in large part because of budget and political pressures from House Republicans and other supporters angry about administration spending.

    Republicans said Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, was in charge of the reconstruction effort, which reaches across many agencies of government and includes the direct involvement of Alphonso R. Jackson, secretary of housing and urban development.

    As of Wednesday, few if any members of Congress had been informed by the administration of the president's plans. But Congressional leaders nonetheless offered Mr. Bush advice on his speech.

    "I want him to reassure the people that the big part of this fight is ahead of us, and he's going to make sure that the federal government does a better job, does its part," Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, said in an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday night. "We're all to blame to a degree." Mr. Lott added that Congress should never have passed legislation, as the White House wanted, that made the Federal Emergency Management Agency part of the Department of Homeland Security.

    "We went along with that, and I guess we'll have to go back and try to rewrite the history, but that should be an independent agency reporting only to the president of the United States," Mr. Lott said.

  5. #35
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    I actually like Tommy Franks. He would be far from the worst choice for the reconstruction effort.

  6. #36


    Alexander Garvin, an urban planning professor at Yale University, said: "Here we have a chance to look at the street system, public open space, to ask ourselves what are the things there we want to keep of great historic and cultural significance."

    Hmmmmm, we've heard this before. I remember we ended up with a creative straightjacket at the WTC because of the obsession over new streets and the security problems it caused with the FT. Unless if Garvin is talking about making New Orleans denser (which is a good idea) I will take what he says with a grain of salt.

  7. #37
    Crabby airline hostess - stache's Avatar
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    Yes, that's the reason they decided for the most part to keep the old street boundaries in blitzed Europe. Property rights issues would have taken much longer to clear up, and people wanted to get back to what they found familiar.

  8. #38
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Amid the Muck, a Man With a Plan

    NY Times
    September 17, 2005

    NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 15 - The Palmetto Apartments, a cluster of two-story buildings where 120 low-income families lived before Hurricane Katrina, is a grim sight. By now, the water, which had been more than six feet deep in the buildings, has retreated. Left behind are battered walls, mud-caked rooms, warped wood floors and mold climbing toward the ceilings. The grounds, still swampy, smell like a fetid barnyard.

    The term dead loss comes to mind. But to Quentin Dastugue, the chief executive of a large New Orleans real estate company that owns, manages or leases more than a dozen major properties in the city - including pricey condominiums at the edge of the French Quarter and downtown luxury real estate space - reviving this badly damaged affordable housing project is a priority.

    Mr. Dastugue (pronounced DAS-toog) led a group of investors, lured by federal tax credits for renovating low-income housing, that bought the property last fall. They had been halfway through a major renovation - new walls, new windows, new bathrooms and new appliances. Now they have to start over. But even as residents are just beginning to be allowed to return, Mr. Dastugue has already arranged for a construction trailer to be set up next week, powered by its own generator, to begin the reconstruction effort.

    "It's a terrible shame; we had made so much progress," he said, surveying the damage this week. "But if we in New Orleans can't provide housing for lower-wage working folks who work in the hotels, restaurants and small service businesses, the tourism and conventions and all that will not come back. We've got to hit the ground running."

    Business leaders like Mr. Dastague are not waiting for politicians, government officials, engineers and city planners to take charge of rebuilding New Orleans. They are starting to do it themselves.

    They certainly are counting on plenty of help from the federal government, as President Bush promised in his speech Thursday. But even before the money for reconstruction flows in, local land owners and business executives are pressing their case that a fast start is crucial if the economy of southern Louisiana is to recover. The first 100 days or so, they say, must be used to build a sense of momentum and optimism that New Orleans and the surrounding region will come back, not just as it was but as a rebuilt and improved place.

    Attention now is understandably focused on the immediate recovery, but big questions loom about what path a "new New Orleans" should take and what it might look like. And that path will be shaped in many ways by business leaders and civic leaders like Mr. Dastugue, a former Louisiana state representative who is also co-chairman of an initiative by business, government and community leaders to try to make the New Orleans metropolitan area a more attractive place to live, work and invest, called "Top 10 by 2010."

    It is a daunting, and some would say, an all but impossible goal. An estimated 70,000 businesses across the 10 parishes of southern Louisiana have been displaced or severely disrupted by the hurricane, according to Michael Olivier, Louisiana's secretary for economic development.

    More than 90 percent of those companies are small businesses, Mr. Olivier said in an interview, and many may not survive the wait for their insurance claims or loans from the Small Business Administration. So, Mr. Olivier went to Washington for a four-day trip that began Tuesday seeking help.

    "Our greatest worry is that we need to get businesses back up and running and we need to get the work force back," Mr. Olivier said. "And you need at least something for everyone, not only businesses but the worker bees as well."

    That view seems to be shared in Washington. The measures in the aid plan presented by President Bush on Thursday included tax relief, loans and loan guarantees for small businesses, as well as funds for workers of up to $5,000 each.

    The surest bet in the recovery, local economists say, will be the big companies in oil production and refining, shipbuilding, ports and petrochemicals.

    "These companies will make herculean efforts to get back up and running because they have a lot of money invested and a lot of money on the line every day," said Loren Scott, an economist at Louisiana State University. "The big question is the tourism and convention industry, and small service businesses. How much of the diaspora of people and businesses who left will come back?"

    By nature, Mr. Dastugue is an outgoing, glass-is-half-full optimist. At each of four security checkpoints he drives past in New Orleans, operated by out-of-state Army and National Guard troops, he offers friendly thanks and encouragement. "Where you from?" he greets them. "Thanks for coming, guys."

    Despite the destruction, Mr. Dastugue recognizes the opportunity of a clean slate to work from in rebuilding - "an urban planner's dream," he noted.

    His vision of a rebuilt New Orleans is not a smaller city built primarily around tourism, as some have suggested, but more of a huge refurbishing project. It is an opportunity, as he sees it, to rebuild and overhaul the roads and transit system for better traffic handling; build new levees and water control systems to ease flood dangers; put in new state-of-the-art fiber optic telecommunications to attract high-technology companies; rebuild schools and rethink urban education.

    "We have a chance to correct some things here and use a lot of federal money to do it, and legitimately so," he said.

    His wife, Penny, also sees opportunity behind the disaster, and as a member of the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, she will have a voice in planning the course for rehabilitating damaged schools. The New Orleans school system is deeply troubled.

    "If we rebuild what we had, shame on us," said Mrs. Dastugue, who regards the post-hurricane situation as an opening for changes like charter schools, smaller schools and career academies.

    She hopes that teachers' unions and some local politicians who have resisted experiments in the past will endorse such programs with the prospect of more money and a fresh start. Will they? "I don't know," Mrs. Dastugue replied.

    Indeed. And whose ideas prevail in any "new New Orleans" initiatives will probably be a matter of intense political debate.

    For now, though, the focus is mainly on bringing the New Orleans region back to life and getting businesses up and running - tasks that pose huge challenges but also a lot of business opportunities.

    Mr. Dastugue's company, Property One, which he founded two decades ago with his brother, Paul, provides a glimpse of the economic crosscurrents already emerging in the area.

    Property One's headquarters, now shut, is in a high-rise office building across the street from the Superdome. It has branch offices in the New Orleans suburb of Mandeville, along with Lafayette and Baton Rouge elsewhere in Louisiana. The company also has projects in Mississippi, Texas, Alabama and Florida.

    Property One could easily move its headquarters, as some companies already have. But the 49-year-old Mr. Dastugue, whose great-grandfather emigrated from France to become a butcher in the French Quarter, is a sentimental opportunist where New Orleans is concerned.

    "For every person who leaves, that creates a tremendous opportunity for everyone who stays because there's less competition," he said.

    The fear, of course, is that if the recovery staggers early then the local market will be far smaller. The ones who left, then, could be the smart money.

    All Property One's business in the city of New Orleans is in hiatus or is gone. But just across Lake Pontchartrain in the suburb of Mandeville, it has a development of 64 condominiums. Until Katrina, sales had been sluggish.

    Except for losing two roofs, the development, on high ground, escaped damage. In two days last week, 44 condominiums were sold to displaced families and companies seeking housing for their employees.

    Mr. Dastugue said he held the pre-hurricane price of about $90,000. "To be honest, we debated that and decided we were not going to charge whatever the market would bear," he said.

    In a Baton Rouge office complex, Property One leased more than 400,000 square feet of space last week to displaced companies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "It's a checkerboard: in some places, there is a frenzy of business, and elsewhere properties look like they should be bulldozed," Mr. Dastugue said. "We don't really know how it will sort out for us."

    Nearly all his company's 70 employees evacuated. Mr. Dastugue stayed behind to look after the properties, but sent his wife and three daughters to Dallas. A falling pine tree split the roof of his home in Mandeville, but he patched it up a few days later. His brother's home in nearby Metairie is still under water.

    Mr. Dastugue is continuing to pay his employees, and found housing for some of them in his properties. He has already heard, though, from a few who are not coming back. Often, the leasing or brokerage deals they worked on were in New Orleans, and they have decided to move on rather than wait for business to recover while not receiving commissions, which is a big part of their income.

    At Property One, payrolls are every two weeks. "We'll start to get a better idea of who's going and who's staying by the next payroll," he said.

    At the Palmetto Apartments, despite the devastation, Mr. Dastugue hopes to get some of the least damaged units ready for occupancy in a few months and all of them rebuilt by next April.

    For the city of New Orleans, Mr. Dastugue said that one goal should be to have the city rebuilt enough by late February for Mardi Gras, probably with shortened parade routes. The city should aim to be ready for conventions, he added, by the second quarter of 2006.

    Those may prove to be demanding targets, Mr. Dastugue conceded. After all, one of the truisms of construction projects - even a simple kitchen renovation - is that they take longer and cost more than originally planned.

    But ambitious goals, he said, are needed to get things moving with a real sense of urgency and political will.

    "Part of the recovery is an engineering feat," Mr. Dastugue said. "But there is also the confidence issue that business and government are going to have to deal with - that this recovery is really moving forward quickly. How that confidence issue turns will determine the future of New Orleans."

    Copyright 2005The New York Times Company

  9. #39
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    New Orleans Mayor Defends Return Plan
    Relief Chief Says It's Still 'Very, Very Soon to Try and Do That'

    NEW ORLEANS (Sept. 18) - New Orleans' mayor has the authority to let residents return to his hurricane-damaged city, but the Coast Guard official in charge of the federal disaster response said Sunday that all the information from health and environmental experts recommends against it.

    Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen plans to meet with Mayor Ray Nagin on Monday and develop what he called a logical plan to repopulate the city.

    If Allen gets his way, that repopulation won't start on Monday, as the mayor planned, but it will be soon.

    "I wouldn't want to attach a time limit to it, but it includes things like making sure there's potable water, making sure there's a 911 system in place, telephone, a means to notify people there is an approaching storm so you can evacuate it with the weakened levee situation," Allen said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.

    "We can do that, and we can do that fairly soon, but it's very, very soon to try and do that this week," he said.

    Nagin didn't appear ready to back down Saturday as he defended his plan to return up to 180,000 people to the city within a week and a half despite concerns about the short supply of drinking water and heavily polluted floodwaters.

    "We must offer the people of New Orleans every chance for a sense of closure and the opportunity for a new beginning," he said.

    He wants the Algiers, Garden District and French Quarter sections to reopen over the next week and a half, bringing back more than one-third of the city's half-million inhabitants, though city officials have backed off a specific date for reopening the famous French Quarter. The areas were spared the worst of Hurricane Katrina's flooding.

    Nagin said his plan was developed in cooperation with the federal government and balances safety concerns and the needs of citizens to begin rebuilding.

    But Allen said he had spoken personally with the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and returning now wouldn't be advised. A prime public health concern is the tap water, which in most of the city remains unfit for drinking and bathing, he said.

    "We really support his plan to restart New Orleans," Allen said. "We are right in sticking with his vision. It's a matter of timing and creating the, enabling the structures that will allow us to do this safely."

    Those structures would include an evacuation plan if another storm hits the region and threatens an already delicate levee system, he said.

    There are also still bodies to be recovered. Allen said over 90 percent of the primary house-to-house sweep was complete, but some homes are still under water and searchers will have to return.

    On Sunday, the death toll in Louisiana increased by more than 60 to 646, according to the state Department of Health and Hospitals. That raised the total Gulf Coast deaths linked to the hurricane to 883.

    Despite floodwater remaining in some areas and a lack of residents in the city, business owners were allowed back in to some sections of the city to begin the long process of cleaning up and rebuilding, part of Nagin's plan to begin reviving the city by resuming a limited amount of commerce.

    But confronted with damage that could take months to repair, many said hopes for a quick recovery may be little more than a political dream.

    "I don't know why they said people could come back and open their businesses," said Margaret Richmond, owner of an antiques shop on the edge of the city's upscale Garden District that was looted. "You can't reopen this. And even if you could, there are no customers here."

    The Wal-Mart store in uptown New Orleans, built within the last year, survived the storm but was destroyed by looters.

    "They took everything -- all the electronics, the food, the bikes," said John Stonaker, a Wal-Mart security officer. "The only thing left are the country-and-western CDs."

    If the store had not been looted, it could be open in two weeks, Stonaker said. Now he doubts it will be open by January.

    In the French Quarter, the hum of generators, the thumping of hammers and the whir of power tools cut through the air Saturday as business owners were allowed in to survey the damage and begin cleaning up. Some threw an impromptu street party, complete with a traditional feast of red beans and rice.

    At the famous French Quarter restaurant, The Court of Two Sisters, director of food and beverages Andrew Orth was removing plywood from the windows on Saturday morning. The coolers lost power and the food was rotting. Orth estimated it would take several weeks to get the restaurant ready to serve diners again.

    "We couldn't open even if the electricity was on," he said.

    Associated Press Writer Doug Simpson contributed to this report from Baton Rouge.

    9/18/2005 13:34:36

    Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

  10. #40
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    9.26.05 ...

    9.27.05 ...

    9.28.05 ...

    Last edited by lofter1; September 30th, 2005 at 08:28 AM.

  11. #41


    October 4, 2005

    Some Experts Say It's Time to Evacuate the Coast (for Good)

    Scientists are trying to determine the most vulnerable coastal communities. Many point to Dauphin Island, Ala., which was heavily damaged in Hurricane Katrina.


    PENSACOLA, Fla. - As the Gulf Coast reels from two catastrophic storms in a month, and the Carolinas and Florida deal with damage and debris from hurricanes this year and last, even some supporters of coastal development are starting to ask a previously unthinkable question: is it time to consider retreat from the coast?

    Yes, said Howard Marlowe, president of Marlowe & Company, a lobbying firm that represents counties and local governments, often in seeking support for coastal infrastructure, like roads, sewers and beach replenishment. "I think we need to be asking that and discussing that, and the federal government needs to provide leadership," Mr. Marlowe said.

    He added, "I have never been an advocate for the federal government telling people that they have to move out, but it's important to have a discussion at all levels of government about what can be done to make sure more people do not put themselves in harm's way. It will not be an easy dialogue."

    The idea that much of the coast is dangerous and getting more so is not new. Coastal scientists have been saying for years that global warming will threaten coastal areas with higher seas and more powerful storms, and that a hurricane lull that began in the mid-1960's will eventually give way to the far more dangerous pattern of storms that prevailed in the 1930's, 40's and 50's. Since then, though, development has transformed the nation's shoreline, especially on the east and gulf coasts.

    By last year, when four hurricanes crossed the state of Florida in a matter of weeks, it was clear the lull had ended. This year, Hurricanes Katrina, Ophelia and Rita drove the hazard lesson home.
    A. R. Schwartz, a Democrat who for decades represented Galveston and much of the Texas coast in the State Legislature, said he now regretted some of the legislation he had pushed that subsidized development on the coast, particularly a measure that provides tax relief to insurance companies faced with wind damage claims.

    Mr. Schwartz, whose constituents knew him as Babe, said that measure was "a terrible mistake - in my mind, as opposed to my heart, because the people need the insurance - because it has been an invitation for people to build homes on barrier islands and on peninsulas that are exposed to storms, at public expense."

    "We are facing a crisis now because of that law I passed," said Mr. Schwartz, who now lives in Austin where he works as a lobbyist and lawyer.

    Daniel P. Schrag, director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, said that as coastal areas, and islands, recover "there has to be a discussion of what responsibility we have not to encourage people to rebuild their houses in the same way."

    Even the fate of New Orleans should be open to discussion, Dr. Schrag said. "Spending hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild a city that puts it in harm's way once again and relying on technology such as higher dikes and levees seems to me a very dangerous strategy," the more so in an era of global warming.

    Erosion already threatens 70 percent of the nation's coastline, and is especially severe on the east and gulf coasts. In a report to Congress in 2000, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that more than a quarter of the houses within 500 feet of the coast might be lost to the sea by 2060. The report said these losses would put an intolerable burden on the federal government, which insures many of the structures through its flood insurance program.

    "We are getting these lifetime storms every couple of years," said Riley G. Hoggard, a resource management specialist at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, where the road to Fort Pickens, on Santa Rosa Island here, has been washed out and rebuilt three times in the last year. "Maybe we need to get into a program of orderly retreat."

    In recent decades, people have been doing just the opposite. According to the Census Bureau, 87 million people, nearly a third of the nation's population, live on or near the Atlantic or gulf coasts.

    Harry Simmons, president of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, which advocates for beach replenishment and other infrastructure support for coastal communities, said that 3,600 Americans moved to the coast every day.

    "You cannot draw up a worse case scenario for increased property damage, risk to human life and cost to taxpayers," said Robert S. Young of Western Carolina University, who studies coastal development.

    Just as a commission was formed to identify military bases for closing, he said, a commission should be formed to identify "those sections of shoreline that are clearly so vulnerable to storm damage that they should no longer receive any federal subsidy of infrastructure rebuilding, they should be yanked out of the flood insurance program, those sorts of things."

    Mr. Young said the commission should be made up of representatives from FEMA, the United States Geological Survey, the Army Corps of Engineers and university researchers. "It could not have politicians on it because coastal politicians, even if they are fiscal conservatives, would want to defend their coastal turf," he said.

    He said he would propose the idea this month, when he has been asked to testify before a subcommittee of the House Resources Committee. "We need to just make a start," he said.

    Meanwhile, scientists from the geological survey have been making detailed observations of the coastal landscape, before and after storms, to try to identify characteristics, not always obvious, that make areas more or less vulnerable to storm damage.

    The geological survey is not in the business of defining where people should or should not live, said Abby Sallenger, a scientist with the agency who has been leading data collection efforts on the gulf coast. But, he said, "There are sections of the east and gulf coasts that are extremely hazardous and the scientific community could come to agreement on where they are" so that policy makers could act on the information.

    Like others who study this issue, he said two good candidates for retreat were Dauphin Island in Alabama, much of it wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, and North Topsail Island, N.C., which, he said, "gets wiped out routinely."

    But plenty of people reject the idea that those who live on the coast are any more at risk than those who live in areas prone to tornadoes, earthquakes or forest fires, even in an era of increased storms.

    "There are engineering solutions to almost any problem we face," said Mr. Simmons of the beach association, who is mayor of Caswell Beach, N.C., near Cape Fear. He said the problem with places like North Topsail Island is too little infrastructure support, not too much. "We are not doing a good enough job maintaining things" like beaches, he said.

    In the past, the promise of engineering has prevailed against efforts to get the federal government out of the coastal development business.

    More than a decade ago, for example, FEMA scientists suggested imposing new limits on federally subsidized flood insurance and government support for roads, sewers and other infrastructure in erosion hazard areas. But advocates for development denounced the move as undue federal interference, and it was defeated.

    Setback requirements have been successfully challenged as unconstitutionally limiting people's use of their property.

    But Mr. Marlowe, the lobbying firm president, said: "What I am looking for is a national commitment to a plan that says: 'O.K., we have people in these areas, how are we going to protect them? We have other people in these areas where we are going to discourage future development because we cannot protect things that are there.' "

    Mr. Simmons said this kind of planning would be a good thing. But he said the beach preservation association "has always taken the position that sound development is the way to go," with zoning and building codes determined locally. "What I hear some people saying is you should just bulldoze the place and leave it to the birds and the turtles, and I don't agree with that," he said.

    Mr. Hoggard of the Park Service said he would not consign even Fort Pickens to that fate. But, he said, it is time to consider replacing the road, possibly, for example, with a ferry service from the mainland. But, as is the case on all the developed shoreline, abandoning infrastructure means lost revenue, in this case fees from a year-round campground. So Mr. Hoggard said there would be pressure to maintain the road, flooded yet again by pounding surf churned up by Hurricane Rita. "We can do that with our technology," he said. "But only for so long, and at a great price."

  12. #42
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003


    "What I hear some people saying is you should just bulldoze the place and leave it to the birds and the turtles, and I don't agree with that,"

    I wonder what the birds and turtles have to say.....

  13. #43



    Dutch Answer to Flooding: Build Houses that Swim

    The Dutch are gearing up for climate change with amphibious houses. If rivers rise above their banks, the houses simply rise upwards as well. Such innovation could be good news for hurricane and flood-stunned America. But are water lovers prepared to live on swimming family arks?

    Looking out from the terrace, heaven and earth merge into a grey blur. Heavy rain pours so incessantly that one would expect Anne van der Molen to be getting just a little nervous.

    "Tomorrow does not look any better, according to the weather forecast," she says, calmly sipping her coffee. She does so in spite of the fact that her house stands directly on the Maas dyke - on the side facing the river, to be exact. Yet the nurse, sitting on her garden chair under the awning, feels as cozy and safe as if she were "snowed in up in a mountain hut, with a log fire glowing and the pantry full." The Maas can go on rising as much as it likes, for all she cares. Her house can swim. As the water level climbs, the house itself can move up five meters, if necessary. "The elements don't bother me," she says.

    There are 37 houses strung along this branch of the Maas like a row of beads. At first glance, they seem quite unremarkable. Two storeys high, semicircular metal roofs and yellow, green or blue facades - hardly any clues let on that these are The Netherlands' first amphibious houses. The cellar, in this case, is not built into the earth. Instead, it is on a platform - and is much more than a mere storage room. The hollow foundation of each house works in the same way as the hull of a ship, buoying the structure up above water. To prevent the swimming houses from floating away, they slide up two broad steel posts - and as the water level sinks, so they sink back down again.

    "The columns have been driven deep into solid ground," explains Dick van Gooswilligen from the Dura Vermeer construction company. "They are even strong enough to withstand currents you would find on the open seas." Gooswilligen is currently busy guiding dozens of journalists from the United States through the watertight settlement in the Maasbommel district, close to Nijmegen. "As global warming causes the sea level to rise, this is the solution," he explains into a microphone. "Housing of this type is the future for the delta regions of the world, the ones which face the greatest danger."

    Soundbites like these are just what Americans want to hear these days. Hurricane Katrina and her lesser cousin Hurricane Rita have sparked interest in the low lying Netherlands. Hordes of hydraulic engineers from Louisiana or Texas are making the pilgrimage to the North Sea coastline to look at the fortifications. The inland river dykes are also considered exemplary models.

    The Netherlands Sinks a little Lower Every Year

    German catastrophe management teams are just as curious. Climate patterns today suggest that torrential rainfall is something we can expect plenty more of in the future. This year's floods in the Alps or those along the River Elbe three years ago could well be warning signs of what awaits us. Climatologists predict that precipitation in The Netherlands could increase as much as 25 percent. At the same time, because of the small kingdom's dense population, there is increasing pressure to build in areas prone to flooding. Already, though, the country defies the laws of physics simply by existing: More than a quarter of its land lies below sea level. And, year by year, the land is sinking a little bit lower. The Dutch protect themselves from going under through a network of canals and pumps. It is not only the sea which threatens the mighty barrage on the coast. On the other side lies the Rhine River, which branches out and forms a wide-reaching delta with the Maas. To prevent such huge swaths of land from flooding in summer and winter storms, the Dutch are designating more and more land along their rivers as flood zones. Within the next few decades, the area will compose close to 500,000 hectares -- or about twice the size of the German state of Saarland.

    This will only be possible if people, industry and agriculture can be successfully relocated to safe territory - which is hard to imagine, given the resistance mounted by some of those affected. Officials have, therefore, decided to demonstrate first of all that it is possible to live in the so-called flood zones. In early October, 15 test areas were announced. A stringent ban on construction in these areas has now been lifted - provided buildings constructed are amphibious houses and nothing else. This means that, in a worst case scenario, excess water from flooded rivers can still be diverted this way.

    "You cannot fight water, you have to learn how to live with it", states Sybilla Dekker, the minister in charge. Her department has arranged a competition for engineers, urban planners and architects to design living accommodation, greenhouses, parking lots and factories which would float and could grow into "waterproof" towns.

    One of the leading architects in this relatively new discipline of maritime architecture is Koen Olthuis. His aptly named office has already designed a number of contemporary houseboats with a parking deck for the car and lower deck storage for a motorboat. Now, his team is even coming up with plans for office buildings a hundred meters in height that "swim." The key to making this idea a reality is a patented technique whereby the foundation of the construction can be transformed into a float. A foam core is encased in concrete, with steel cables securing it against the pull of potential currents. Individual pontoons, whether for residential blocks or chicken coops, can be joined to one another like Lego blocks. As a result, a maritime settlement is born.

    "This construction model is built to last at least one hundred years," Olthuis says. If anything should happen to the foundation, there is no need to call in the construction company. Instead, the whole thing can be taken to the dockyard.

    Family "arks" of the future

    The architect from Rijswijk hopes to tap into a worldwide trend. Increasing numbers of people are gravitating towards the water, out of necessity, for financial gain or, in some cases, quite simply for the wonderful view. "Thanks to watertight buildings, this impulse need not be fateful," he says. His bobbing buildings have not only found favor in the Polder lands, he has also prepared concepts for Dubai.

    The first town based on this model, numbering 12,000 houses, might conceivably be built close to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. The Netherlands are particularly low in this area. When planes come in for a landing here, one can see countless rectangular islets amid a picturesque, watery landscape. Canals weave their way like veins through the swaying reeds of green land which invariably opens out into ponds or lakes. By the year 2010, amphibious houses like those in Maasbommel may well form the first residential area here - or perhaps greenhouses will dominate the landscape, like the one opened earlier this month by the minister of agriculture in The Hague.

    At this stage, such model houses cost more than conventional housing. The amphibious buildings in Maasbommel cost approximately €250,000 to €300,000 for a 120 square meter home. This is due in part to the flexible nature of the construction which also plays a role in creating feed lines for gas, electricity, drinking water and drainage. Like the foundation, they, too, have to be able to adapt to the changes in height of the premises.

    But, when the floating construction model goes more mainstream, the price of a one family "ark" should drop dramatically. "At the end of the day, we will save on a lot of the costs conventional building methods incur doing things like securing foundations in soft ground. We won't have to contend with that," Olthuis points out. It remains an utter mystery to him why water-proofed construction is not yet common practice.

    He can only watch and shake his head as his television broadcasts fresh pictures of floods in one part of the world or another. "Those people, breaking their backs piling sandbags on their doorsteps, I feel really sorry for them."

    Translated from the German by Gareth Davies

  14. #44


    November 8, 2005

    New Orleans Is Still Grappling With the Basics of Rebuilding


    This article was reported by Adam Nossiter, Gary Rivlin, John Schwartz, Eric Lipton and Jennifer Steinhauer and was written by Ms. Steinhauer.

    NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 7 - Something once unimaginable has begun to happen here: the United Parcel Service is delivering again downtown. At Langenstein's grocery, celery and pork chops are moving out the door, and revelers spill out of the Magazine Street bars on Friday nights.

    But just a mile away, workers are struggling to restore some flood protection to the city, which would barely stay dry in even a modest tropical storm. Tens of thousands of homeowners, facing six-figure repair bills for their rotting houses, are unlikely to get more than a fraction of that from the government. As phones ring in empty offices, even the shrimp business can barely find customers, and the economy remains comatose.

    More than two months after Hurricane Katrina incapacitated this peerless, sultry American city, New Orleans has shaken off the shock of its collapse and has slowly begun to draw breath again. But as it moves from recovery into the more crucial rebuilding phase, it is only beginning to grapple with the elemental questions that will shape its future, many of which have arisen at the special session of the Louisiana State Legislature that began Sunday night.

    Will New Orleans be granted a vastly strengthened flood protection system - at a cost of up to $20 billion - or will it be told to allow low-lying residential neighborhoods to return to marshland? Will the city have to take control of thousands of houses to restore them - at a cost that no one has calculated - or will it have to tell thousands of evacuated residents not to return?

    Every major decision seems to rely on another decision that has to be made first, and no one has stepped in to announce what the city will do and break the cycle of uncertainty. Many residents and business owners will not return and invest without an assurance of flood protection, for example. But workers who could rebuild the levees and much of the rest of the city are hampered by the lack of housing.

    "We can't ask somebody to work for us if they have nowhere to live," said Robert Boh, president of Boh Brothers, a New Orleans construction company.

    And construction of new houses, or the rebuilding of the old damaged ones, has been stymied by the high cost, the empty treasury of local government, and the debate over how to maintain the city's political and demographic base.

    While some experts have warned that it makes little economic or environmental sense to rebuild low-lying areas like the Lower Ninth Ward, Mayor C. Ray Nagin and many other city officials have stated emphatically that the neighborhood will be rebuilt and protected, whatever the cost.

    Developers have not yet received the kind of tax incentives that Washington provided to New York after Sept. 11, and local officials are preparing for the loss of up to half the city's 115,000 small businesses.
    In rebuilding, timing and proportion are everything. Unlike New York officials, who seized their moment of national sympathy to nail down $20 billion in specific appropriations from Congress after Sept. 11, Louisiana delegates asked for a hefty $200 billion. After that amount was shot down, there was little clarity in the state's request, and two-thirds of the $60 billion approved by Congress for the Gulf Coast has not been spent.

    "Louisiana lost its credibility by asking for everything," said Walter Isaacson, the former chairman of CNN, who serves as vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, a new state entity appointed by the governor to coordinate the reconstruction effort. "Now it is our job to say, we have some reasonable priorities for spending and we are going to be sensible and frugal about it."

    Keeping the City Dry

    Amid the city's divisions, there is one area of consensus: its levees and floodwalls must once again be able to protect New Orleans from swirling gulf waters before the city can fully recover. To date, however, the Army Corps of Engineers has performed only the most rudimentary of repairs, plugging holes and driving steel pilings to create a quick-and-dirty version of protection against Category 3 hurricanes.

    That will not be enough to restore confidence in the city's future among traumatized residents. Virtually all city and state officials agree that flood protection must be increased to withstand a Category 5 storm.

    "The comprehensive coastal restoration and Category 5 hurricane protection system is our top federal priority," said Andy Kopplin, the executive director of the recovery authority. "And having Category 5 hurricane protection in New Orleans is essential for its long-term recovery."

    But that commitment, according to the state, would cost $10 billion to $20 billion and take up to 10 years to meet. Restoring the coastline would cost $14 billion. There is no sign yet that the administration is willing to write checks of this size.

    Last week, President Bush submitted a spending request to Congress that included $1.6 billion for repair of levees and wetlands, and an additional $4.6 million to study the possibility of a levee upgrade. The proposal was immediately criticized as wholly inadequate by members of the state's Congressional delegation.

    Even the immediate reconstruction work is moving slowly. The corps has advertised 49 contracts for engineering and construction work in the area, but so far only a dozen have been awarded, said Lewis F. Setliff III, who leads the corps' restoration task force.

    Then there is the dirt. Even the most basic repairs will require about three million cubic yards of soil, the equivalent of a football field on which dirt is stacked 1,575 feet high, Mr. Setliff said. The corps has yet to find enough sites for the so-called "borrow pits" for the soil, which ideally need to be close to the construction sites.

    Given these concerns, it is not clear that the corps will meet its self-imposed deadline of June 1 to return the city's flood control system to its pre-Hurricane Katrina strength, though that remains its intent.
    "It may very well be in some areas it won't be what you call final protection," said Donald L. Basham, the chief of engineering and construction for the corps. "We may still be affording interim protection measures that if you want to walk away and leave that system for the next 20 years that's not the way you want to leave it. It won't be pretty."

    A Roof Overhead

    Thousands of New Orleans residents want to come home. But for many of them, there remains nothing to return to.

    In Lakeview and Mid-City, middle-class enclaves in the western half of town, street after street of empty houses sit browned with mud six feet up. Throughout the impoverished Ninth Ward and in neighboring St. Bernard Parish to the east, hundreds of homes have been virtually leveled, and blue tarps stretch over roof after roof throughout the city. All told, roughly 40 percent of the city's homes were flooded, and up to 50,000 homes are likely to be demolished.

    "Housing is probably our most pressing issue right now," Mayor Nagin said in an interview. "Temporary housing for workers, housing that was damaged or flooded, the quick repair of that. There's just not enough footprint to accommodate the people who want to move back into the city right now."

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency has begun to give tens of thousands of city homeowners financial assistance for rebuilding, but the grants are capped at $26,200 per household, not enough in most cases for major reconstruction. Tax incentives for developers and other forms of bailout money - all doled out in Lower Manhattan in 2001 - have been discussed in Congress but not passed. As a result, several ideas that might once have been considered outlandish are being considered to resuscitate the city's housing stock.

    Under one notion that is being discussed by a leading member of Mr. Nagin's rebuilding commission, the city could take control of a house, fix it up and then lease it out. The original owner would have the right to come back eventually and re-establish ownership claims. The idea, based on an old Louisiana legal concept known as usufruct, has already encountered some political opposition, but proponents say that local government may have no choice but to step in.

    Joseph C. Canizaro, a wealthy developer who sits on the mayor's commission, has proposed building new housing in City Park, the beloved New Orleans equivalent of Central Park, and letting some low-lying neighborhoods revert to marshland. Though the idea is politically hard to imagine, it is remarkable for being discussed at all.

    Fear of political consequences, though, have begun to undermine the process of actually getting anything done. Many of the destroyed homes sat in areas that were blighted before a drop of rain from the hurricane fell, and plenty were located in areas that will be vulnerable in the next storm.

    While the politics become untangled, the futures of thousands of people hang in a terrible balance. "We need to know what the city is going to do," said Oliver Thomas, the president of the New Orleans City Council, "so we can start planning our lives."

    Looking for Work

    As the city struggles to regain its physical shape, the spine of its economy is cracking.

    Last week, Chase Bank reopened its main branch in a high-rise one block off Canal Street. Four tellers stood at their stations, and three other bank employees sat behind desks, in a branch devoid of a single customer at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday.

    New Orleans has lost $1.5 million in tourist revenues every day since the levees broke, according to the Louisiana Office of Tourism, and only 25 percent of its 3,400 restaurants have reopened. In September, the unemployment rate hit 14.8 percent.

    The loss of tourism to New Orleans reverberates throughout the region. For example, the fish and shrimp industries, hurting from damage to boats and infrastructure, need mouths to feed in the city.

    "We moved 8.2 million pounds of shrimp last year, and 5 million of it went to the New Orleans area," said Dean Blanchard, vice president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association. The volume of ships using the city's port - the nation's fifth largest - is still 70 percent off its normal capacity, said John Kallenborn, the Port of New Orleans's board chairman.

    Small businesses are struggling to survive because of the paucity of residents and the lack of tourists, and many large companies have yet to return. Before the hurricane, New Orleans was home to roughly 115,000 small businesses. "Losing half those businesses is not out of the question," said W. Anthony Patton, a member of the reconstruction commission.

    The Recovery Authority is considering asking for $10 billion in grants to help small businesses, and Congress is now considering a proposal that would immediately set aside $450 million in small business loans.

    The city has already lost 29 of the 70 conventions that had been scheduled in 2006. Its convention center, has yet to reopen, and will probably not do so until early next year.

    Seen from the perspective of the French Quarter and select neighborhoods such as the Garden District and Algiers, the city can seem in surprisingly robust shape. Grocery stores are open on the West Bank, as are bank branches, many restaurants and movie theaters.

    "It seems as if the city is breathing again," Mayor Nagin said, although he conceded he had no clue as to how many of those exhaling were people who actually live in the City of New Orleans.

    But some of the city's largest high-rises, including One Shell Plaza and Dominion Towers, are still shuttered. Rubenstein Brothers, a clothing store on Canal Street for 81 years, opened to great fanfare last month, yet by midafternoon that day its clerks, well dressed and standing smartly at attention, had nothing to do.

    When will the rest of the world sip the city's coffee, take in free concerts by Rebirth Brass Band, nibble on po' boys and roam the French Quarter talking about something other than storm surge and FEMA? It could be many years.

    "We've bottomed out and now we're beginning to claw our way out," said Scott Cowen, the president of Tulane University. "It may take three to five years to really build the model city we all aspire for New Orleans to be."

    Adam Nossiter and Gary Rivlin reported from New Orleans for this article, Eric Lipton from Washington, and John Schwartz and Jennifer Steinhauer from New York.

  15. #45


    November 15, 2005

    Louisiana's Marshes Fight for Their Lives


    Shea Penland nosed his truck along a mud-covered street, past uprooted trees, cars leaning crazily on fences, torn-off roofs, and piles of ruined furniture, wallboard and shingles - the waterlogged evidence that Hurricane Katrina had been through the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette.

    Twice, he turned to avoid streets blocked by brick houses apparently torn from their slab foundations and dumped blocks away. Finally, he spotted what he was seeking. "Look at that," he said, pointing to what looked like misshaped bowling balls tufted with long strands of yellow grass, seemingly thrown onto the porch and through the gaping doorway of a wrecked brick ranch house. "Marshballs."

    For Dr. Penland, director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of New Orleans, these clumps of black mud knitted with roots and fronds are an alarming sight. The marshballs, some as large as a sofa, others as small as a shoebox, had floated from wetlands to the east. Dr. Penland says they are more evidence that after decades of human interference, the marshes of Louisiana are in deep, deep trouble.

    "A healthy marsh is pretty resilient," he said. "A stressed marsh - storms will physically break the marsh down."

    Now, as Louisiana struggles to recover from the storm, scientists like Dr. Penland are studying this marsh wreckage and the marshes themselves for clues to what ails them and how they might recover.

    The questions are complicated, and the answers turn on a number of factors, including the region's geology, the ways people have engineered the flow of the Mississippi River, and the marsh-killing activities of the oil and gas industry. These issues inevitably lead to a far more difficult question: whether some marshlands, even inhabited marshlands, must be given up to the encroaching Gulf of Mexico.

    Louisiana marshes are a nursery for many fish caught in the gulf, and they support the state's rich Cajun culture. Much of the nation's oil and gas passes through them. And though hurricane damage to New Orleans and other towns drew more attention, the storms "have caused a significant loss of wetlands and marshes and massive coastal erosion throughout the entire region," S. Jeffress Williams, a coastal scientist with the United States Geological Survey, told a Congressional hearing last month.

    He said some marshy areas east of the Mississippi River lost 25 percent of their land areas in Hurricane Katrina, which came ashore more than 100 miles east of New Orleans. A strong hurricane that approached New Orleans from the south, along the path of the river, would do even more damage, he said.

    Over the years, scores of scientists have struggled to determine the best way to approach Louisiana's vanishing wetlands. Last week, experts convened by the National Academy of Sciences reported their recommendations in an evaluation of the state's major marsh-restoration proposal.

    Though they praised most of the plan's major components as scientifically sound, they said that it would reduce annual wetland loss only about 20 percent and that it was time to consider what areas could be preserved and what areas could not.

    That attitude is anathema to much of the state's business and political establishment, according to Oliver Houck, a professor at the Tulane University School of Law who specializes in environmental issues.

    He said a large obstacle to confronting wetland loss was what he called the "destroy and restore" philosophy, the longstanding practice of interfering with the marsh - for flood control, navigation, agriculture, oil or other gain - in hopes that engineering could restore it.

    That, more or less, has been the history of this coastal region since Europeans made their homes here more than 300 years ago.

    Coastal Louisiana is constructed of millenniums of mud, sediment carried by the Mississippi and deposited in its delta. The mud under the west side of New Orleans is about 200 feet thick; it compacts and sinks under its own weight. But when the river flowed naturally, regular floods carried silt from the heartland into the marshes, maintaining their elevation.

    Levees and other flood-control and navigational efforts changed all that. Deprived of nourishing infusions of silt, the marshes began to sink, and this subsidence was accelerated when the petroleum industry began pumping out oil. According to the Geological Survey, since the 1930's Louisiana has lost more than 1,900 square miles of wetland, an area as large as Delaware.

    Though the loss has slowed since the early 1980's, when a binge of canal-cutting and pipeline construction by the oil industry accelerated it to 40 square miles a year, it has not stopped. Dr. Penland, who has spent almost all of his career studying the coastal islands and marshes of Louisiana, estimates the annual loss at 12 square miles or so; others say 20 or more. The Geological Survey estimates that if things continue as they are, 700 square miles more will vanish by 2050.

    "The whole surface is sinking," said Abby Sallenger, another coastal scientist with the agency. "It's almost changing before your eyes. It's grassland turning into open water, the ponds turn into lakes."

    In theory, sea level rise from global climate change will only make things worse, although things in Louisiana are already so bad, Dr. Penland said, that "for us that's insignificant."

    Many hope controlled diversions of river water into the marshes, one remedy included in the state plan, will help restore the natural balance. Others are doubtful.

    Mr. Houck cited a project at Caernarvon, on a bend in the river south of Chalmette, where water is diverted into the marsh. After Hurricane Katrina, "half of that marsh was destroyed outright and half of what remains is iffy," he said. "A lot of it came off like hair ripped from someone's head" and probably ended up in Chalmette, he continued.
    Also, Dr. Penland said, diversion projects small enough to be feasible and locally acceptable are dwarfed by the magnitude of the problem. For example, when scientists at Louisiana State used computer models to study a diversion proposal for Maurepas Swamp, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, they said it would take 50 years to restore 5,000 to 10,000 acres to sustainability.

    Efforts like that, however valuable, will not be enough, Dr. Penland said.

    "We have to not just mirror nature, we have to accelerate the way nature works. The solutions have to be proportional to the problem."

    Much of the sediment that enters Mississippi River tributaries never makes it to Louisiana. By some estimates, 80 percent is trapped behind Missouri River dams. Plus, over the years the Louisiana economy has come to depend on the river's being constrained in its channel. Large infusions of fresh water would flood some homes and businesses and alter salt marsh habitats, with potentially harmful effects on commercially important species like oysters.

    "We want the dirt without the water," Dr. Penland said. The only way to get it, he said, is dredging and then transporting the dredged material to the marsh that needs it, possibly through the kind of slurry technology used to move coal.

    This technology has been in use for decades, but it remains to be seen if these kinds of measures can or will be applied in time. "There should be bolder, long-term projects for sediment delivery in areas in need than were put forth in the near-term plan," Robert G. Dean, a coastal engineer at the University of Florida who led the academy panel, said Wednesday at a news conference.

    The panel also discussed making major changes in the state's coastal geography by diverting enough water flow to cause the river's Birdfoot Delta area to disintegrate, a process that would end up redistributing its sediment along the coast to the west. Or engineers could construct a "third delta" (the second being the delta of the Atchafalaya River), by diverting it at Donaldsonville, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and sending it toward the gulf.

    Though large-scale projects like these offer potentially large benefits, the panel said, they also come with engineering challenges and likely opposition from property owners.

    As Dr. Dean said Wednesday, progress will require "tiptoeing through the potential minefield of stakeholders." They should be involved in decisions as early as possible, scientists involved with the report said.
    That will particularly be the case, they say, when it comes to deciding which settled areas can be preserved and which must be abandoned, an approach the academy implicitly endorsed even in the title of its report, "Drawing Louisiana's New Map."

    Mr. Houck said it might be possible to "take major towns and ring them - Houma, Morgan City, Thibodaux, places like that." But, he went on, "if we aren't going to draw a line and try to protect every little town, we would have to do some serious people relocation, and that would humanely require compensation."

    The alternative, he said, "is to build the largest levee system in the world" around the entire southern part of the state. "We'd cut right through the marsh, a Maginot Line - and about as effective, too," he said, referring to a French line of defense that infamously failed in World War II.

    Where does this leave Louisiana? "Doing the things we can do now," said Dr. Penland, once again behind the wheel of his truck, but this time en route to Port Fourchon, a major oil installation on the coast. "What was proposed 20 years ago in the beginning of my career is coming around now."

    He was heading south on Route 308, a two-lane strip that barely rises above the acres of salt-marsh grass and open water glimmering in the sun. Here and there, the leafless trunk of a dead oak tree rose from the grass. Dr. Penland said these gray skeletons signaled that this wetland was once a freshwater marsh dry enough for a tree to grow.

    Every now and then, the truck would pass a house or trailer on stilts, marshballs lodged against its steps or under its porch. In places, piles of them had been pushed off the pavement onto the narrow shoulder. The beach at Port Fourchon, or what remains of it, is part of one of the major projects in the state plan. It lost what little remained of its sand in the hurricane, leaving a row of giant plasticized sandbags, perhaps 3 or 4 feet in diameter and 12 feet long, called "boudin" bags after the local sausage. Behind them, a sharp scarp marked the edge of a marsh, broken and buried under tons of grass and other plant debris.

    Dr. Penland got out of the truck and looked around. "I have never seen such an extent of marsh wreckage," he said.

    The Port Fourchon effort, which Dr. Penland is leading, involves pumping replacement sand onto the beach and pumping in additional sediment to restore the marsh behind. Similar sediment-pumping efforts in 2004 restored 50 acres of nearby wetland at a cost of about $300,000, Dr. Penland said. "That's cheap marsh."

    But this kind of restoration works only when a marsh "just needs to be enhanced a bit," he said, and results are temporary. "There is no way you are going to fix any piece of coastal real estate forever," Dr. Penland said. "That's the hard fact you just have to face."

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  5. City Is Seeking Bigger Role in Rebuilding
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    Last Post: March 8th, 2003, 10:49 AM

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