Thursday, December 15, 2005

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish on New Orleans Levees

The New York Times reports that the White House has agreed to double funding for flood protection levees in New Orleans, adding $1.5 billion to an already promised $1.6 billion.  With the added funding, it will be possible, the White House says, to protect New Orleans against catastrophic flooding from another hurricane the size of Katrina.  That is against a category 3 hurricane.  The funding would not be sufficient, however, to allow the levees to be strengthened sufficiently to prevent levee breaches in response to a category 5 hurricane.

Isn’t this a ridiculous place to be pinching pennies?  Not only does it invite another catastrophe, it threatens the success of the whole reconstruction effort.  How much sense does it make to spend tens of billions on reconstruction by nickel and dime the effort to make New Orleans safe from another catastrophe.  The best thing that the federal government could do to attract private investment back to New Orleans isn’t to offer tax breaks or to expand flood insurance protection, but to spend what it takes to protect the city.  In November, the Washington Post reported that ”rebuilding the levees in New Orleans to the level state and local leaders want is expected to cost $20 billion or more.”

It’s ridiculous that we aren’t budgeting money for this vital effort right now.  If we don’t, we risk wasting a lot more than $20 billion.