Out of Control Policy Blog

Greens vs. Hurricane Protection

Pundits are starting to mention the negative influence of environmental activists on earlier efforts to strengthen New Orleans' hurricane protection systems. For instance, FrontPageMag explores an environmental effort to block the construction of floodgates that would have kept storm surges from the Gulf from reaching Lake Pontchartrain:

    As radical environmentalists continue to blame the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina's devastation on President Bush's ecological policies, a mainstream Louisiana media outlet inadvertently disclosed a shocking fact: Environmentalist activists were responsible for spiking a plan that may have saved New Orleans. Decades ago, the Green Left – pursuing its agenda of valuing wetlands and topographical "diversity" over human life – sued to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from building floodgates that would have prevented significant flooding that resulted from Hurricane Katrina.

    In the 1970s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Barrier Project planned to build fortifications at two strategic locations, which would keep massive storms on the Gulf of Mexico from causing Lake Pontchartrain to flood the city. An article in the May 28, 2005, New Orleans Times-Picayune stated, "Under the original plan, floodgate-type structures would have been built at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur passes to block storm surges from moving from the Gulf into Lake Pontchartrain."

    . . . .

    Why was this project aborted? As the Times-Picayune wrote, "Those plans were abandoned after environmental advocates successfully sued to stop the projects as too damaging to the wetlands and the lake's eco-system." Specifically, in 1977, a state environmentalist group known as Save Our Wetlands (SOWL) sued to have it stopped. SOWL stated the proposed Rigolets and Chef Menteur floodgates of the Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Prevention Project would have a negative effect on the area surrounding Lake Pontchartrain. Further, SOWL's recollection of this case demonstrates they considered this move the first step in a perfidious design to drain Lake Pontchartrain entirely and open the area to dreaded capitalist investment.

    . . . .

    The Times-Picayune recorded last May, "the corps wants to take another look [at building the floodgates] using more environmentally sensitive construction than was previously available." This time the Army Corps of Engineers would modify the original plans because of the environmentalists. However, the project was already delayed more than two decades because of the environmentalists' lawsuit. If begun immediately it would take another two decades to complete: a 40-year delay caused by the Green Left.

And from National Review Online, John Berlau comments on environmentalist river-management philosophy:

    The national Sierra Club was one of several environmental groups who sued the Army Corps of Engineers to stop a 1996 plan to raise and fortify Mississippi River levees.

    The Army Corps was planning to upgrade 303 miles of levees along the river in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. This was needed, a Corps spokesman told the Baton Rouge, La., newspaper The Advocate, because "a failure could wreak catastrophic consequences on Louisiana and Mississippi which the states would be decades in overcoming, if they overcame them at all."

    But a suit filed by environmental groups at the U.S. District Court in New Orleans claimed the Corps had not looked at "the impact on bottomland hardwood wetlands." The lawsuit stated, "Bottomland hardwood forests must be protected and restored if the Louisiana black bear is to survive as a species, and if we are to ensure continued support for source population of all birds breeding in the lower Mississippi River valley." In addition to the Sierra Club, other parties to the suit were the group American Rivers, the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, and the Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi Wildlife Federations.

    The lawsuit was settled in 1997 with the Corps agreeing to hold off on some work while doing an additional two-year environmental impact study. Whether this delay directly affected the levees that broke in New Orleans is difficult to ascertain.

    But it is just one illustration of a destructive river-management philosophy that took hold in the '90s, influenced the Clinton administration, and had serious policy consequences. Put simply, it's impossible to understand the delays in building levees without being aware of the opposition of the environmental groups to dams, levees, and anything that interfered with the "natural" river flow.

    . . . .

    Ironically, among those criticizing Bush for his actions to prevent flooding of the Missouri River was the ever-present anti-Bush environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He chastised Bush in 2004 for "managing the flow of the Missouri River." If, before Katrina, Bush had proceeded full-speed ahead and fortified the levees of the Mississippi for a Category 5 hurricane, Kennedy and others of his ilk would very likely have criticized Bush for trying to manage the natural flow of the Mississippi. And it's a good bet that many of the lefty bloggers now critical of Bush for not reinforcing the levees would have cited Bush's levee fortification as another way he was despoiling the natural environment.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


« Best Hope for New Orleans:… | Main | Minimum Wage Follies »




Out of Control Policy Archives