The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on Congress needing to hold the corps accountable:

April 21

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on Congress needing to hold the corps accountable:

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval spoke for South Louisiana residents last week when he expressed frustration that there is no way to hold the Army Corps of Engineers legally accountable for levee failures during Hurricane Katrina. In what is likely his last ruling in an almost eight-year legal saga, the judge excoriated the corps for engineering mistakes that led to massive flooding and bemoaned the blanket immunity long-granted the agency.

In his April 12 ruling, Judge Duval wrote, "One central theme has been painfully obvious throughout this entire process. Many of the levees protecting New Orleans and the surrounding area were tragically flawed. ...

The corps' engineering missteps are well known to South Louisianians. But Congress is poised to consider additional reforms to the way the corps operates, and it is important that members remember the failings that were exposed in Katrina.

The reforms, which are proposed in a water resources bill written by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter and California Sen. Barbara Boxer, are aimed at speeding up corps projects and dealing with the effects of subsidence and sea level rise on levees.

As Judge Duval indicated, when Katrina hit many levees were lower than they were supposed to be because of erosion.

Post-Katrina, the corps included design assumptions to assure that levees would still withstand a big storm 50 years later, including the effects of subsidence and sea level rise. But scientific results in the aftermath of Katrina already have outpaced the assumptions used by the corps in designing the levees.

The proposed water bill, known as WRDA on Capitol Hill, attempts to deal with the problem of ongoing land loss in South Louisiana by giving the corps authority to spend construction money for up to 10 years to reconstruct faulty levees. Currently, that cost is left to the local sponsor -- which would be the regional levee authorities here.

The water resources bill also would streamline the corps' cumbersome study and approval process. ...

The primary purpose of the water resources bill is to authorize billions of dollars in water projects. That is vital to South Louisiana as well. The state has a wish list of key projects, including transferring the cost of operating and maintaining the huge gates at the Lake Borgne Surge Barrier to the corps.

The Senate Environment and Public Works approved the water resources bill last month, but it has yet to be scheduled for debate by the full Senate. With a six-year gap since the last water resources bill was approved, it is vital for Congress to move on the legislation.

And as lawmakers consider it, they should remember how much the corps' poor decisions and slow pace harmed us in the past.


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