Thursday October 15th, President Obama will be visiting the city of New Orleans for the first time since taking office. The goal is to survey recovery efforts, visit a local charter school and to hold a town hall meeting. Details on obtaining tickets, which will be awarded at random, can be found on the White House web site.
The Obama administration has made available more money for actual recovery in the Gulf of Mexico states than his predecessor, President Bush. Such monies are critical for communities from Texas to Florida, hit by repeated major hurricanes since the 2004 season to recover. Still, recovery efforts in Louisiana in the national media tend to focus around the recovery of New Orleans. True, one of America’s treasured cities sustained a crippling blow from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and could not possibly recover without federal assistance. However, without restoration of lost wetlands, all of the levee improvements will not keep New Orleans dry indefinitely.
Forensic investigations by Team Louisiana researchers at Louisiana State University concluded that levees, with wetlands, held up the best to Katrina’s storm surges. The Louisiana coast has lost over 2,100 square miles of land since the 1930’s, and unless some of that land is restored, New Orleans and other coastal communities will have a hard time surviving. The Louisiana Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation sent a letter to President Obama requesting that he take part in a flyover to view the damaged and disappearing coast. It does not appear that the President will have time to engage in such a survey.
Without a strong and meaningful financial commitment from Washington, there can be no sustainable Louisiana coast. Promises mean little. Appropriations speak volumes. President Johnson promised a comprehensive protection system for New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy in 1965. That system is still not complete. President Bush promised money and aid for recovery after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but fell short on following through. Now President Obama has a chance to make a meaningful commitment to the coast, but is only focusing on New Orleans for this visit.
Congress has helped to some extent. Under the leadership of Senator Mary Landrieu, the Coastal Impact Assistant Program has appropriated real money for restoration in the oil and gas producing states of the Gulf of Mexico. The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act, often referred to as the Breaux Act, after the LA Senator who championed the bill, provides enough yearly funds for several restoration projects. Together, these programs are not enough to restore a sustainable coast. The Water Resource Development Act, or WRDA, last past in 2007 authorized nearly $2 Billion in restoration projects for Louisiana, but, Congress has yet to appropriate funds to complete these projects.
Efforts by the White House to help New Orleans recover are great, so far. But our coast is much more than just one city and not enough is being done for coastal restoration. Experts agree that the coast will never resemble its former landscape. Some of it will be lost forever. But, it is still possible to restore some of it to a sustainable form of this dynamic and ever changing landscape. Citizens will get the opportunity to raise these issues, to the President, Thursday in New Orleans.
For more info: White House Obama New Orleans Visit
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