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Your tax money at work - more unintended consequences

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Where is Anderson Cooper & CNN when you need them?


Many of you have heard that one of Bush's regrets is the Federal response after Katrina. In fact, he named it as the turning point of his administration. Anderson Cooper was on 24/7 with the terrible pictures of people stranded on their roofs and extremely critical comments of the federal response to the disaster. It was a turning point for more than the Bush administration - Anderson went from reporter to host on CNN. In addition, it marked a turning point in the way the Federal Government responds to natural crisis.


I went to graduate school at LSU in Baton Rouge. One of the courses I took back then was Modern Geological Hazards in Louisiana. The course covered subjects that included flooding potential in the Lower Mississippi Valley. In 1972, we recognized that New Orleans was very susceptible to flooding because most of the city was below sea level. This was compounded by the fact that the soils had a lot of organic material in them and when these soils were leveed off and drained, the organic material decomposed causing the soils to compact and sink even lower. When levees were constructed on these unstable soils, the additional weight from the levee caused the soil base to sink even faster. The net result was New Orleans was and is dire danger from flooding either from high levels in the Mississippi or from high water in Lake Ponchartrain blown in from a hurricane that passed just east of the city.


The danger to New Orleans from flooding has been well known for more than 30 years. The danger has been increasing as subsidence continues to lower large areas of the city and weaken the levees.


Emergency planning was left up to the state and local governments with input for the likely magnitude of the danger from different Federal Agencies: NOAA, Corps of Engineers, USGS, etc. The federal government can warn but they can not order the emergency actions such as evacuations.


Fast forward to Katrina. Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin were warned about the impending danger from Katrina by NOAA's Tropical Prediction Center. We all know the result that occurred. What isn't known is how close N.O. came to surviving Katrina relatively untouched. I listened to a report on the radio from Café Du Monde in the French Quarter the next morning. The interviewer was asking a patron who was having a café au lait and a biegnet who said: "It wasn't as bad as we expected". This was true for the whole city. You could almost hear the collective sigh as the sun came up:"Phew, we dodged another one!".


Then the levees started to break as the winds subsided and the sun came out.


No one will deny that it was terrible.


The net result was that this was viewed as a failure of the Bush administration. There were some things that they could have done like positioning supplies earlier and closer to the areas affected but even if this would have been done, the results would have been nearly the same.


Only a mass evacuation would have spared the city and prevented the scenes that we all watched endlessly on the TV.


However, this is all water under the bridge. What does it have to do with my post today?


It has caused a shift of responsibility away from the individual, local, and state governments to the federal government.


Is this really a good thing?


Before you answer, consider this: I live on the NE side of Houston in a heavily forested area. When Ike came through, many of the trees were blown over and some fell into peoples homes. We all got out with our chainsaws while it was still raining the next morning and cleared a path through the streets so emergency vehicles could get in and out. Everyone cleared the debris into big piles on the side of the yard. These debris piles were collected about two weeks after the storm hit. FEMA has been reimbursing the city for the debris removal. We are grateful for the help with the debris removal although it has come with a cost that makes me question the wisdom of clamoring for federal help.


Ike hit in September, five months ago. This is the fourth time in the last 4 weeks that trucks have passed through our neighborhoods trimming more and more limbs from the trees. These are healthy limbs that do not pose a hazard to the homeowner or the public traveling on the streets. These trucks all have a magnetic "Disaster Relief" magnetic sign on the side and are followed by two cars with people with clip boards keeping a tally of the limbs removed. We aren't asked if we want the limbs trimmed, and they don't remove the branches that they have trimmed. I have twice stopped them from trimming limbs that will be vital to the survival of a hickory that lost most of it's canopy in the storm. I asked the clip board toters who they worked for. They are contractors hired by FEMA (they need two so there is a checker to check on the checker) to keep the tree trimmers honest.


News flash to FEMA - Stop it! we appreciated your initial help but this is waste pure and simple! There are people who need the help - we don't.


This is so typical of federal programs. If these were city workers, we could at least complain to our city council representative to stop this waste of tax money and if the city is mall enough, we might be able to get this waste stopped. We don't have a chance of changing this federal program.


Whatever your opinion of Bush is, you have to admit that he has learned from the Katrina disaster. The criticism was loud, unrelenting and extremely uninformed. When New Orleans was not evacuated, the bet was laid down and the dice were rolled. All that happened subsequent to that, had very little impact on the outcome.


Now Bush and all of successors will be judged on how they respond to disasters. This means money will be thrown at these problems whether it is needed or not. The waste will be extreme and the public feedback will be non-existent.


Another bureaucracy has been born and from the early signs, it will be just as inefficient as most.

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