Southern Louisiana Rebuilding Plan Has White House Backing

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Steve Inskeep talks with Louisiana Recovery Authority board member Sean Reilly about the latest plan to rebuild Southern Louisiana. It would pay homeowners up to $150,000 to rebuild or relocate. It's not the first proposal of its kind, but it is the first to win support from the White House.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

One of the latest plans to rebuild New Orleans would compensate homeowners who lost everything. It's not the first proposal of its kind, but it is the first to win support from the White House, and that's important because it involves paying billions of federal dollars to the city's property owners.

We reached one person involved in the new proposal, Shawn Riley(ph), who's on the board of directors of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, which is coordinating the state's reconstruction.

Mr. Riley, welcome to the program.

Mr. SHAWN RILEY (Louisiana Recovery Authority): Thank you, Steve, glad to be here.

INSKEEP: Explain how this works, first off. If you're a homeowner, you're in New Orleans, your house is destroyed and unlivable. What would this proposal do for you?

Mr. RILEY: We're going to have two types of programs. If your house is in a safe place, and that it's appropriate to repair and replace and build in place.

INSKEEP: Say its above sea-level, or someone has repaired the levee and you're below sea-level but you've got a good levee now.

Mr. RILEY: Correct. If you're, by virtue of the FEMA flood maps or local zoning and planning, in a safe place, you'll get a package that's very similar to what Mississippi is going to offer its homeowners.

Capped at $150,000 dollars, it'll apply whether you're inside or outside the flood plane. If there's a gap in your insurance and you need aid to get back into your house, that's what this program is designed to do.

That's just one aspect of the program. The second aspect of the program is equally as important, because what make Louisiana and New Orleans a little different from Mississippi is that we're going to have a lot of homeowners who are no longer able to build back safely. In essence, we'll be able to buy people out and move them to higher ground. And that is the critical component.

INSKEEP: Now I know this kind of relocation has been done along the Mississippi River after flooding. Is it voluntary to relocate?

Mr. RILEY: Yes. One option will be rebuild in place, and another option will be buy out, relocate.

INSKEEP: I think that we might be getting closer to understanding how an important thing is going to be done here. People have been wondering how, if at all, will the government try to prevent people from rebuilding in what are seen as hopelessly dangerous neighborhoods.

It sounds like you're not going to use the stick of actually forcing people to relocate, but you're going to use the carrot of offering to pay if they do relocate. Is that right?

Mr. RILEY: Well, we have a stick as well, Steve. And that stick is, the state legislature, at the urging of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, has already passed a new statewide building code. And that code is specific to the type of wind and water that hurricanes present.

The second stick is that we have pledged not to dispense federal funds that aren't in compliance with the new FEMA flood maps. Those new FEMA flood maps are going to dictate options to homeowners.

INSKEEP: Does this mean it will be impossible for some people to rebuild in the places that they were before?

Mr. RILEY: I believe that it's going to be impossible from a FEMA flood map-driven point of view, and also from a practical point of view once homeowners are confronted with the reality of the elevations their homes would have to have to comply with the maps.

INSKEEP: One last thing. If Congress does not give you as money as you're hoping for, as the White House is asking for, what do you do then?

Mr. RILEY: Well, we're going to be in a bad place. Because we spent so much time figuring out exactly what the need would be, if we don't get the additional resources, we're going to have to pick and choose amongst homeowners.

We either would have to give all homeowners half of what they need, the results would be they couldn't get back into their house, or we'd have to give 50 percent of the homeowners all of what they need. How would we pick and choose amongst them?

INSKEEP: We've been talking to Shawn Riley, who's on the board of directors of the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

Thanks very much.

Mr. RILEY: Thank you, Steve.

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