Cost of Levee Repairs Rises in New Orleans
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The leader of the federal effort to rebuild the Gulf Coast is offering start predictions.
Donald Powell told reporters yesterday that rebuilding the New Orleans levies could cost billions of dollars more than expected.
Mr. DONALD POWELL (administration official in charge of the U.S. Gulf Coast's recovery efforts): In order for the levy systems to be certified, the Corps has produced some estimated dollars. And we have details of that, specific details for specific areas. That data shows that the Corps would have to spend between zero and six billion dollars; and it's broken down by, again, as I said, hydraulic areas.
INSKEEP: Between zero and six billion dollars. The figure changes depending on how much of New Orleans the government chooses to protect. And the Bush Administration has not decided if it will ask for enough money to protect every single neighborhood. Any cost would be on top of the billions already promised.
After the storm, President Bush said the city would be rebuilt higher and better, and in December, Donald Powell said a far lower price tag would protect the city within two years.
Mr. POWELL: The levy system will be better and stronger than it ever has been in the history of New Orleans. Better and stronger than it ever has been in the history of New Orleans.
INSKEEP: Keeping that pledge could require so much money and time, because of the extensive damage to the flood control system.
That damage was apparent last year when Paul Kemp, of Louisiana State University, took NPR on a boat ride along one levy.
Professor PAUL KEMP (Coastal, Energy, and Environmental Resources Institute, Louisiana University): So, about 60 percent of this levy is severely damaged, and it's about, its reach is about ten miles long. So it's a huge job to put it back.
INSKEEP: That was some of the damage as it looked last year.
Yesterday's comments left it unclear when, or whether, the federal government will pay the full cost of guarding against the next big storm.
It prompted a fierce response from Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, who called the news an outrage. But along the Gulf Coast, officials have already been planning for the likelihood that some areas will not come back.
Sean Reilly, of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, said last month that some residents would get an offer of money to relocate: a carrot, as well as a stick.
Mr. SEAN REILLY (executive director, Louisiana Recovery Authority): 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: Reilly says that in effect, it could become impossible for people to rebuild in some areas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will decide where it is safe to rebuild once the government decides how much it will pay to improve the levees, which is why yesterday's news from Donald Powell, of the Bush Administration, was followed so closely.
Mr. POWELL: Once the Administration is committed to asking for the money, FEMA will be able to issue these advisory flood maps. But a dialogue has commenced with the state and the local people, the parish presidents, the mayor, the governor, and members of Congress, as to what is the best policy issue as it relates to this specific area.
INSKEEP: While long-term improvements are still uncertain, the president's representative did insist that the region will be ready for this year's hurricane season.
Donald Powell said that if another storm like Katrina were to hit New Orleans, there would be some flooding, but it would be manageable.
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