Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tracking Failure In The Gulf Coast After Katrina

The information and facts reveal little but staggering failure in the promises made to the cities, states and vast populations in the Gulf Coast region following the landfall of a natural disaster called Katrina two years ago.

Thank goodness that writers with Facing South have been covering the details of chaotic response and scant rebuilding with great skill. An assessment on the 2nd anniversary has a truly distressing conclusion - our government has deep structural flaws and has failed far more than it has succeeded.

As noted in this article, pollster James Zogsby says:

Our polling shows Americans, faced with a major disaster, don’t want the federal government to solve all their problems by dominating state and local governments with bureaucratic dictates from Washington. Instead, they want a nimble federal government that acts as a clearinghouse, an organizer, a traffic cop for all levels of government and other organizations, including faith-based groups and non-governmental organizations."

Americans on the Gulf Coast received the worst after the disaster. And I can't help but notice the wounds in the South are like those in downtown Manhattan at 'ground zero', that no rebuilding has occurred and as late as last week, decaying buildings nearby are still deadly.

What has (or has not) happened in the coastal U.S.? What about the $116 billion meant to aid in the repair and recovery? Some answers in other reports from Facing South:

Although it's tricky to unravel the maze of federal reports, our best estimate of agency data is that only $35 billion has been appropriated for long-term rebuilding.

Even worse, less than 42 percent of the money set aside has even been spent, much less gotten to those most in need. For example:

* Washington set aside $16.7 billion for Community Development Block Grants, one of the two biggest sources of rebuilding funds, especially for housing. But as of March 2007, only $1 billion -- just 6 percent -- had been spent, almost all of it in Mississippi. Following bad publicity, HUD spent another $3.8 billion on the program between March and July, leaving 70 percent of the funds still unused.

* The other major source of rebuilding help was supposed to be FEMA's Public Assistance Program. But of the $8.2 billion earmarked, only $3.4 billion was meant for nonemergency projects like fixing up schools and hospitals.

* Louisiana officials recently testified that FEMA has also "low-balled" project costs, underestimating the true expenses by a factor of four or five. For example, for 11 Louisiana rebuilding projects, the lowest bids came to $5.5 million -- but FEMA approved only $1.9 million.

* After the failure of federal levees flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received $8.4 billion to restore storm defenses. But as of July 2007, less than 20 percent of the funds have been spent, even as the Corps admits that levee repair won't be completed until as late as 2011.

The fact that, two years later, most federal Katrina funds remain bottled up in bureaucracy is especially shocking considering that the amounts Washington allocated come nowhere near the anticipated costs of Gulf rebuilding.

For example, the $3.4 billion FEMA has available to recover local public infrastructure would only cover about one-eighth of the damage suffered in Louisiana alone. But this money is spread across five states -- Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas -- and covers damage from three 2005 hurricanes, Katrina, Rita and Wilma."
"Included in the $116 billion figure is $3.5 billion in tax breaks to jump-start business in Gulf Opportunity Zones -- "GO Zones" -- across 91 parishes and counties in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. But many of the breaks have been of questionable benefit to Katrina survivors, like a $1 million deal to build 10 luxury condos next to the University of Alabama football stadium -- four hours from the Gulf Coast."

The critical failures may seem far removed from you or your town or your state. At least today. Who knows what lies ahead and who can you count on? Stacking up loyalists to leaders in Washington only serves that leader and those loyalists. Serving America, protecting American lives, all that seems of little concern.

(hat-tip to R. Neal at KnoxViews for sharing the info at Facing South)

SEE ALSO: video accounts and a Flickr photo petition

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