For Immediate Release: August 10, 2009
Contact: Chris Macaluso
Times Picayune: "Corps Must Banish Old Ways"
Please Note: the following editorial was printed in the New Orleans Times Picayune August 9, 2009
EDITORIAL: Corps must banish old ways
Sunday, August 09, 2009
New Orleans had an urgent and obvious need to restore its storm defenses after Hurricane Katrina, and the Army Corps of Engineers embarked on a fast-track process to make sure that the metro area had 100-year protection by 2011.
That was imperative. If Congress and the Bush administration hadn't acted to speed things up, our recovery would have been sunk. But South Louisiana's needs don't end at 100-year protection, and the state can't afford for the corps to return to its old, cumbersome way of doing things.
Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the governor's adviser on coastal matters, is traveling the state to build support for ideas that he and his staff have devised to speed up and streamline the corps' work. They'll present the list to the state's congressional delegation next month, and our senators and representatives will need to push to make these ideas a reality. Billions in projects, from levees to coastal restoration work, have been authorized or appropriated. But winding through the bureaucratic labyrinth takes far too long -- as much as 40 years from conception to completion. Meanwhile, the coast is washing away. Experts have said there's a small window to make a meaningful stand against coastal erosion. Louisiana can't wait years or, worse, decades for vital projects.
"I don't know of a community in coastal Louisiana that has 40 years," Mr. Graves said.
Congress can eliminate a key cause of bureaucratic delay by granting the corps what is known as programmatic authority over hurricane projection and coastal restoration projects. That's on Mr. Graves' list, and the broader authority will eliminate the need to return to Congress again and again to get authorization for individual projects.
A National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council peer-review panel recommended programmatic authority for projects that will be developed for so-called Category 5 protection.
Congress also can make a difference by requiring the corps to adopt multi-year budgeting for coastal projects, like that used for highway projects. The state wants this change to address the start-and-stop appropriations that have plagued levee and coastal restoration projects in the past.
State coastal officials also are calling for some administrative changes in the corps. They want the New Orleans District office to be elevated to a division level, which would make its commanding officer a general instead of a colonel. The commander would be required to serve for five years instead of three.
Those ideas make sense, given the huge scope of work to be done here. New commanders shouldn't have to learn the ropes so frequently. And a division level office would report directly to the corps' commander and the assistant secretary of the Army for public works.
Louisiana officials also want to make sure that resources that can help rebuild our coast aren't squandered. They're pressing to require the corps to use all material dredged from Louisiana rivers and streams for wetlands rebuilding. Right now, the corps is only required to make what's known as beneficial use of 20 percent of that sediment. That's a dreadful waste.
The state wants to pool mitigation money -- money that the corps and others must spend to make up for environmental ill effects of some projects -- and use it for larger restoration projects. That approach should maximize the benefits from mitigation money.
Louisiana also wants to be allowed to build some projects on its own -- without the corps' involvement. The state is also seeking more input through the creation of a "co-location" team that would bring employees of the corps, other federal agencies and the state together in one place -- in Louisiana -- to work on coastal projects.
Getting the corps to change won't be an easy task. Congressional efforts to reform the agency were one of the issues that delayed passage of a water resources act for seven years.
But Louisiana is still in crisis mode. The continued loss of coastal wetlands is an environmental emergency that threatens people and their communities. This crisis also has a national dimension: Louisiana's coast is vital to oil and gas networks, shipping and fisheries that are important to the entire country.
Getting support here is only the first step: We need to enlist the rest of the country in this fight for our survival and make sure that bureaucratic rigor mortis doesn't kill our chances.
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority's mandate is to develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive coastal protection and restoration master plan. For the first time in Louisiana's history, this single state authority will integrate coastal restoration and hurricane protection by marshalling the expertise and resources of the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration, and other state agencies, to speak with one clear voice for the future of Louisiana's coast. Working with federal, state and local political subdivisions, including levee districts, the CPRA will work to establish a safe and sustainable coast that will protect our communities, the nation's critical energy infrastructure, and our bountiful natural resources for generations to come. The CPRA of Louisiana was established by Act 8 of the 1st Extraordinary Session of 2005.