It wasn't easy to get the government to beef up New Orleans' levees

Your editorial "We built that" (Sept. 3), while recognizing the important role of the federal government in large infrastructure projects such as New Orleans' levee system, left readers with the mistaken impression that Hurricane Katrina scored a direct hit on New Orleans and its surrounding metropolitan area in 2005. Hurricane Katrina's landfall was on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, about 90 miles east of New Orleans. Our city and its area got the greatest impact from Hurricane Katrina's winds and storm surge, which overpowered the poorly-designed and built (with federal funding) levees, and swamped the city's drainage canals. This storm surge also went up the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) shipping channel, also built by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1965 for the shipping industry, and flooded the city's Lower Ninth Ward and adjacent St. Bernard Parish.

While it's great to declare that "We built that," in referring to the beefed-up levees, flood-control structures and pumping systems built after Hurricane Katrina, "we" (as in residents in the Greater New Orleans area) would never have gotten these improvements without attending the Corps' public hearings, raising questions about the proposed improvements, and asking about the other options available for flood control and drainage of storm waters. Some of those now-built flood-control structures forced the displacement of long-time venues on the lakefront, such as a restaurant and a beach-volleyball site, and the relocation of a long-time wharf for shrimp boats and fishing boats.

As to the levees and dams mentioned in your editorial, our city's greatest protection is its levee systems and series of canals (some of which had floodwalls breached by runaway barges during Hurricane Katrina), which funnel rainwater and storm waters away from the city's streets and neighborhoods. There are dams upriver of New Orleans, on various rivers such as the Missouri River, plus the Bonnet Carre Spillway (connected to Lake Pontchartrain) and the Morganza Spillway (north of New Orleans, near Baton Rouge). The Mississippi River's flood-control system, consisting of levees and other structures, was built after the 1927 flood, one of the nation's worst.

Wendy King, New Orleans

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad