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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Coinky Dink??!!



Things that don't surprise me:




Money earmarked to rebuild Louisiana stripped

By Bill Walsh
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — Leaders of the House Appropriations Committee have stripped President Bush’s request to earmark $4.2 billion for housing recovery in Louisiana, throwing the state’s rebuilding plan into question and unleashing a scramble among hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast states for a cut of the money.

The committee is scheduled today to begin combing through the administration’s $92 billion supplemental spending request, $19.8 billion of which is for hurricane disaster relief and the rest for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in a draft already put together by the committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., Bush’s intention to steer housing money to Louisiana was removed.

“We have never done state-specific earmarks for disasters,” committee spokesman John Scofield said.

The move coincides with a stepped-up campaign by the state of Texas to get a larger share of hurricane financing than it has received in the past. With five members of the House committee from Texas, the state has far more clout than Louisiana, which is represented on the panel only by Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman.

The earmark change jolted Louisiana leaders who have written a housing rehabilitation plan for 168,813 flood-damaged homes — promising as much as $150,000 for each — that counts on getting the entire $4.2 billion in Community Development Blocks Grants. Officials involved with the rebuilding say they will try to convince Congress to repeat what it did last year and increase the overall size of the president’s request.

“I’m really concerned about whether we will be able to hold on to the $4.2 billion,” Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Tuesday. “There seems to be a lot of competition for that money and not a lot of will in Congress to go above the president’s request. That is a bottom-line need for us.”

It was evident that a behind-the-scenes battle among the Gulf Coast states is well under way for hurricane recovery aid.

At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Texas Gov. Rick Perry made an impassioned plea for a larger share of federal hurricane recovery spending than the state has so far received. Of $11.5 billion in federal grants allocated in December, Texas got $72 million.

Six months after Hurricane Katrina, he said the need in is state is great. He asked the committee for a $2 billion cut of the spending package for housing, infrastructure and schools.

Texas has about 38,000 Louisiana children enrolled in its public school system and, despite what Perry said were promises of full reimbursement, he said Texas is getting shortchanged. He said the per-pupil cost is about $7,500 and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is reimbursing $4,000 at most. Perry also said Texas communities get 75 percent of their debris removal paid by FEMA while the agency picks up 100 percent of the tab for those across the border in Louisiana.

“Mother Nature treated people on both sides of the border with equal wrath,” Perry said. “Congress should give them equal financial assistance.”

Texas sustained its heaviest damage almost a month after Hurricane Katrina, when Hurricane Rita slammed into its coast. Perry called Rita “the storm no one in Washington wants to remember.”

“I know there are great needs in Mississippi and Louisiana,” said Perry, who sat alongside his fellow Gulf Coast governors at the witness table. “Don’t forget the state that continues to host many of their citizens.”

In her pitch for a share of the federal disaster money, Blanco once again told senators that the damage in her state is a federal responsibility because breaches in the levees — which were federally designed and built — led to much of the flood devastation during Katrina. She also said that at a time when Congress is considering $72 billion for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, “surely we can spend $1.5 billion to strengthen the levees (in southeastern Louisiana), $4.2 billion to allow people to come home.”

She sought to ease senators’ concerns about possible fraud in the distribution of federal dollars by telling them the state had hired the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche to keep an eye on the spending.

Blanco and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., heaped praise on Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who is seen both as a powerful ally and a potential opponent as he presses for his own state to get a share of the proposed disaster financing. More than anyone else, Cochran was responsible for increasing the size of the president’s last disaster spending package in December. But Blanco gently chided him for limiting Louisiana’s share of $11.5 billion in housing grants to 54 percent.

“Fifty-four percent does not allow us to enact a plan sufficient to cover Louisiana’s 75 percent share of devastation,” Blanco said.

As the states stake their claims to additional hurricane relief spending, the relative damage has become an important, and controversial, issue. After the Senate hearing, Blanco’s Louisiana Recovery Authority released data, compiled by the federal Office of Gulf Coast Rebuilding, showing the state bore the overwhelming brunt of housing damage classified as “major and severe,” at 67 percent.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour took issue with the numbers.

“I’ve seen figures that do not add up to that,” he told the committee.

With the confidence of a man whose home-state senator chairs the key money committee, Barbour struck a calm tone telling the senators that he wasn’t asking for environmental restoration money because he hadn’t fully vetted the proposal yet.

Barbour did ask for “proper consideration” of two other projects: rebuilding the Port of Gulfport and relocating a railroad away from the Mississippi coast.

As the governors from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi politely positioned themselves for a share of Bush’s fourth supplemental spending package, it was Alabama Gov. Bob Riley who was notable for declining to put his hand out. Riley said states should have more flexibility in how they spend federal resources. But when asked by Landrieu if the $72 million in housing financing Alabama got in the last disaster spending bill was enough, he said it was.

Bill Walsh can be reached at bill.walsh@newhouse.com or (202) 383-7817.


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Corps ignored data that showed higher levees needed

By Bob Marshall
and Mark Schleifstein
Staff writers

Weather data showing the need to raise the height of levees to defend New Orleans against stronger hurricanes was not incorporated in Army Corps of Engineers designs, even though the agency was informed of the new calculations as early as 1972, government records show.

The heights of floodwalls and levees currently being rebuilt by the corps are based on research for a likely worst-case storm done in 1959. When new weather service research in the 1970s increased the size and intensity of that storm and its projected surges, the corps stuck to its original design specifications when work began in the 1980s, including for structures that failed during Hurricane Katrina.

Corps headquarters officials in Washington did not respond to requests for comment. New Orleans District engineers currently involved in reassessing the area’s hurricane protection system, said the lack of changes in the past probably can be traced the corps’ legal restriction to building only what Congress authorizes.

“I can only guess, but what I think you’ll find is that since the authorization (in the legislation) never changed, then the people involved felt they couldn’t change (design specifications),” said Janis Hote, a corps engineer who, like most of the local staff, was not involved in those earlier projects.

Had the changes been incorporated in corps planning starting in 1972, they almost certainly would have resulted in higher or stronger structures in some areas, hurricane researchers said. While the project was authorized in 1965, financing problems and court battles delayed much of the construction until 1982, and the designs for many structures that failed during Katrina were not completed until the late 1980s and early 1990s.
It is unclear how much levees and floodwalls would have been raised had the changes been acted upon, researchers said, because interpretations of the changes depend largely on the type of computer models being used to predict storm surge height. However, they agreed the new data would have certainly predictions of higher water, which would have required higher levees and walls.

“If you increase the intensity of a storm, and you run it on the same track through the same area, at the same speed, you’ll increase the (storm) surge.” said Will Shaffer, a storm modeler who designs the storm surge model used by the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center for forecasting and emergency planning.

Staffers at the LSU Hurricane Center, who reviewed the 1972 and 1979 reports produced by the weather service for used by the corps in designing levees along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, estimated the stronger storm outlined in the reports would have raised the so-called “standard project hurricane” to the equivalent of a Category 4, rather than the fast-moving Category 3 generally associated with the 1959 parameters. The standard project hurricane was designed to be “the most severe combination of meteorological conditions that are considered characteristic” of the area.

Hassan Mashriqui, a storm surge modeler at LSU, said the increased intensity outlined in the 1979 report would have raised the predicted storm surge along the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet from 22 feet to 30 feet. During Hurricane Katrina much of St. Bernard Parish suffered catastrophic flooding when long sections of the 17.5-foot high MR-GO levee were topped and collapsed by storm surges the corps has measured at 18.5 feet.

The Industrial Canal, meanwhile, was topped and collapsed by a peak storm surge the corps measured at 15.9 feet. That breach destroyed much of the lower Ninth Ward and contributed to flooding in parts of St. Bernard Parish.

It is unclear if higher floodwalls would have prevented the breaches at the 17th Street and London Avenue canals which put much of the rest of New Orleans under water. Forensic engineers working with the National Science Foundation have said weak soil layers beneath the floodwalls failed when the canals began filling with water, causing the breaches.

Ivor van Heerden, assistant director of the LSU Hurricane Center and a frequent critic of the corps, said the authorization issue should not have prevented the corps from changing design specifications based on updated information.

“The legislation never mentions a standard project hurricane — that was something the engineers came up with to define the most severe threat,” he said. “There is no reason they could not have changed.”

In 1965, Congress authorized the corps to develop a system that would protect the New Orleans area from “the most severe meteorological conditions that are considered reasonably characteristic of the region,” giving birth to the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection project.

To determine what those conditions were, the corps relied on a study of worst-case hurricanes developed by the Weather Bureau (today the National Weather Service) for the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. The Weather Bureau only looked at storms that occurred between 1900 and 1957 for the New Orleans area.

That search produced the hypothetical standard project hurricane for New Orleans, which was adopted by the corps, with some revisions, as the basis of its levee and floodwall designs. It had a central pressure of at least 27.6 inches of mercury, maximum sustained winds of 100 mph in a radius of at least 30 miles, a forward speed of between 4 and 28 mph. And it had a 1 in 200 chance of occurring in any year.

The corps then determined that such a hurricane could create a maximum storm surge of 11.2 feet at locations in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, based on the shape of the lake bottom and ability of water to enter the lake from Lake Borgne and the Gulf of Mexico. Surge heights for other sections, using the same storm data, were 12.5 feet for Mandeville, 11.9 feet for Chalmette, 12.5 feet for the Citrus and eastern New Orleans back levees, and 13 feet in the Rigolets and Chef Menteur passes.

The target date to complete the Lake Pontchartrain levee project was 1978.

As meteorological science improved, the Weather Bureau felt compelled to revisit its definition of the standard project hurricane. Improved data collection led to the discovery of 50 more tropical storms than had been counted in the 1959 report.

In June 1972 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a preliminary report making its first update of the standard project hurricane , dropping the pressure to 27.3 inches, which increased the storm’s strength, increasing the wind speed to 114 mph and the frequency of return from 1 in 200 years to 1 in 100 years.

In September 1979, the National Weather Service issued a final report establishing new criteria for the standard project hurricane. By then hurricane specialists had expanded the list of variables considered critical to measuring storm impacts, including the radius of the maximum sustained winds and the forward speed of the storm. It also changed the way maximum sustained winds were measured.

Those changes resulted in a new standard project hurricane with sustained winds as high as 140 mph, according to van Heerden.

Had those new parameters been plugged into the Saffir-Simpson scale for measuring storm intensity that debuted in 1969, the 1972 changes would have equaled a Category 4 storm with surges between 13 and 18 feet, van Heerden said. The 1978 changes would have pushed the standard project hurricane to a Category 5 level, with surges above 18 feet, he said.

“The corps has consistently been saying the standard project hurricane (in its design documents) related roughly to a fast-moving Category 3 storm, but we can see that is plainly not the case,” said van Heerden. “The Saffir-Simpson scale was in wide use by 1979, but there’s no indication (in the design documents for the projects) that the corps took this into consideration.”

As evolving storm science raised the severity of the threat, the corps continued to use the now-outdated standard project hurricane parameters set in 1959, even as its timeline for construction had been delayed into the late 1990s.

For example, the corps’ 1984 design memorandum for improving New Orleans’ lakefront levees states the engineering criteria is based on the frequency of return of 1 in 300 years, pressure at 27.6 inches, wind speed at 100 mph and a surge of 11.5 feet.

The same references to the standard project hurricane established by the 1965 legislation are repeated for floodwall projects on the London Avenue canal project in 1989 and the 17th Street canal in 1990.

The first changes found in the parameters for the standard project hurricane in local corps hurricane projects comes with a 2000 plan for the West Bank. The agency’s planning includes the 1979 standard project hurricane parameters, as well as science on the impact of sea level rise to levee heights.

But while the corps’ design documents between 1972 and 2000 don’t reflect awareness of the changes, other government reports related to those projects did.

In a 1982 report to the Secretary of the Army titled “Improved Planning Needed By The Corps of Engineers to Resolve Environmental, Technical And Financial Issues On The Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection Project,” the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) states “Subsequent to project authorization and based on the Weather Bureau’s new data pertaining to hurricane severity, the Corps determined that the levees along the three drainage canals which drain major portions of New Orleans and empty into Lake Pontchartrain are not high enough since they are subject to overflow by hurricane surges.”

Other GAO reports indicate the corps was actually lowering its levee heights even as the new science was raising the heights of expected storm surges.

In a 1976 report on the project, the GAO said the corps expected levees to range between 16 feet and 18.5 feet. But by the time the 1982 report was issued, those averages had been dropped to between 13.5 feet and 16.5 feet — even though by then, based on weather service the reports, the possible storm surge for the standard project hurricane had been increased to more than 18 feet.

Neither the National Weather Service nor corps officials could shed light on why the changed parameters were not reflected in the corps project specifications. A weather service spokesman said current staffers either were not at the agency or were not involved in writing the reports.

Bob Marshall can be reached at rmarshall@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3539. Mark Schleifstein can be reached at mschleifstein@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3327.


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2 bodies found, believed Katrina victims

By Bob Ussery
Staff writer

Bodies of two possible Hurricane Katrina victims were found in New Orleans Tuesday, the Orleans Parish coroner’s office said.

The latest body was found about 4 p.m. in the back yard of a home in the 5400 block of North Prieur Street in the Lower 9th Ward. A man went to the Katrina-flooded residence to look for a friend who lived there and found the decomposed body in a pile of wooden debris, chief coroner’s investigator John Gagliano said.

Orleans Parish coroner Dr. Frank Minyard, who has been in charge of the search for Katrina bodies for the past several weeks, was at the scene, Gagliano said.

Earlier Tuesday, workers for the Housing Authority of New Orleans were removing refrigerators from flooded public housing when they found a body on the kitchen floor at 2913 Higgins Blvd. shortly after 9:30 a.m.

The residence is a half dozen blocks west of the old Desire public housing complex in the 9th Ward.

The identity, gender and cause of death in each case were not known Tuesday. Autopsies will be performed.

Gagliano said the discoveries bring to 10 the number of possible Katrina victims found in New Orleans since the middle of February. All but one were found by workers, friends or relatives as opposed to search teams, he said.

A body was found Sunday in the attic of a home on Fleur de Lis Drive in Lakeview with the help of search dogs from Maine.

In another case, the coroner’s office is treating as possibly storm-related the death of a man found Feb. 14 in a second-floor bedroom in the 2600 block of Jefferson Avenue.

As of late January, the state health department counted 1,080 Katrina bodies in Louisiana. A total of 1,103 bodies were found, most in the New Orleans area, but 23 were from bullets, knives, car crashes or other causes unrelated to the storm.

An Army Corps of Engineers official said Saturday about 400 people remained missing and presumed dead in Orleans Parish.

Bob Ussery can be reached at russery@timespicayune.com or (504)¤826-3324.


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Sightings of Loc Ness monsters.....Pryamids being discovered.....Quadrapedal children.....So as in the days of Noah people but remember the scriptural passage in Daniel the iron and the miry clay will NOT cleve to one another.....

"And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay."--Daniel 2:43

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