CNN: New Orleans Levee Problems Might Not be a Federal Issue After All

September 27th, 2005 3:49 PM

In the weeks that have followed Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans, much of the mainstream media have been pointing a finger of blame at the federal government for not properly funding that city’s levee system.  This morning, CNN did a report that tears some holes in this premise.

On “American Morning,” John King visited South Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, a coastal community just thirty-five miles south of New Orleans.  What he found was quite surprising: a town that has been hit by Katrina and Rita just like New Orleans, but has not suffered near the damage. 

Why?  Well, because the local community decided to augment federal funds for their levee system with local tax dollars to install higher quality storm and hurricane protection than what surrounding parishes and cities did.  As a result, CNN this morning gave us all a wonderful look at what happens in this nation when local communities look out for themselves without relying on the federal government's protection. 

What follows is a full-transcript of this interview, along with a video link. 

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thirty-five miles south of New Orleans, breathtaking wetlands. The water exactly where it's supposed to be.

It's Windell Curole's job to keep it that way. This closed floodgate, one of his weapons.

WINDELL CUROLE, DIR., LAFOURCHE LEVEE DIST.: Flooding to the north of us, flooding to the east and flooding to the west. We're very fortunate that the system was just high enough to keep that flood surge out.

KING: Curole manages the South Lafourche Levee District. It looks like the tip of a finger on this map. And these days, when he looks at Rita's impact on the next parish over, and Katrina's devastation up in New Orleans, he fights back the temptation to say, "I told you so."

CUROLE: It's not time to say that. It's never time to say that.

KING: But he did warn them, repeatedly, starting a decade ago, memo after memo, warning after warning, saying a state so vulnerable needed to improve its levees, its pumps and its evacuation plans.

CUROLE: I mentioned for years that it might take a disaster to get the attention we need. Well, it happened before we could deal with the problem.

KING: Hurricane Rita's storm surge delivered this mess, this boat and waters, at one point, 6 feet above normal, all stopped by the Lafourche levee.

This is just a few miles up the road and a few steps into a neighboring parish that dropped out of the levee system back in 1968 because its leaders didn't want to pay the costs.

CUROLE: They envy where we are. Today the large portions of that parish are in water, where today we're dry.

KING: Katrina's winds caused damage here, but no flooding. Lafourche Parish was on the drier side of the storm, but it wasn't just luck.

CUROLE: We take care of those levees and they functioned exactly like they were supposed to.

KING: Curole has friends on the New Orleans Levee Board and knows they wanted improvements.

CUROLE: But others sometimes get -- and the political leaders in those other areas get distracted.

KING: City officials blame a lack of federal money. Curole can sympathize.

CUROLE: We're the kind of people that don't sit on our hands.

KING: But when his federal funds dried up, Lafourche Parish residents voted to finish the work with local taxes. The water is the lifeblood here, so Curole has little patience for those who say there was no way to predict such a catastrophic storm.

This scene is New Orleans 40 years ago. It could just as well be 28 days ago.

CUROLE: As a good businessman, the success of your business is not just looking at what's working well, but what are the threats to your business? And often, in politics, we don't look at the long-term threats.


Video Link