The $14.5 billion project after Hurricane Katrina to improve New Orleans levees passed Isaac’s test, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.
Now, state and federal officials should expand the system to protect low-lying areas throughout Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal said.
“Protecting Louisiana’s coast is good for the people of Louisiana; it’s also good for the country,” Jindal, a 41-year-old Republican, said during a news conference yesterday. “If the proper flood-protection systems are built, we can protect our people and our communities.”
Jindal, who has criticized Barack Obama for excessive spending, used the occasion of the storm to press for federal money for his state. Before Isaac hit, he said the Democratic president wasn’t providing enough funding to cover the costs of storm response. The governor wrote Obama a letter saying the storm requires “full federal assistance for the state.”
Levees are crucial public works in south Louisiana, where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico.
After Katrina flooded New Orleans and killed 1,800 people in 2005, the corps found that the system of barriers was inadequate. Lieutenant General Carl Strock, chief engineer of the corps in 2006, told the New York Times that the corps “missed something in the design.”
The corps undertook a $14.5 billion project to raise and strengthen levees. The greater New Orleans area now has about 350 miles of levees and floodwalls, including outer and inner barriers, according to a June 2012 corps fact sheet.
With the exception of some flood gauges that didn’t work, the system operated as designed during Isaac, Rachel Rodi, a corps in New Orleans, said in a telephone interview.
New Orleans Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu said levees and flood gates held, and pumping stations “did their jobs.” Jindal also said he was satisfied.
“It does certainly appear, from everything we know, that those levees passed that test,” he said.
There was flooding outside the system, including in Plaquemines Parish, a region of 25,000 people southeast of New Orleans where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico. Dozens of people were rescued from rooftops by boat after water spilled over a local levee and flooded their with as much as 12 feet of water.
U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, said she argued with the corps after Katrina that areas such as Plaquemines should be included in the federal levee system.
“We argued and argued and argued, and now you can see the result,” Landrieu told WWL-TV in New Orleans on Aug. 29. “It’s heartbreaking to watch people have to climb up into their attics on their roofs.”
While there probably will be discussion about a levee expansion in the wake of Isaac, there’s no estimate of the potential cost, Rodi said.
“At the end of the day, what the corps has to do is what we are authorized and funded to do,” Rodi said.