No announcement yet.

Louisiana Goes After Federal Billions

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Louisiana Goes After Federal Billions

    Louisiana's congressional delegation has requested $40 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, about 10 times the annual Corps budget for the entire nation, or 16 times the amount the Corps has said it would need to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane.

    Louisiana Sens. David Vitter ® and Mary Landrieu (D) tucked the request into their $250 billion Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief and Economic Recovery Act, the state's opening salvo in the scramble for federal dollars.

    The bill, unveiled last week, would create a powerful "Pelican Commission" controlled by Louisiana residents that would decide which Corps projects to fund, and ordered the commission to consider several controversial navigation projects that have nothing to do with flood protection. The Corps section of the Louisiana bill, which was supported by the entire state delegation, was based on recommendations from a "working group" dominated by lobbyists for ports, shipping firms, energy companies and other corporate interests.

    The bill would exempt any Corps projects approved by the commission from provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. It would also waive the usual Corps cost-sharing requirements, ensuring that federal taxpayers would pay every dime.

    With the public eager to help Katrina's victims, President Bush and Congress have already approved $62.3 billion in spending for the Gulf Coast. But some budget hawks are grumbling about the impact on the deficit; the Louisiana delegation's $250 billion bill would cost more than the Louisiana Purchase under the Jefferson administration on an inflation-adjusted basis. Some critics of federal water projects said the $40 billion Corps request could make the delegation look especially greedy and undermine support for the state's reconstruction plans.

    Vitter and Landrieu have described their bill as a starting point for congressional deliberations, but one GOP Senate aide said they should not expect to get their entire wish list, voicing particular skepticism of the funding for the Corps. Even before Katrina, Louisiana received more Corps funding than any other state, and that was less than $400 million a year.

    The overall Corps budget for fiscal 2005 was $4 billion, and Corps officials have estimated that they could upgrade the New Orleans flood protection system to defend against a Category 5 storm for about $2.5 billion.

    "This bill boggles the mind," said Steve Ellis, a water resources expert at Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Brazen doesn't begin to describe it. The Louisiana delegation is using Katrina as an excuse to resurrect a laundry list of pork projects."

    Aides to Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) helped shape the bill. The governor yesterday asked for $31.7 billion in federal funds for her state's infrastructure, including $20 billion for hurricane protections -- which aides described as a down payment on the larger sum.

    The bill directs the Pelican (Protecting Essential Louisiana Infrastructure, Citizens and Nature) Commission to study several key flood-protection projects, as well as a $14 billion ecosystem restoration for Louisiana's vanishing coastal marshes, which help protect vulnerable communities against storm surges.

    But the list of potential projects also includes a 50-year-old plan for a $750 million lock for the New Orleans Industrial Canal, a project rated the fifth-worst Corps boondoggle in the country by an alliance of taxpayer advocates and environmentalists. It also includes an effort to deepen the Port of Iberia for oil and gas tankers, a project that the Corps had concluded would provide only 30 cents of economic benefit for each dollar expended by taxpayers.

    Vitter and Landrieu did not return calls. But in a news conference Thursday after they unveiled their bill, they described it as an unprecedented response to an unprecedented tragedy, and said that rebuilding their state as quickly as possible would have long-term benefits for the nation. They said their requests were based on recommendations from Louisiana's municipal, spiritual, educational, medical and commercial leaders.

    "We're going to fight hard for every dollar," Landrieu said. "We wanted to tell people the truth: It's going to be an expensive recovery, but worth the investment."

    Corps funding is only part of what Louisiana wants. The 440-page bill also includes $50 billion in open-ended grants for storm-ravaged communities and $13 billion for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, along with mortgage assistance, health care, substance abuse treatment and other services for hurricane victims. It also includes hefty payments to hospitals, ports, banks, shipbuilders, fishermen and schools, as well as $8 million for alligator farms, $35 million for seafood industry marketing, and $25 million for a sugar-cane research laboratory that had not been completed before Katrina.

    The bill did not specify where the money would come from, but several billion dollars a year would presumably flow from a provision allowing Louisiana to keep half the offshore oil and gas revenue paid to the federal government, a long-standing demand of the state's delegation.

    The coastal protection section may be the most contentious part of the bill, overturning a slew of Corps precedents, but Louisiana officials say that past practice has failed to protect their state. They say their communities do not have the money to pay the standard 30 percent local share for Corps hurricane protection, or the time to wait several years for standard Corps studies.

    Their model is the federal response to the great Mississippi River flood of 1927, which launched a massive Corps project to control the river at federal expense. The Louisiana officials say it is no coincidence that the river's levees held during Katrina, while flood walls funded through the normal Corps process buckled.

    "That's the kind of monumental effort we need today," said W. Clifford Smith, a member of the Mississippi River Commission from Louisiana.

    Vitter and Landrieu tapped John M. Barry -- author of "Rising Tide," the definitive history of the 1927 flood -- to lead the working group on the Corps response to Katrina. Almost all the other members of the group were lobbyists from firms such as Patton Boggs, Adams & Reese, the Alpine Group, Dutko Worldwide, Van Scoyoc Associates, and a firm owned by former senator J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.). There was a lobbyist for the Port of New Orleans, a lobbyist for Verizon, and three lobbyists who were former aides to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska).

    Internal notes from the working group obtained by The Washington Post suggest that hurricane protection was by no means its sole preoccupation. A list of "outstanding issues" from a Sept. 15 conference call mentioned the possibility of authorizing at least six unrelated navigation projects, and included questions such as "Are there other things we can do to boost our ports?" and -- perhaps a joke -- "How much can I bill my client?"

    "My concern was that the focus was not on protecting Louisiana," said Ivor van Heerden, the deputy director of Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center and one of the few non-lobbyists on the working group.

    Barry declined to comment on the bill, saying he needed to study the details. But several members of the working group said that van Heerden and Barry pushed for the National Academy of Sciences to oversee the work of the Corps, a recommendation not included in the final bill.

    There was also discussion of closing the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a little-used navigation canal that may have helped amplify Katrina's storm surge, but there was no mention of that in the bill, either.

    If Vitter, Landrieu and the rest of the delegation get their way, the final decisions will be made by the nine-member Pelican Commission -- which would have at least six Louisiana residents -- on the basis of a plan provided by the Corps.

    lol, started to highlight the WOW parts and realized...the whole article needed bolding.
    Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist

  • #2 would be a whole lot cheaper to let NO sink back into the delta.
    "There is an old saying that goes 'no matter how good you are, there is always someone better.' That someone is me." - Chiun

    I require the lubrication to successfully handle some of them. *sigh*- Sunuvanun

    Matrem tuam pedicavi

    "I kinda dig Johnson" -Triggercut


    • #3
      La. gives back much of FEMA money
      Health officials used only about $10 million

      By Laura Maggi
      Capital bureau

      BATON ROUGE - The Department of Health and Hospitals has declined the bulk of $352 million in disaster assistance handed to the state by the Federal Emergency Management Agency late last week, with agency officials saying that they spent only about $10 million during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

      The $352 million showed up in a list of projects approved by FEMA totaling $457 million, which was deposited by the federal government last week in the state of Louisiana's bank account. But the state health department has taken only the roughly $10 million that they are entitled to so far, said Bob Johannessen, the spokesman for the agency.

      "We are obligated under federal law to return that money. That is what we did," said Johannessen, who noted that the agency is supposed to take only what it has actually spent.

      He said that the health department eventually expects to spend about $60 million in dealing with Katrina, including such costs as the shelters and triage centers set up to evaluate people evacuated from the flooded New Orleans area. Agency officials expect to request that FEMA eventually pick up the whole tab for those kinds of items, Johannessen said.

      The mixup over the money delineates the confusion over the precise nature of FEMA's public assistance program, which is set up to reimburse state and local agencies for the extra costs they incur because of a major disaster. This can range from debris removal to overtime pay for police and firefighters to the setting up of emergency shelters.

      Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot said his staff is encouraging FEMA and the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness - the agency that all of the disaster money will flow through - to coordinate their requests for federal dollars with each agency's fiscal director. This way when FEMA staff start to figure out how much a local or state agency needs to recoup their expenses, they will have the best possible figures.

      In the case of the DHH money, when the money arrived nobody at the agency knew anything about a request for that much cash, Theriot said. His understanding is that a FEMA staffer spoke with somebody at the agency and made a guess about how much they would need.

      "It was a guesstimate and not even a best guesstimate," he said.

      For FEMA's part, Jerry DeFelice, an agency public affairs specialist, said the $352 million figure was based on a "projected need," saying that the state having the money would allow the agency to operate in "crisis mode" for six months. The state can regulate the process of handing out the money as the expenses for the department are substantiated, DeFelice said.

      One of the concerns that Theriot said he has is that while FEMA will advance a local government or state agency money after a disaster, the federal government eventually will require extensive documentation to justify the payments. So if a city gets more federal dollars than they spend, they could get in trouble somewhere down the line, Theriot said.

      The state has received a total of $674.7 million in public assistance money from FEMA in recent weeks, according to documentation provided by state Treasurer John Kennedy's office.

      A good deal of that money has been earmarked for local governments, including $102.8 million sent to the city of New Orleans. But of the most recent batch of local money -about $165.5 million received last week - only about half has been dispersed, said Mark Smith, a spokesman for the state emergency preparedness office.

      Local governments got approval for a number of expenditures, including reimbursement for rescue work and shelter costs. The city of Kenner, for example, has requested that the federal government cover the cost of the purchase of 50 trailers to house city employees whose homes were destroyed by the storm.

      On the state level, the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry has received approval for $3 million the agency said was spent on providing state and local agencies with emergency fuel during the crisis after Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, the LSU Health Sciences Center will get $61.6 million to pay for the relocation of the medical school to Baton Rouge.

      The medical school has relocated to the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, but needed help housing students in the Baton Rogue area, where housing is scarce because of the influx of Katrina evacuees. The federal money will pay for a cruise ship that will be docked in the Missisippi River and up to 400 mobile homes that will be located in the city, according to the FEMA worksheet for the project.

      While the federal dollars are beginning to pour in, some agencies are still waiting for help. Officials with the Louisiana State University Health Services Division, which runs the Charity hospital system, expect that they will eventually be asking the federal government to pick up about $625 million of their interim costs as they try to rebuild the public hospital system in New Orleans after the storm.

      CEO Don Smithburg said that the hospital system is not yet sure what exactly FEMA will cover, saying that they are asking for temporary buildings for hospitals around the state that have been inundated with patients because of New Orleans evacuees. They also need mobile medical equipment that can be used at these busy hospitals and eventually moved to New Orleans, where much of their equipment was damaged during the storm.

      But Smithburg said the system also wants the federal government to help them pay to keep employees on the payroll who were displaced from New Orleans. That might not be covered by FEMA, which typically pays only for the overtime personnel costs associated with a disaster. For that assistance, Smithburg said, the Charity system is hoping to get a separate federal appropriation.

      Any of this interim assistance would be in addition to the $1.5 billion that the Charity system wants from FEMA to replace both the Charity hospital in New Orleans and Earl K. Long Hospital in Baton Rouge. State officials have said that Charity was damaged beyond repair, while they need a new hospital in Baton Rouge to deal with the increased needs now that more people are living in the city.
      From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.

      For more than 20 years I have endeavored-indeed, I have struggled-along with a majority of this Court, to develop procedural & substantive rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor.

      I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed.

      The path the Court has chosen lessens us all. I dissent.


      • #4
        But the state health department has taken only the roughly $10 million that they are entitled to so far[/b][/quote]

        only taken 10 million, they'll get to the
        Un-Official Sponsor of Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist


        • #5
          But wait. There is something that can be done afterall. My good friend Angelo is a cop in the Tampa/Clearwater area. Since I kept all of the files from the access logs when I had the power to see them, guess what, I have everyone's IP addresses. Hmm..what can I do w/ those??


          • #6
            Apparently the oversight on gulf coast disaster spending is nearly nil.

            I need to figure out a way into this destruction/rebuilding scheme.
            No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true
            President George W. Bush, March 21, 2006

            I'm a war president
            President George W. Bush, February 8, 2004


            • #7

              Here's an editorial from the Washington Post that seems right on target.

              Like looters who seize six televisions when their homes have room for only two, the Louisiana legislators are out to grab more federal cash than they could possibly spend usefully. For example, their bill demands $7 billion for rebuilding evacuation and energy supply routes, but it also demands a separate $5 billion for road building and makes no mention of the $3.1 billion already awarded to the state in the recent transportation legislation. The bill demands $50 billion in community development block grants, partly to get small businesses going, but it also demands $150 million for a small-business loan fund plus generous business tax breaks. The bill even asks for $35 million for seafood marketing and $25 million for a sugar-cane research laboratory. This is the equivalent of New York responding to the attacks on the World Trade Center by insisting upon a federally financed stadium in Brooklyn.

              The Louisiana delegation has apparently devoted little thought to the root causes of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans was flooded not because the Army Corps of Engineers had insufficient money to build flood protections, but because its money was allocated by a system of political patronage. The smart response would be to insist that, in the future, no Corps money be wasted on unworthy projects, but the Louisiana bill instead creates a mechanism by which cost-benefit analysis can be avoided. Equally, Katrina was devastating because ill-conceived projects have drained coastal wetlands and caused their erosion, destroying a natural buffer between hurricanes and human settlements. The smart response would be to insist that future infrastructure projects be subject to careful environmental review. But the Louisiana delegation's bill would suspend the environmental review process. Rather than grappling with the lessons of Katrina, Louisiana's representatives are demanding an astonishing $40 billion worth of Corps of Engineers projects in their state. That is 16 times more than the Corps says it would need to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane.[/b][/quote]
              "You can't handle my opinions." Moedrabowsky

              Jeffro is a hell of a good man.

              "A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel." - Robert Frost


              • #8
                I've said it before, if we have to have a bunch of people who talk funny as part of the country, let's offer to swap Lousiana to Canada in exchange for Quebec. At least they play hockey in Quebec.


                • #9


                  • #10
                    QUOTE(Hepatitis Dispenser @ Sep 27 2005, 03:42 PM) Quoted post



                    I can't look at these anymore at work...too funny...