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BP Found Grossly Negligent in Deepwater Horizon Spill

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

U.S. Coast Guard:European Pressphoto Agency

Could Be Fined $18 Billion

The fire you see here may be BP’s capital reserves going up in flame.

A federal judge has ruled that BP was “reckless,” grossly negligent, and primarily to blame for the April 2010 blowout of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and sent untold millions of gallons of crude oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. In New Orleans on Thursday Judge Carl J. Barbier of the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana apportioned to BP 67 percent of the responsibility, 30 percent to Transocean (which owned the rig), and 3 percent to Halliburton, the cement contractor on the well. Only BP was found to be grossly negligent. (Click here for the ruling.)

Throughout the legal proceedings, BP has maintained that it is not primarily responsible, but that Transocean and Halliburton are mainly to blame. (In related news, earlier this week BP asked a federal judge to remove oil spill claims administrator Pat Juneau for “conflicts of interest”—i.e., he would be too generous to Louisiana residents, too expensive for BP.)

By finding BP grossly negligent rather than merely negligent (a critical legal distinction), Judge Barbier ratcheted up the possible financial cost to BP up to as much as $18 billion in new civil penalties, “nearly quadruple the maximum Clean Water Act penalty for simple negligence and far more than the $3.5 billion the company has set aside” for fines, according to The New York Times. Under the Clean Water Act, The Times-Picayune explains, “the penalty for each barrel of oil spilled is up to $1,100 if a polluter is found to be negligent. That increases up to $4,300 per barrel with a finding of gross negligence or willful misconduct.”

BP, which has consistently downplayed its responsibility and the severity of the catastrophe, claims that 2.45 million barrels of oil were spilled into the Gulf, while U.S. Justice Department attorneys calculate the amount as 4.2 million barrels.

Halliburton has already agreed to pay $1.1 billion in damages to property and the commercial fishing industry, though that settlement has yet to be approved by the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

In a sternly worded, 153-page ruling that includes a detailed timeline of events, Judge Barbier described a “chain of failures” that led to the explosion and oil spill. The New York Times summarizes:

Vital seals and stoppers were left leaky along the casing of the well, the judge found, while BP then skimped on tests that might have shown the problems caused by the shoddy work. When tests were run, the results were interpreted with optimism at best and dishonesty at worst, and several critical decisions made by BP were found by Judge Barbier to have been “primarily driven by a desire to save time and money, rather than ensuring that the well was secure.”

In a central episode, Judge Barbier highlighted a phone call between a senior BP employee on the rig and an engineer in Houston that took place roughly 40 minutes before the explosion. In the call, the two men discussed the results of a pressure test that should have prompted quick action to prevent an impending blowout. BP did not mention this call in its own investigative report, an omission Judge Barbier found suspicious.

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said in a news release, “This is an important milestone in the process of recovering the damages and penalties due to Louisiana. I will continue fighting for the recoveries Louisiana is entitled to for the damages we have sustained.”

BP says it will appeal the ruling.

See also: 

Other BP oil spill–related news compiled by The Times-Picayune

Times-Picayune on what the national media are saying about the BP oil spill ruling

BP Lashes Out at Journalists and “Opportunistic” Environmentalists (Mother Jones)

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Levees Not War on the BP Oil Spill

BP Celebrates Earth Day with Bonfire, Oil Spill: Well Leaks 210,000 Gallons a Day into Gulf of Mexico  (4/26/10)

“Oil-Spotted Dick”: Cheney’s Oily Fingerprints in the BP Disaster  (5/5/10)

BP Oil Flood Brought to You by U.S. Supreme Court?  (6/10/10)

More LNW coverage here.

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Top photo by U.S. Coast Guard/European Pressphoto Agency. Bottom photo (oiled bird on Louisiana’s East Grand Terre Island) by Charlie Riedel/AP.

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Come to Rising Tide 9 in New Orleans on Sept. 13

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

RT9The Tide Rises Again | Everyone’s Invited

The ninth annual Rising Tide conference on the future of New Orleans will be held on Saturday, Sept. 13, at Xavier University in New Orleans. The keynote speaker will be educator and activist Dr. Andre Perry, formerly of New Orleans and now at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Rising Tide website

Rising Tide on Facebook

Click here to register today!

The conference opens at 9:00 a.m. at Xavier University, 1 Drexel Drive, in Mid-City (click here for map), and runs to about 5:00. Pre-registration is only $10 per person, and the public is welcome. Coffee and breakfast snacks are available, and lunch, catered by Lucky Rooster, is served ($10 extra for lunch, please).

Schedule of Panels and Keynote Speaker

9:00 | Registration, coffee warm-up, etc.

10:00 | Panel: Using Mobile Devices to Uncover Seemingly Lost Historical Memory of the Confederacy, Leprosy, and White Supremacy in New Orleans

New Orleans residents, both natives and more recent arrivals, enjoy participating in the city’s collective historical memory. Nevertheless, much of the past remains unexamined and often unknown. This is a panel presentation on digital iterations of South Louisiana’s historical memory. Three online and mobile tours will reveal stories about Louisiana’s past that have been misrepresented or ignored in historical memory. With Jessica DauteriveKevin McQueeney, and Michael Mizell-Nelson, University of New Orleans.

11:30 | Panel: Building Capacity in Marginalized Communities

Presented by the Young Leadership Council (YLC), this panel will focus on the cultural, economic, educational, and social challenges that New Orleans’ most vulnerable communities face, and how the YLC and other such organizations have mobilized vast volunteer-based networks to create, fund, and implement new programming in response to those needs.

Scott Sternberg, Moderator • Curry Smith, executive director, YLC • Kelley Bagayoko, legislative aide to state representative Helena Moreno • Alyssa Wenck-Rambeau, director of finance at New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center • Warren M. M. Surcouf, project manager for Fat City Friends, v.p. of development for the YLC board of directors

Lunch break

2:00 | Keynote Speaker: Dr. Andre Perry

Dr“Education is like water; put down your reform rake.” Rakes don’t organize water very well. Likewise, charter schools, vouchers and lotteries aren’t the proper tools to deal with the root problems of New Orleans education. New Orleans public schools must become a “unified school district” if the needs of children, families and communities are to be met. Getting, private and parochial school parents to believe we’re all in this together has been and will be the essential problem that needs solving.

Andre Perry, Ph.D., is the Founding Dean of Urban Education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was associate director of the Loyola Institute for Quality and Equity in Education in New Orleans and served as the CEO of the Capital One–University of New Orleans Charter Network, composed of four charter schools in New Orleans.

Dr. Perry is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and a columnist for the Hechinger Report on education journalism. He has appeared on NBC, CNN, NPR, Al Jazeera America, and in The New Republic. In his book The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City (University of New Orleans Press, 2011), Perry illustrates the tensions in post-Katrina education reform in New Orleans. He also contributed a chapter to Resilience and Opportunity: Lessons from the U.S. Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita (Brookings Institution Press, 2011).

3:00 | Panel: Saga at Treme: The Story of How A Quest for Personal Resilience Exposed Incompetence and Waste in Government

City planner Amy Stelly: “Saga at Treme will be presented through PowerPoint and a discussion that focuses on tips and strategies for effectively engaging government through email communication. The session will also feature a discussion with the players who started the ball rolling. They worked to build community support at the grassroots level and have chosen to vocalize their displeasure as our engagement with the City of New Orleans continues to heat up.”

4:00 | Panel: Religion in Post-Katrina New Orleans

A conversation among representatives from diverse faith/spiritual communities over how such communities have been instrumental in the recovery of people’s spiritual health and emotional/psychological well-being since the flooding of New Orleans in 2005.

Charlotte Klasson, New Orleans Secular Humanist Association • Matt Rousso, Maryknoll Mission Education Office and St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish • Tahera “Ty” Siddiqui, New Orleans Lamplight Circle • Rev. William Thiele, The School for Contemplative Living • Rev. Tom Watson, Senior Pastor, Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries

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More about Rising Tide

Previous featured speakers have included Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, commander of Joint Task Force Katrina; David Simon (co-creator of HBO’s Treme and The Wire); the actor and activist Harry Shearer; N.O. geographer and historian Rich Campanella; Treme-born writer Lolis Eric Elie, director of the documentaryFaubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans; former Tulane professor of history Lawrence N. Powell, author of The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans; Mother Jones human rights and environmental reporter (Ms.) Mac McClelland; and authors John BarryDave Zirin, and Chris Cooper and Bobby Block.

Click here for a listing of previous Rising Tide programs, with links to videos and more.

Like Rising Tide on Facebook (don’t forget to share!), follow Rising Tide on Twitter (remember to retweet!), and check for programming updates on the Rising Tide Conference Blog or Rising Tide website. Visualize Rising Tide at the RT Flickr site.

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Remember August 29, 2005

Friday, August 29th, 2014

aug28katrinaIf you don’t live in or around New Orleans you may have forgotten, but August 29 is the day Hurricane Katrina assaulted the Gulf Coast with Category 3 winds (up to 175 mph) and storm surge, killing 1,833 and costing some $108 billion in damages, the costliest tropical storm in U.S. history. It was not until the following day that we began to realize that although the eye of the storm had curved eastward and the city was spared the worst—“we dodged a bullet”—the city was flooding! In addition to coastal St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and other parishes, 80 percent of New Orleans flooded when Katrina’s massive storm surge burst through the city’s outflow canals to Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River–Gulf Outlet (MR-GO), the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, etc.—53 different levee breaches in all. (The surge was about 10 to 20 feet around New Orleans, and nearly 28 feet at nearby Pass Christian, Miss., exceeding the previous record set by Camille in 1969 by some 4 feet.)

The most dramatic and infamous of the flooded areas was the already poor Lower Ninth Ward. An animated graphic produced by The Times-Picayune shows the sequence of events, still horrifying to watch. It was a catastrophic failure of the mostly federally built storm protection system, and in the years since the scorned and humiliated the Army Corps of Engineers has worked overtime to rebuild and reinforce the area’s defenses against flooding. (The Corps’ funding and directives come—or don’t come—from Congress; this blog does not hold the Corps alone responsible for the failures.) For more about the flooding, and recommendations on reinforcement of the area’s flood defense system, see our interviews with Mark Schleifstein and Ivor Van Heerden.

See The Times-Picayune’s dramatic then-and-now photo essay and editorial “Nine Years Post Katrina: A Recovery Still in Progress.”

New Orleans: Proud to Rebuild Home

Much of the city has been rebuilt, and in some ways life in New Orleans is better than ever (see Magazine Street, for example). Other parts of town are still damaged, depressed. There are neighborhoods that will never be the same. Many people had to leave and will never return—they left to avoid the storm and could not have imagined they would not be able to return, or would not want to—but those who remain are bravely, determinedly rebuilding, and there are also thousands and thousands of new residents, many of them young, talented, imaginative and energetic. There is a relatively new and improved mayor, Mitch Landrieu, and the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010 the same weekend Landrieu was elected—a good warmup for Mardi Gras a week later. And then, lest anyone get too optimistic, a few months later, on Earth Day (April 22) 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform exploded nearby in the Gulf of Mexico and became the most destructive marine oil spill in history, devastating the state’s coastline, seafood industry, wiping out livelihoods beyond measure. The lawsuits go on . . .

8-29Much has improved since the storm, and much remains the same, or worse. The United States remains embroiled in Middle East wars, some of our own making (or making worse). The nation continues to spend far more on its military than on its crumbling infrastructure, and the Pentagon receives hundreds of billions per year that could instead go to a national healthcare system that covers everyone, to an improved educational system in which teachers are compensated as though their work is valuable, and so on. Scroll through this blog’s posts (samples below) and you’ll see that the issues are plenty, and the work goes on. Congress remains dysfunctional or, worse, actively hostile amid widespread unemployment, persistent and seemingly deliberate shredding of the middle class and its safety net (rolling back the New Deal and the Great Society), and ever-increasing corporate profits and tax evasion, and diminishing taxation of the super-wealthy. The earth’s environment is under increasing stress from carbon emissions (again, one party in Congress stubbornly denies that global warming / climate change even exist, or that humanity is responsible), so the warming and rising seas threaten not only coastal Louisiana but the entire globe, as New York and New Jersey learned from Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

Well, on the bright side, there is plenty of work to be done: we shall not lack for causes to advocate for, write about, and urge elected officials and community and business leaders to assist with. Readers’ ideas are always welcome. E-mail us at leveesnotwar@mac.com.

As we have said many times, National Security Begins at Home. And, as we wrote on our About Us page years ago:

If New Orleans is not safe, no place in this country is safe. . . . Where will the federal government be when you’re down and out? Earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, collapsing bridges, hijacked planes . . . If the federal government neglects one city’s disaster, it can neglect them all. Without funding, without investment, things fall apart. The collapse of the physical infrastructure and the hospitals and schools and the justice system after the storm—what’s happening to New Orleans is happening to the entire country—except perhaps in luxury high-rises and gated communities. The Lower Ninth Ward is the national predicament carried to an extreme.

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In the next few days we’ll be posting about the upcoming annual Rising Tide conference to be held in New Orleans Saturday, Sept. 13. We’ll also be writing soon about a massive People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, Sept. 21. We’ll be at one but not the other—but both are important and we hope you can be there, too.

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Further Reading: Check Out These Important ‘Back Issues’

Levees Not War, a New York–based, New Orleans–dedicated blog, primarily covers the environment, infrastructure, and war and peace. Below are some selections that will appear in The Levees Not War Reader, forthcoming in 2015 from Mid-City Books. 

Hurricane Katrina / Environment

Is Katrina More Significant than September 11?  (9/11/10)

Understanding Louisiana’s Environmental Crisis

Louisiana Flood Protection Agency Sues Big Oil to Repair Wetlands  (7/25/13)

BP Celebrates Earth Day with Bonfire, Oil Spill: Well Leaks 210,000 Gallons a Day into Gulf of Mexico (4/26/10)

When Harry Met a Cover-Up: Harry Shearer Talks About The Big Uneasy  (10/14/10)

Interview with Mark Schleifstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning coauthor of Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms

Interview with Ivor van Heerden, author of The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina

Interview with Christopher Cooper and Robert Block, authors of Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security

IEA Sees “Irreversible Climate Change in Five Years”  (1/21/12)

Wrath of God? : Global Warming and Extreme Weather  (5/24/11)

Infrastructure

Framing the Case for Infrastructure Investment, Taxing the Rich (2/7/12)

Infrastructure, Baby, Infrastructure! A Defense of Stimulus Investments  (4/9/10)

Republicans Secretly (Seriously) Like the Stimulus  (8/20/11)

Public Works in a Time of Job-Killing Scrooges  (3/3/11)

Barack, You’re Totally Our Infrastructure Hero! Obama, in Wisconsin, Calls for $60 Billion National Infrastructure Investment Bank  (2/14/08)

War and Peace

A Reluctant, Tentative Endorsement of (More) U.S. Military Action in Iraq  (8/10/14)

Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad  (6/17/14)

Congress, Now Is the Time to Vote “Hell No”  (9/4/13)

Here We Go Again [Syria]  (6/14/13)

As “End” of Iraq War Is Announced, U.S. Digs In, Warns Iran  (10/30/11)

As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?  (8/19/10)

“Kill the Bill” vs. “Stop the War”: A Tale of Two Protests  (4/11/10)

Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation  (12/10/09)

Tax Day: How Much Have You Paid for the War?  (4/15/10)

Politics and Social Issues

GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities  (10/17/13)

Marching on Washington [1963] for Economic and Social Justice  (8/29/13)

In Honor of Medgar Evers and Res Publica  (6/12/13)

Occupying Wall Street with Nurses, Teachers, Transit Workers, and the Rest of America’s Middle Class  (10/6/11)

“Arguing about How to Defuse a Huge Ticking Bomb”: Burn-it-Down Nihilism Spreads Among Tea-Infused House Republicans  (7/20/11)

Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline  (3/13/11)

Anti-Islamic Furor Helps al Qaeda, Endangers America  (8/23/10)

Nagasaki, Not Forgotten [65th anniversary]  (8/9/10)

Are “Conservatives” Conservative? Are They Even American? (10/6/09)

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“8-29-2005 Remember” design courtesy of Mark Folse.

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Questions for Coastal Conservation Conversation Panel: Tonight, Aug. 20

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

RosieRiveterExperts to Discuss How to Pay for Massive Coastal Restoration Effort

We are raising our hands because we have a few questions for the distinguished panelists at the Coastal Conservation Conversation tonight, Aug. 20, at Loyola University in New Orleans (6:00–8:00 Central Standard Time, 7:00 Eastern). Click here for a campus map. Parking is available in the neighborhood and in the West Road parking garage.

The conversation will be live-streamed.

Click here to watch the talk.

Bob Marshall at The Lens reports that this morning, “the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy released a report estimating that the state’s $50 billion Master Plan for the Coast will end up costing more than $100 billion over its 50-year time frame. It arrives at that figure by adjusting for inflation over 50 years and adding the $6.2 billion cost of the Urban Water Plan for New Orleans, which proposes innovative water management techniques within the city.”

The panelists discussing how the plan can be paid for will be Mark Davis, Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy  •  John Driscoll, Corporate Planning Resources  •  Kyle Graham, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority  •  Douglas J. Meffert, Audubon Louisiana/National Audubon Society  •  Steve Murchie, Gulf Restoration Network  •  Courtney Taylor, Environmental Defense Fund. The moderator will be John Snell of WVUE/Fox 8.  

Marshall adds, “The Tulane institute says the doubling in projected cost shouldn’t deter coastal restoration, noting that it cost nearly $100 billion to rebuild the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. ‘Knowing what is at stake and coming to terms with the true costs of saving coastal Louisiana are prerequisites for a robust civic conversation about how best to finance it.’ ”

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Questions for the Panelists:

Ms. Anne Mueller, Development Director of The Lens, was kind enough to offer to forward questions to the panelists, so we came up with the following, in descending order of importance (though we think they’re all important). If you have questions, you can write to Anne at <amueller@TheLensNola.org> or via The Lens’s staff contact page.

The first thing we would say to the panelists is “Thank You for coming and sharing your expertise. We owe you, and we’re listening. And please come again!” 

(1)  In a time when federal funding is not likely from a U.S. Congress in which fiscal conservative / Tea Party representatives seem not to want to allocate any further funding for any purpose, but only to cut back, how can we approach members of Congress—what persuasive arguments can we make that this environmental issue is critical and needs federal assistance? (“National Security Begins at Home.”) Private contributions alone will not suffice.

(2)  Even if Louisiana were to be offered federal funding to help with coastal restoration (please!), what’s to stop Gov. Jindal from once again making a political show of refusing to accept federal monies? He has done this time and again, to the state’s detriment (and we’ve seen his actions against the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East lawsuit).

(3)  re: private sources of funding: How can environmental leaders / organizers (such as the panelists and their colleagues) and rank-and-file activists appeal to CEOs and other business executives (esp. of oil and gas / energy companies) to please help contribute funding to coastal restoration? Can they help pay for advertising / public service announcements, for example? We “little people” are already doing about all we can think to do. What does it take to get them to help more? (Our friend Mark Davis will say we need to show them what we’re doing, that it’s important to us, etc. True, but what else?)

(4)  How can the good people of Louisiana, who are not known for environmental activism, get our friends, neighbors, fellow citizens to care and speak up about Louisiana’s coastal predicament? (Public service announcements on TV and radio by Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, for example, might help, right?)

(5)  For The Lens and organizers: Were representatives from the staffs of Gov. Jindal and senators Landrieu and Vitter and Congressman Scalise invited to this event? If not, why not? All possible high elected officials should be invited, or at least notified—Mayor Landrieu’s office, too. (We admit, this question only occurred to us this morning.)

Again, we are grateful to The Lens and the Mississippi River Delta Coalition for organizing this important event, and we thank the following sponsors: The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the National Wildlife Federation, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, and the Audubon Society Louisiana.

See the event’s Facebook page here.

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Further Reading

800px-Mississippi_Delta_IRSee our previous post about the Coastal Conservation Conversation below.

Understanding Louisiana’s Environmental Crisis: To learn more about Louisiana’s environmental predicament, which has repercussions for the entire United States, see “Understanding Louisiana’s Environmental Crisis” on our Environment & Ecology page.

Other LNW posts about Louisiana’s coastal crisis: 

Honoré Speaks for La. Flood Protection Authority Lawsuit Against Big Oil (9/12/13)

Louisiana Flood Protection Agency Sues Big Oil to Repair Wetlands (7/25/13)

Conservatives, Please Help Conserve Louisiana’s Coast (10/3/11)

When Harry Met a Cover-Up: Shearer Talks about “The Big Uneasy” (10/14/10)

Martha Serpas: Our Life, Between Sea and Oil (7/11/10) : reprint of a New York Times op-ed

BP Oilpocalypse Threatens New Orleans’s Very Existence (5/14/10)

BP Celebrates Earth Day with Bonfire, Oil Spill: Well Leaks 210,000 Gallons a Day into Gulf of Mexico (4/26/10)

Coastal Conservation Corps: A New CCC for Coastal Restoration—and Jobs (11/18/09)

And more! Click here.

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An unforgettable scene in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) showed former Attorney General John Ashcroft singing “Let the Eagle Soar.” We say “Let the Pelican Soar . . . and soar some more.”

pelican (big bird)

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Join Louisiana’s Most Important Conversation: Aug. 20 at Loyola University

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

A Coastal Conservation Conversation

CCCThe Lens, with sponsorship from the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, is hosting a panel discussion—a Coastal Conservation Conversation—on the financing of the $50 billion master plan for coastal restoration at Loyola University, Wednesday, Aug. 20 from 6 to 8 p.m., in room 114 Miller Hall. (The title of the event is admittedly not dyslexic-friendly; just think CCC.)

The experts on the panel will be:

Mark Davis, Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy  •  John Driscoll, Corporate Planning Resources  •  Kyle Graham, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority  •  Douglas J. Meffert, Audubon Louisiana/National Audubon Society  •  Steve Murchie, Gulf Restoration Network

The discussion will be moderated by John Snell of WVUE/Fox 8.

(Click here for a campus map, and here for the event’s Facebook page.)

What Is Coastal Restoration and Why Is It Needed?

microbewiki.Wetlands_lossEvery year Louisiana loses 25 square miles of land—50 acres every day. About 1,900 square miles have disappeared in the past century—more than 25 times the land area of Washington, D.C.—and the erosion is accelerating. Katrina tore away four years’ worth of land loss—about 100 square miles—in only a few hours. The land loss is not only killing species of wildlife, but is taking away the buffer that protects human settlements such as the city of New Orleans and Acadiana—Cajun country—from hurricanes and the encroaching Gulf of Mexico. Valuable oil and gas and shipping infrastructure are also endangered, exposed to violent storms. Experts say if a serious, all-hands-on-deck, fully-funded federal effort is not mounted within the next five to ten years, New Orleans and Acadiana will be lost.

Wetlands protect human settlements from hurricane storm surges, which can rise as high as 25 feet. Every 2.5 to 4 miles of wetlands reduce hurricane storm surges by about a foot; measured another way, each mile of marsh reduces storm surges by 3 to 9 inches. Metro New Orleans, home to about 1.5 million, is now protected by a buffer no more than about 20 miles of wetlands.

Coastal restoration—replacing the eroded soil and wetlands—can be done in many ways, as the panel will explain, but among the methods being attempted are diversions of sediment-rich water from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. Diversions at strategic openings, such as the ones at Caernarvon and Davis Pond, allow river water to spread across the wetlands and replenish the soil. Other methods are vegetation plantings (as shown in the photo below, left), hydrologic restoration, marsh creation, shoreline protection, sediment trapping, and stabilization of barrier islands. All are being implemented, but only to a small, insufficient degree.

What Will They Be Talking About?

We spoke with Mark Davis of Tulane’s Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy to ask about the focus of the Coastal Conservation Conversation. Davis, former director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, says there are many good, workable plans that have been drawn up over the years; the critical need now is to identify how exactly the implementation will be funded. “For one thing, the $50 billion figure you’ve heard about does not include everything that will be needed. We need to identify what funds we have currently available to draw from, and then where we can get the additional funding. The funding cannot be left to chance,” Davis emphasized. “Considering that nobody wants to pay higher taxes—not individuals and not businesses—where will the money come from? Bonds won’t do the trick.”

noaaprotects_volunteersDavis stressed that the often-heard assertion that “they owe it to us”—meaning Big Oil owes Louisiana the money to repair damages from oil exploration—doesn’t get us very far. If that is true, how are you going to get that money? How are you going to convince the companies to help pay for restoration? We all need to have some “skin in the game,” he said, to make elected officials and CEOs take our claims seriously. Environmental groups and activists must be able to demonstrate what we are doing, what we ourselves are willing to pay and to do, with time and roll-up-your-sleeves efforts. This could involve talking to neighbors, organizing town hall meet-ups, generating public will and action to press on elected officials and businesses, and volunteering for plantings and other restoration efforts.

For a simple example, Davis said, we’re willing to spend a few dollars more for bottled water to make sure we have clean, safe drinking water. Expand it out from there: what else are we willing to pay for to ensure that the state will have restored wetlands that preserve wildlife and hunting and fishing areas and keep a buffer between us and the hurricane storm surge?

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves about what we’re facing,” Davis said. “There is an area between fatalism and acceptance of doom. We have not yet become victims of inevitable change. We have tools here that we can work with.”

“Louisiana has to realize that other parts of the United States are discovering they need assistance, local and federal, for storm protection and rebuilding—Florida especially and now, after Hurricane Sandy (2012), New York and New Jersey, too. We have to have a practical financial plan. This is what the Coastal Conversation is about.”

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In addition to The Lens and the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, the Coastal Conservation Conversation is being sponsored by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the National Wildlife Federation, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, and the Audubon Society Louisiana. See the event’s Facebook page here.

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Honoreleadership-207x300“We have a hard task, but through the power of connectivity, we can succeed. In a democracy, you can turn the situation around. . . . We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to use our voice to influence our legislators. . . . This is our time. This is a great cause. How are you going to get your nieces and nephews and neighbors involved? The way we’re going in the state of Louisiana, this place will not be fit to live in.”

Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, keynote address on leadership and environmental justice, Rising Tide conference, New Orleans, Sept. 14, 2013

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Land-loss maps from MicrobeWiki; planting photo by NOAA; photo of oil/gas pipeline canals cutting through Louisiana wetlands, 2010, from Getty Images via Bloomberg; bottom map of Louisiana by U.S. Geological Survey circa 1950.

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Louisiana Anthology Interviews Levees Not War

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Louisiana AnthologyUsually when Levees Not War is involved in an interview, we do the interrogating. But now, we’re happy to report, the tables have been turned: Levees Not War is the subject of an in-depth interview with the editors of the Louisiana Anthology, Bruce R. Magee and Stephen Payne, professors at Louisiana Tech in Ruston. The Levees Not War Q&A is the second of a two-part interview with blogger and author Mark LaFlaur, focusing on Elysian Fields, a novel of New Orleans, that was posted on June 28 and July 5. Click here for the iTunes podcasts.

Bruce and Stephen have kindly posted two pieces from Levees Not War on the Louisiana Anthology website, “Is Katrina More Significant Than September 11?” and “Disaster Capitalism Will Solve U.S. Budget Deficit? Ask New Orleans and Wisconsin” (original links here and here).

At about 39:30 minutes in, the interview includes a 5-minute shout-out to the Rising Tide conference on the future of New Orleans held annually in mid-September at Xavier University (Sept. 13, 2014)—affordably priced and always interesting—with mentions of prominent keynote speakers such as Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, Harry Shearer, John Barry, and David Simon. Click here for more information about Rising Tide 2014.

The interview was conducted by phone in late April. Since the Q&A with Bruce and Stephen, Elysian Fields’s presence in bookstores, especially in the South, has expanded significantly. The book is now available at the stores listed below: support your local independent bookstores. We hope you’ll spread the word among your book-readin’ friends, and we welcome your suggestions of indie booksellers near you who you think might want to carry Elysian Fields.

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Bookstores Carrying Elysian Fields

[ see complete, up-to-date list here ]

New Orleans: Crescent City Books, Garden District Book ShopMaple Street Book ShopForever New Orleans, and Toulouse Royale

Baton Rouge: Cottonwood Books, Barnes & Noble at LSU

New York City: Three Lives & Co., McNally-Jackson Books

Atlanta: Eagle Eye Book Shop (Decatur)

Birmingham: The Little Professor Book Center in Homewood

Mobile: Bienville Books

Jackson, Miss.: Lemuria Bookstore

Oxford, Miss.Square Books

Bay St. Louis, Miss.: Bay Books

Memphis: The Booksellers at Laurelwood

Nashville: Parnassus Books

thanxamazonChapel Hill, N.C.: Bull’s Head Bookshop (UNC)

Durham, N.C.: The Regulator Bookshop

Austin: BookPeople

Houston: Blue Willow Bookshop

Little Rock, Ark.: WordsWorth Books & Co.

Berkeley, Calif.: University Press Books

San Francisco: City Lights Books

Portland, Ore.: Powell’s City of Books

Seattle: Elliott Bay Book Company

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Happy Mardi Gras, Y’all

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Riders by Bart Everson, 2011

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We wish everyone, wherever you be, a happy Mardi Gras. Where we are this morning—not at the Zulu or Rex parades, sorry to say, but in New York where it’s 17 degrees—it’s too cold to quite grasp that today is Mardi Gras, but this is indeed the day. The cold rain in New Orleans doesn’t feel convincingly festive for the people there, either.) A friend visiting from Baton Rouge brings warmth of spirit (including that of the Spanish Town Parade) and beads of purple, green, and gold. Where we wish we were right now is on St. Charles Avenue, on lower Royal Street in Bywater with the Society of St. Anne’s parade into the Quarter, and on Canal Street and the Quarter. For us, this year, a Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner this evening at Calvary/St. George’s Church in New York City will be our place of celebration.

Click here and crank it up: The NOLA Defender posts a YouTube video playlist of Classic Mardi Gras music, featuring “Iko Iko” by the Dixie Cups and “Big Chief” played by Earl King, Dr. John, the Meters, and Professor Longhair.

Check out our friends’ Mardi Gras Flickr sets here, here, and here.

Today, let the good times roll, and Be a New Orleanian—wherever you are. Tomorrow, it’s Ash Wednesday, and still you can be a New Orleanian wherever you are. Keep the faith, and keep the good times rollin’.

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BeANewOrleanian

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Top photo courtesy of Bart “Editor B” Everson. “Be a New Orleanian” design by Dirty Coast (click here to buy the T-shirt!).

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Elvin R. Heiberg III, General Who Took Blame for Hurricane Katrina Failures, Dies at 81

Friday, October 4th, 2013

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Former Head of Army Corps of Engineers Regretted Not Fighting for Storm-Surge Gates
As Tropical Storm Karen approaches the Gulf Coast, and FEMA employees, furloughed by the latest GOP Government Shutdown, are called back to work without pay, The New York Times reports the death of Lt. Gen. Elvin R. Heiberg III, “who rose to the top of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s and decades later expressed regret for failing to fight hard enough to build floodgates that he believed might have protected New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.” Gen. Heiberg died last Friday, Sept. 27, in Arlington, Va. He was 81. In June 2007, the Times reports, “nearly two years after Katrina, General Heiberg wrote a letter published in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that ‘As too many continue to rush around to find someone to blame for the Katrina engineering failures, they can blame me. I gave up too easily.’ ” After Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conceived a plan to build flood-surge gates at the eastern edge of Lake Pontchartrain at the Chef Menteur and the Rigolets passes to be lowered in case of an oncoming hurricane (map below). Environmentalists worried that the presence of the floodgates would make it easier for developers to drain areas for development and that the flow of water would be blocked.Luke Fontana, executive attorney for Save Our Wetlands Inc., filed a lawsuit to block the floodgates. In 1985, twenty years after Hurricane Betsy, the Corps gave up the plan. (The plan and its defeat—“death-by-environmentalism,” we call it—is discussed in detail in Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid’s excellent 2006 book Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms. See our interview with Schleifstein here.) In an interview cited by NPR online, Gen. Heiberg said, “I think that’s probably the biggest mistake I made, quitting instead of fighting. . . . I think Katrina proved that.” (See “Why Did the 17th Street Canal Levee Fail?” NPR, May 19, 2006.)   1965CorpsFloodgatesPlan The New York Times obituary in full appears below.
Elvin R. Heiberg III, General Who Took Blame for Hurricane Katrina Failures, Dies at 81
04heiberg-popup Lt. Gen. Elvin R. Heiberg III, who rose to the top of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s and decades later expressed regret for failing to fight hard enough to build floodgates that he believed might have protected New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, died last Friday in Arlington, Va. He was 81. The cause was cancer, said his daughter Kay Bransford. In June 2007, nearly two years after Katrina, General Heiberg wrote a letter published in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that read: “As too many continue to rush around to find someone to blame for the Katrina engineering failures, they can blame me. I gave up too easily.” He explained that in the 1970s, when he commanded the New Orleans district, the corps planned to protect the city by building gates at the east end of Lake Pontchartrain. Environmentalists opposed the project, and local interests objected to sharing the costs, as federal law requires. A federal judge blocked the project and called for a more thorough analysis of its environmental impact. In the 1980s, when General Heiberg was commander of the corps, or chief of engineers—the youngest man to head the corps since the 19th century—the fight over the so-called barrier plan was still going on. “I was discouraged and decided to stop fighting for the barriers any longer,” he wrote in The Times-Picayune. “In retrospect, that was the biggest mistake I made during my 35 years as an Army officer.” In lieu of the barrier, the corps turned to raising levees and floodwalls around the city. It turned out to be a patchwork project that was still not complete when Katrina hit 20 years later and many segments of the floodwall failed. The official corps report on the disaster called the hurricane protection system “a system in name only.” General Heiberg’s letter fed an argument that had begun circulating soon after the storm that had blamed environmentalists for the destruction of the city, accusing them of blocking efforts to protect it. The conservative FrontPage Magazine called their tactics “Green Genocide.” But the barrier envisioned by the corps would have been ineffective, said G. Paul Kemp, an author of Louisiana’s official report on the disaster and an adjunct professor at the Louisiana State University department of oceanography and coastal sciences. Much of the water that inundated New Orleans, he said, had flowed in from a corner of Lake Borgne, which lies to the south and east of the city and which would have been outside the barrier’s reach. Alfred Naomi, a former senior project engineer for the corps in New Orleans, agreed that the barriers “might not have made a difference for Katrina,” though he argued that some areas might have suffered less damage had the barriers been there and that the project would have improved safety overall. He expressed admiration for General Heiberg and his public stand. “That showed integrity and moral certitude that you don’t find a lot in today’s society,” he said. “Right or wrong, he took the hit — and took some responsibility.” Elvin Ragnvald Heiberg III—he went by “Vald”—was born on March 2, 1932, at Schofield Barracks, the Army installation on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Like his father and a grandfather, he joined the Army and attended the United States Military Academy at West Point; the grandfather served as military attaché in Rome and died when he was thrown by a horse while visiting the Austro-Hungarian front in 1917. Vald III graduated from West Point in 1953 and earned master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University. His career in the Army and Corps of Engineers took him to wartime service in Korea and Vietnam and to Saudi Arabia, where he oversaw $14 billion in corps-led construction projects for the country’s national guard. He led the corps’ cleanup and rebuilding effort after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State in 1980, and ran the Army’s Ballistic Missile Defense Program, a precursor to the Reagan administration’s “Star Wars” plan. General Heiberg’s many decorations included the Silver Star Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross from his Vietnam service; he twice earned the Distinguished Service Medal. After retiring from the military, he worked with a number of companies, including Dawson & Associates, a consulting and government relations firm with expertise in water resources, where he was a senior adviser. In addition to Ms. Bransford, General Heiberg’s survivors include his wife, the former Kathryn Schrimpf, whom he married in 1953; another daughter, Kathryn Heiberg-Browning; two sons, Walter and Elvin IV; and a sister, Dorethe Skidmore. Contacted by a reporter last year to discuss the old barrier plan, General Heiberg said, “I haven’t changed my mind on any of that.” New Orleans is now protected by a $14 billion ring of walls, levees and gates, including a two-mile barrier at the northwest corner of Lake Borgne, and gates that can close the city’s drainage canals to block any surge from Lake Pontchartrain. Barriers for Lake Pontchartrain are again under consideration. #