Ivor’s Greatest Hits
Selections from Levees Not War’s Interview with Ivor van Heerden
I think what Hurricanes Rita and Katrina taught us
. . . is that the old system of doing business, however you look at it—whether it was building levees or whether it was restoring coastal wetlands—the old system didn’t work, and unfortunately we don’t see anything new right now. The Senate said we need a new version of FEMA, but nobody’s saying we need a new version of the Army Corps of Engineers, which is to my mind what we do need.
The problem with the New Orleans levees
was that they were never a high priority for the Corps’ New Orleans district. Their high priorities were navigation and dredging. And they never really seemed to have a long-term strategy of how they were going to get it done; the project kept slipping, the costs kept going up . . .
We’ve really got to come up with a civil works administration.
What I’ve been proposing is a structure that is put under the Department of Commerce, because civil works are an important part of the economy. And you then have to set up a long-term management approach, then you can take a long-term look at projects, you can prioritize. And at the same time, the Corps survives on earmarks—you’ve got to remove earmarks from the process completely. . . . You’ve got to have long-term goals and the civil works administration needs to develop a sustainable plan for the future. . . .
If you’re going to go and get the money from Congress,
you’ve got to have one plan that the majority of people have bought into, it’s got to be a scientific-and-engineeringly sensible plan. You’ve got to have the stakeholders along. And you don’t achieve that by being politically selective about who participates in the planning and who doesn’t. . . . I think when the state comes up with one sensible plan and goes to Congress and talks with one voice, then there’s a chance in getting something funded, but we haven’t succeeded on that part.
We could set up a Tennessee Valley Authority–like program,
and we could tell the Corps we want this kind of thing constructed in this area, and so on. The Corps has the ability to let big contracts and manage big contracts. But get the design away from them, and also the management of the money, and put it under some kind of czar who’s advised by a blue-ribbon panel of engineers and scientists . . . better still with a longer-term view it’s probably healthier to set up a civil works administration in the Department of Commerce.
Take the best of the Corps,
restaff it, make sure it’s very well connected with academic engineering and natural science research programs—the new administration has to have the absolute best data input. Set up review boards, set up design competitions, and come up with long-term strategies.
You’ve got a bunch of people in the state planning efforts
(many of them are Corps employees who still claim it was overtopping not breaching) who don’t have the qualifications to be doing the comprehensive planning. And some people who do [have the qualifications] are being excluded from the process. And it’s all about political control—that’s what it’s all about. So we aren’t getting anywhere. I keep trying to warn people, we are as unsafe as we were before Katrina; nothing has changed.
The state needs to make a decision and do it.
It’s been an argument for years and years and years, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be resolved any time soon. We’ve got to say, “What’s best for everybody? What’s best for the greater good?” . . . Everybody’s saying I want my piece. . . . And that’s not going to work. You’ve got to ultimately say what’s best for the greater good of everybody? And then set up that system.