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Katrina leaves policy, political questions in her wake

I hope and pray that all are safe and damage is minimal in the Mississippi River delta area of the state and offshore, as well as to another of my former areas of residence, southern Mississippi.

As New Orleans and the rest of the area wrings themselves out, there are some things to ponder:

  • The contraflow system seemed to work much better than last year. This turned highways into double-sized, unidirectional thoroughfares for evacuation purposes. Still, problems remained, specifically, citizen knowledge about the system (available at the State Police website), more efficient diversion of traffic (too many headed only west), and that going west the system stopped after the I-10/I-55 interchange at LaPlace while eastward traffic on I-10 still was embargoed (frustrating many and causing some reckless folks to treat eastbound lanes as westbound lanes)
  • The Superdome lost parts of its roof, and one must question whether the repairs to it a decade ago were adequate to withstand the winds of a Category 5 storm. When built 30 years ago, the whole structure was supposed to be able to. If not, then it’s a classic example of Louisiana state government, just like with our highways, being pennywise and dollar foolish.
  • And what of its use as an evacuation center? Emergency protocols should be such that it ought to be able to hold many tens of thousands for days – there’s not a larger or (supposedly) safer structure in the city for this purpose.
  • And what does this mean for the Saints? Will they have repairs done in time for their home opener 9/18? Even more intriguing, will this affect the negotiations between the team and the state to get out of the lucrative deal the Saints have with it?
  • Many have argued New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin waited too long to officially issue an evacuation order. Of course, sensible people don’t have to wait on an elected official to tell them what to do and it’s a tough judgment call, but the fact of the matter was the contraflow plan was terminated at 4 PM Sunday, only a few hours after the call went out, in order to protect and better deploy public safety personnel. While there’s no real right or wrong in this situation, political opponents of Nagin may use this against him in his presumed reelection bid next year.
  • With the breaking of at least three levees in the area, questions can be raised about the quality of them. One never can build a levee that will block all surges from all hurricanes, but were these built to specification, and were the specifications stringent enough?
  • How much will this disaster cost the state, as ever strapped for money? There will be disaster cleanup costs, of course, despite that the majority of money to accomplish will come from the federal government, some (as much as 25 percent of the total) will come from the state. Also, already an estimated 1 million barrels of oil a day for the short term will be reduced from the affected area and this could be more. This will delay, if not eliminate, this extraction which is taxed by the state the proceeds from which go into state coffers.
  • Finally, no doubt flood insurance rates will rise as a result – how will this play out in the Legislature, the Department of Insurance, with the federal flood insurance and mitigation programs, and even the costal restoration issue at the federal level?

    Like it or not, the answers to or resolutions of these questions will have policy and political impacts in Louisiana.
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