September 10, 2005

Environmentalists and Katrina

Some of you will recall that in the comments section of this post last week, I mentioned that flood planning and abatement measures take decades to build, and I wrote that I wouldn't be surprised to find out that relevant planning decisions went back to the Carter or Reagan administrations. Actually, it was the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson that set in motion the modern flood protection system for New Orleans - or at least the flood protection system that New Orleans was intended to have. After Hurricane Betsy in 1965, Congress approved and Johnson signed a law to build the Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Barrier Project to protect New Orleans from future catastrophic hurricanes.

The centerpiece walls and gate systems mandated by the bill, however, were never built. Why?

A lawsuit begun in the mid-70s by environmentalists stalled development well into the 80s. After nearly a decade of litigation that prevented implementation of the plan, the Army Corps of Engineers finally threw in the towel and shifted to a compromise plan that had less of an "environmental impact." Some protection, after all, was better than none. Bottom line, the federal government had a plan to protect New Orleans from hurricanes like Katrina, but was unable to implement it due to interference from local environmentalists and the local judiciary.

The environmental group that brought the lawsuit - the now-ironically named "Save our Wetlands" - hasn't yet taken down the web page boasting of shutting down the Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Barrier Project. In the document, the group claims that because its attorney broke down and wept in front of Judge Schwartz, he issued an injunction that shut down hurricane barrier construction. Here's the text:

The Save Our Wetlands attorney goes right up to the Judges cigar, pointing his finger and says to the Judge Charles Schwartz, it is not that I dont like you it is that I am losing respect for you. The Save Our Wetlands attorney then says, You said you were going to issue an injunction now god damn issue it. At this point the Save Our Wetlands attorney breaks down and begins to cry, kicks open the chamber door, and enters the courtroom cursing profusely, to a courtroom packed with people. He then kicks open the courtroom door and goes immediately to his apartment and collapses; he had not slept in three days.

At 8 a.m. he gets a call that he is to appear in the Judge Charles Schwartzs courtroom at 9 a.m. The Save Our Wetlands attorney thinks that he will be held in contempt and taken into custody by U.S. Marshals. Upon arrival Judge Charles Schwartz reads the injunction. The Save Our Wetlands attorney apologized to the co-counsel for his actions the night before. He is told, by his co-counsel Doug Clifford that it is his opinion that the Save Our Wetlands attorneys actions brought a human element to the discussions in Judge Schwartz's chambers on the previous night, and that it broke U.S. Atorney's Gerald Gallinghouse's mental and political pressure inside the judges chamber. And it was because of this, that Judge Charles Schwartz issued an injunction against the United States Army Corps of Egineer's Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Barrier Project. Save Our Wetlands Inc. nominates United States District Judge Charles Schwartz as the savoir of Lake Pontchartrain and the reason the National Bayou Savage Refuge Center--the largest urban wildlife refuge in the world exists today.

...And also the reason New Orleans does not exist today.

Getting-what-they-want-by-crying has been the modus operandi of the environmental movement in the U.S. for decades, figuratively speaking. In this case, environmentalist do-gooder busybodies actually cried to get what they wanted. On a lark I used Google Earth to investigate the fate of the home of the presiding judge - Charles Schwartz, Jr. - which backs up on the Metairie Country Club. It's still standing, but he'd better find himself a pair of waders, especially if he plans on playing the back nine anytime soon. Who's crying now?

Somehow the barrier story slipped past the editorial commisars at the L.A. Times on Friday. A Google news search indicates that it was not picked up by any other mainstream media organ for Saturday's edition. Typical.

Posted by Sterling at 03:38 PM GMT

From the web page Sterling points to, there are these enlightening passages he chose not to quote:

Judge Charles Schwartz orders the Army Corps of Engineers to do a new Environmental Impact Study on the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Barrier Project. During the trial one of the key arguments of Save Our Wetlands was that alternative hurricane protection measures should be considered including building up preexisting levees. The new EIS conducted by the Corps concludes that building up the existing levees is in fact a better alternative to the Hurricane Barrier Project.


Under the guise of hurricane protection, this project was not only going to destroy Lake Pontchartrain but was in fact going to drain the wetlands of New Orleans East and promote development in these newly drained areas, regardless of the fact that they would have been highly susceptible to flooding due to hurricane tidal surges. This project was also going to create hundreds of millions of dollars in dredging contracts for F. Edward Herbert political supporters and for the cronies of the Orleans Levee Board.

[Emphasis mine.]

Posted by: w on September 10, 2005 05:29 PM

I didn't see any reason to quote their lies - everyone does that. And I linked to the page, so you don't really get to pull a "gotcha!" on the source material. The source material is what I said it was - a boastful web page.

The point is that there was going to be a floodwall and gate system designed to withstand even the strongest hurricanes. That system was scuttled by environmentalists, and the one that was built in its place was only designed to withstand Category 3 hurricanes.

As for corruption, in Louisiana it's a given. I'm sure an investigation would show that the Orleans Parish Levee Board did pretty well regardless.

Posted by: Sterling on September 10, 2005 07:02 PM

So since the source material is as you say, "a boastful web page," I shouldn't take what you chose to quote as serious information either. Good to know.

Posted by: sac on September 11, 2005 07:15 AM

Sterling, you are a nincompoop.

Posted by: eurof on September 11, 2005 09:25 AM

industrialists in this country dont get what they want by using the free market, courts (or by "crying"), they get what they want with nepotism, corporate welfare, pre-emptive wars and no bid contracts.

Posted by: Simon on September 11, 2005 02:21 PM

Right, sac - the only information I trust on that page is the information that isn't specifically supportive of their argument. Basically, the places where they told the truth by accident.

As for the points W raised,

1) of course an environmental impact study is going to prefer the plan with a smaller "footprint" and

2) environmental groups always, always, always cite some nefarious motive on the part of those they disagree with. But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Posted by: Sterling on September 11, 2005 03:01 PM