The Orleans Levee Board
The website of the Orleans Levee District, also known as the Orleans Levee Board, is unenlightening in most respects, but it does contain the mission statement:
The Orleans Levee District is dedicated to protecting the lives and property of the citizens of Orleans Parish by constructing, operating and maintaining the Mississippi River and Hurricane Protection Flood Control Systems and to providing safe and secure facilities for aviation, marine and recreational activities.I downloaded all of their board, Finance, and Planning, Engineering and Construction Committee meeting minutes, and after reading hundreds of intensely boring pages I have been able to ascertain that, mission statement notwithstanding, the Levee Board’s primary function is to continue doing whatever they want. The Levee Board owns property including marinas, an airport, and commercial property. They even have their own police force. The most interesting thing about all these minutes is the almost total lack of discussion of the levee system and how to protect the city in the event of a hurricane or catastrophic flooding.
One revealing quote from the Finance committee in January:
“a listing of 46 major maintenance and capital improvement projects that the staff have identified. This list totals $27.125 million and cannot be funded because of financial constraints. Of the $27.1 million requested, the budget funds only funding 9 projects for a total $800,000, as established by the priority of the staff. Commissioner Cynthia Willard-Lewis asked of the remaining unfunded projects, “does the lack of funding and the lack of implementation on any of those projects jeopardize the public safety or our ability to execute levee protection?” Ms. Herbert answered “no”. and added that these projects relate to and are funded by the General Operating Budget and anything that would relate to flood protection would come out of the SLIP Fund, the Special Levee Improvement Fund.”My question is, if levee improvement is a side project for the Orleans Levee board, to the point that it is not a part of the General Operating Budget, who exactly is focusing on the levees? In New Orleans, for something as important as the levees, shouldn’t there be an organization whose primary function is to maintain, study, and improve the levees? The levee board may have started life with that goal, but they have strayed pretty far from it when it’s no longer even part of the General Operating Budget.
The levee board’s assets include millions of dollars worth of real estate, including an airport and marinas, along with valuable commercial rental properties. They spend what it takes to keep those things going. If their primary goal were to actually fix and upgrade the levees instead of to continue to exist as a bureaucracy, our levees would have been in much better condition in August, 2005. Since they do not fix or upgrade the levees without outside funding in any event (see March and July details, below the fold), what is the purpose of continuing the Orleans Levee Board in its present state? If someone needs to manage the airport, marinas, and other real estate holdings, let them do it. But take the levees and the protection of New Orleans out of their jurisdiction and give it to an organization that will devote itself full time to that goal.
Here is what the Levee Board has been doing in 2005, in the time that might otherwise have been spent attending to the first 32 words of their mission statement.
January, 2005 –
• Ongoing discussion of bus stops on Hayne Boulevard.
• Discussion of the only ongoing project in Orleans Parish, the Hammond Highway Bridge over the 17th St. Canal.
• Renting space to a pharmacist – Commissioner Green was oddly concerned with “what is occurring in New Orleans East with a few places that call themselves pharmacies. … a few places that opened as pharmacies and now have turned into dispensaries for pain killer medication’s, etc. On a day to day basis, it will be up to staff and Mr. Pappalardo to make sure that sort of thing does not happen here.”
February, 2005 –
• More on those critical Hayne Blvd. bus stops.
• Extensive discussion of the OLD investment portfolio.
• One section of the minutes in their entirety:
Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Plan.
Mr. Spencer reported that there are still no additional funds designated from the
USACE for 2005 hurricane projects. Recently, there was an article in the Times
Picayune concerning the Hammond Highway Bridge over the 17th Street Canal being behind schedule. This project is now scheduled for completion in April 2005. Mr. Spencer added that there are still no funds available to reconstruct the Robert E. Lee Bridge over the London Avenue Canal.
There was no further discussion on the above item.
• A very amusing discussion of the OLD website situation, bemoaning the fact that “whenever you do a search for “Orleans Levee Board”, you never find the Orleans Levee Board, and you find all the articles that people had written and things that don’t concern us or public relations wise that is not always complimentary.” Imagine that!
• A long discussion on residential and commercial development of the eastern shore of the Lake (the East Beach Project).
March, 2005 –
• Background on the critical situation with the Hayne Blvd. bus stops reveals it has been ongoing for 13 years! Shocking, simply shocking.
• The Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Plan was actually discussed. “Mr. Spencer reported that currently the President’s budget for 2006 has only $3 million for LPVHPP which covers 4 parishes. This budget is enough to keep only the existing projects going, but not to start any remaining projects. He stated that the OLD had sent another letter (copy attached) to the legislators, including Congressman Vitter and Senator Landrieu, in regards to the USACE saying that they have a capability of spending another $17 million for major work on LPVHPP projects. A response to the letter was received from Mayor Nagin’s office asking what can they do to make this happen. We told him that a letter from his office to the legislators would be helpful, as well a telephone call.
”President Huey said this Board had voted to provide $1 million to the USACE on the Mirabeau Avenue Bridge project because money had been exhausted for the contracts. The USACE used this money as part of our cost share. We are at the short end of completing the parallel flood protection and it would be terrible shame for this project not to be completed, especially if we get hit with a storm. Mr. Spencer introduced Mr. Al Naomi, project manager for the USACE to address any questions the Committee may have concerning projects. Mr. Naomi reported that we do have a critical funding need. There are four major projects in Orleans Parish; protecting Pump Station 3 on Broad Street, protecting Pump Station # 7 at the Orleans Avenue Canal, the Robert E. Lee Bridge, over London Avenue Canal and a major levee enlargement in East New Orleans. This levee is approximately 3 feet below grade. All of these projects are vital in protecting the city. Should one of the pump stations fail because of storm surge, it would be very critical. Each pump station costs approximately $10 million to protect, the levee enlargement project cost is $5 million. The plans are complete for Pump Station #3 and the city has the plans finished for the Robert E. Lee Bridge ($2 million project).”
I included that entire section because it is the most time all year spent discussing the primary reason they exist.
April, 2005 –
• The PEC briefly discussed the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Plan. “Mr. Spencer reported that unfortunately, the Federal Government still has only $2.7 million set aside for projects to cover four parishes for FY 2006. There are approximately $25 million worth of projects that still need to be done with their designs on the shelf. Mr. Al Naomi, Project Manager for the USACE was unable to attend today’s meeting, but Mr. Marvin Moreheiser is present to address any questions the Committee may have. Chairman Saizan said we all know that the USACE’s budget has been drastically affected. He asked are there any questions from the Committee for Mr. Moreheiser to address, and there were none. There was no further discussion on the above item.”
• They did spend some of that SLIP money on a study to use the city’s water system to provide fire protection at a pump house.
May, 2005 –
• Amidst extensive discussion of commercial real estate issues, they did find time to discuss the Emergency Operations Procedure Manual and the Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Protection Plan. They are required by the state to update the EOP annually – in this case revisions consisted of updating points of contacts. As for the LPVHPP, since there was no new funding, they did nothing. The Hurricane Levee Inspection with the USACE and LADOTD was scheduled for May 27th.
June, 2005 –
• Important issues discussed included spending over a million dollars of levee improvement money on a commercial lakefront property, in spite of the fact that the previous month they complained have having no funds for LPVHPP.
July, 2005 –
• LPVHPP report: the flood proofing of the Hammond Hwy Bridge has been completed on the Orleans Parish side. Upon newspaper reports that federal funding might be increased to 7.5 million, “We are very hopeful that we can get more than $2.9. The $7.5 million won’t do a whole lot, but it may allow us to do more design work and a few more contracts... The R. E. Lee Bridge design over the London Avenue Canal has been completed, but there are no funds to award the project. The project cost approximately $4.5 million. Pumping Station Nos. 3 and 7 needs to be done at $10 million to $12 million each. A major levee in New Orleans East is at least 3 ft. deficient in places, and is in need of repair. In conclusion, Mr. Naomi said there is a major backlog of work pending funding.”
And as always, a lot more discussion of marinas, airports and other commercial property matters than anything related to the first 32 words of the mission statement.
Posted by Laura Curtis at September 27, 2005 07:21 PM
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|# September 29th, 2005 8:25 AM crtune|
|Very well analyzed. Now, WHY? . . .is there no public oversite of this board? Perhaps you can also find out what oversite is "supposed" to exist for this public works board. I would tend to assume, knowing the history of corruption in Louisiana, that there is a similar situation all up and down the "food chain".
This state is like a "banana republic", with a small, but presumeably vicious police force for a public works board like this to use as it sees fit. It seems to me that there are two areas in the U.S. which are noted for their sheer extent of corruption:
New Orleans, LA
It is also, perhaps interesting that these two town's organized crime members have repeatedly been a part of the mythos that surrounds the assasination of John F. Kennedy. In some stories, the Chicago mafia, led by Sam Giancana, and the New Orleans, mafia led by Carlos Marcello, were two of the primary leaders of the conspiracy to kill Kennedy. Of course, this may never be sorted out suffiently to be proven, but then the main reason that the stories are so credible is because of the general premise that there are massive criminal infrastructures in these two towns.
Our problem now, is NOT finding out, or knowing that there is corruption in New Orleans. . .that will be easy to determine as basic wrap-up investigations turn out to disclose massive corruption. What will be really hard to do, is to get our hands, and MINDS wrapped around the exact extent of the corruption. My guess is that the level of corruption in New Orleans is unprecidented in anyplace short of Moscow or Shaghai. This is a place where the wrongdoers in control have such an extensive network of associates, and such an effective lock on the social fabric of the area, that it will be virtually impossible to destroy it using the typical methods (i.e. destroy the heads of each "family" like in NYC, or go after significant leaders, etc.)
Ultimately, the social fabric that runs New Orleans is very similar to that in Chicago, with regional differences, of course:
Democratic "machine" politics.
It is no coincidence that Chicago and New Orleans have been Dem. enclaves for many, many decades. To better understand this I recommend that you read-"The Outfit", by I 'think' Nicolas Pillegi (I can't find the book right now, and I'm trying to remember the author's name. . ).
This book is a thorough cover of the history of organized crime and it's subversion of the civic processes in Chicago.
Once again. . .GOOD WORK!
|# September 29th, 2005 9:37 AM crtune|
The book is: "The Outfit -- The Role of Chicago's Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America" by Gus Russo.
Not Nick Pileggi. GUS RUSSO.
Very, very good book. Lots of detail and insight into the social and political effect of crime cartels and their activities.
|# September 29th, 2005 1:48 PM Solomon2|
|You read all that? Sheesh!
More levee failure analysis here:
|# September 29th, 2005 2:10 PM Laura|
|It was a lot of reading, but my business is (at the moment) out of business, so I have some time, unfortunately. I know the Times-Pic has had articles on the corruption, and I had read your article and those of many other bloggers. There's plenty of objective proof that they have failed miserably, and investigations going on that should bring more info on corruption to light. I would give a lot for line items of the levee board budget, especially the SLIP fund...
One interesting thing - their web site was mostly "under construction" and 404 when I first checked it. A couple of days after I used httrack to capture the whole site, including the directory with all the minutes, they seem to have updated it. But the reason I did all the reading and summarizing was to point out that the problem is not the people sitting on the board, who may or may not be corrupt, but the whole setup. By their own minutes, which naturally present the organization in the best possible light, they are ineffective and basically useless when it comes to working on the levees. It's not their priority. They're busy with keeping themselves in business and spend practically no time or money on the levees.