NEW ORLEANS – The Bush administration issued guidelines for deciding how to protect Louisiana from the most dangerous hurricanes — plans that state officials said ignore specific fixes that could begin quickly.
The much-awaited report, developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, marked the first step in two years of planning how to rebuild New Orleans' levees, bolster Louisiana's coastline and develop other programs to control flooding from Category 5 storms.
But five specific recommendations Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, described as urgently needed to protect the state had been stripped out of the Corps' proposal since a draft was circulated last month.
Instead, Corps officials said they would put off embracing any particular plans to avoid uncoordinated or incomplete safeguards during the process. The rebuilding could take over a decade.
"It's too early to recommend projects for authorization," Corps planning and policy chief Col. Tom Waters told reporters Monday afternoon. "We must, as we look at increased levels of protection, determine the comprehensive system, and appropriately apply projects."
He also said the Corps may issue interim reports between now and December 2007, when the final plan is due, to begin work on specific projects as warranted. Still, the Corps will not complete an internal review of proposed projects until October. What the Corps released Monday were guidelines for that review.
No cost estimate for a comprehensive plan was released, and a Bush administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said fiscal concerns were one reason the Corps was directed to develop a careful review process.
But with the current storm season already a month old and the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, Louisiana's two senators criticized the Corps report.
Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana called it "nothing more than another slap in the face of Louisiana" and said the Army "decided to gut the report and remove all substance."
Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu said she would demand congressional hearings to investigate omission of the five recommendations. "Levee and flood control is a life-or-death situation for the people of coastal Louisiana," she said. "So it is very disappointing that this report fails to do what Congress mandated."
Last fall after Katrina, Congress approved $20 million (euro15.7 million) to develop plans for protecting the region from future life-threatening storms. Katrina was a Category 3 storm — on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the worst — when it ransacked New Orleans last Aug. 29. The hurricane surge produced massive flooding when levees failed, leading to at least 1,577 deaths in the state and billions of dollars in damage.
The federal aid law called for "information based on the Corps' expertise in a timely manner and unfiltered by the policy goals of the administration."
In a June 27 letter to Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, Blanco outlined five projects she called "fundamental to reduce future risk." They include plans to restore deteriorating coastline, build a New Orleans hurricane barrier on the Mississippi River's east side, and close a Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.