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Fight for more levee protection begins

Published: Sep. 4, 2012 at 5:53 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 11, 2012 at 8:03 PM CDT
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The state office of Homeland Security estimates that nearly 13,000 homes were impacted by Hurricane Isaac.  Most of them are outside the new levee improvements for Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes.

Now, the debate begins on how to protect areas outside that system.  Such an effort won't come cheap.

After Katrina, while some debated whether New Orleans should have been saved, Senator Mary Landrieu was among those demanding its salvation.

"We're worth the investment. The investments made in this region support 4.5 million people in our state, and the 300 million people that call the U.S. home. We produce the oil and gas that keeps them operating, and that's what we told the president," Landrieu said.

Though the problem is complex, Landrieu says the president has a grasp on it and she says it will take his leadership to push through billions more to protect parishes like St. John, St. Charles, and St. Tammany.

The senator says it's time for a complete assessment of what went wrong; something the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already begun.

Her call for a comprehensive solution is echoed in St. Charles Parish where officials worry about a weak levee system.

"This parish has been working for 18 years for a levee alignment for the west bank, having only recently having received a permit from the corps for a west bank alignment. It's a three phase alignment and we've been approved for phase one behind the Little Ridge subdivision," said Scott Welchel of St. Charles Parish Emergency Operations.

Welchel says St. Charles has taken it upon itself to begin building levees without the corps, but roadblocks continue to be placed along the way.

Senator Landrieu says Katrina may have set the stage for renewed debate.  "I know people are concerned about the wetlands and the country is starting to understand. This region is not a vacation spot, but it's fisheries, it's oil that they need as bad as we do," she said.

As the fight for a comprehensive, well-funded levee protection strategy begins, Landrieu says it's also important for residents to build smarter and higher to avoid future damage.

Landrieu says $14 billion spent on Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard levees proves that such protection is a good investment. She says, if it weren't for that improved system, Isaac would have been a much worse disaster.