Argument: Why rebuild New Orleans when it will be destroyed again?

Issue Report: Rebuilding New Orleans


Joel K. Bourne, Jr. “New Orleans: A Perilous Future”. National Geographic. August 2007 – Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in United States history, was also a warning shot. Right after the tragedy, many people expressed a defiant resolve to rebuild the city. But among engineers and experts, that resolve is giving way to a growing awareness that another such disaster is inevitable, and nothing short of a massive and endless national commitment can prevent it.

Located in one of the lowest spots in the United States, the Big Easy is already as much as 17 feet (five meters) below sea level in places, and it continues to sink, by up to an inch (2.5 centimeters) a year. Upstream dams and levees built to tame Mississippi River floods and ease shipping have starved the delta downstream of sediments and nutrients, causing wetlands that once buffered the city against storm-driven seas to sink beneath the waves. Louisiana has lost 1,900 square miles (4,900 square kilometers) of coastal lands since the 1930s; Katrina and Hurricane Rita together took out 217 square miles (562 square kilometers), putting the city that much closer to the open Gulf. Most ominous of all, global warming is raising the Gulf faster than at any time since the last ice age thawed. Sea level could rise several feet over the next century. Even before then, hurricanes may draw ever more energy from warming seas and grow stronger and more frequent.

And the city’s defenses are down. Despite having spent a billion dollars already, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now estimates it will take until after 2010 to strengthen the levee system enough to withstand a 1-in-100-year storm, roughly the size of Category 3 Katrina. It would take decades more to protect the Big Easy from the truly Big One, a Category 4 or 5—if engineers can agree on how to do that and if Congress agrees to foot the almost unimaginable bill. For now, even a modest, Category 2 storm could reflood the city.

The long odds led Robert Giegengack, a geologist at the University of Pennsylvania, to tell policymakers a few months after the storm that the wealthiest, most technologically advanced nation on the globe was helpless to prevent another Katrina: “We simply lack the capacity to protect New Orleans.” He recommended selling the French Quarter to Disney, moving the port 150 miles (240 kilometers) upstream, and abandoning one of the most historic and culturally significant cities in the nation. Others have suggested rebuilding it as a smaller, safer enclave on higher ground.

Grant Swank, Pastor and Author. “Don’t Rebuild New Orleans”. Mens News Daily. 1 Sept. 2005 – The whole time I was watching horrific scene by horrific scene, I kept coming to the same conclusion: Let’s not do that bowl thing again. Americans are proud people. They don’t like to be called quitters. They are achievers and go on with the show.

But all that has nothing to do with constructing a city once more in a bowl waiting for overflows. There is no guarantee that any system whatsoever could ward off floodwaters. We American planners always feel we have it safe and down pat. Sometimes we do. Then there are other times when we are proven to have imperfect plans.

The obvious logic in this whole mess is to say forthrightly to one another that we must learn from this not to be foolhardy in putting up another metropolis in the very same location that could be vulnerable to more mayhem in a short time to come? In a long time to come? In some time to come? Whatever, it’s not worth the gamble.

It’s the same toss of the dice in California. It makes no sense to me to build a house on the side of a potential mudslide. People do it. They take pictures of their grand homes and send them all over the place. They brag on their chances. And then calamity hits.

They go back and ask for the same mudslide spill all over again. I say that when they walk into the fan another time, they deserve every shredding they get. It’s just not logical, and if Americans pride themselves on anything, it’s that they are so downright logical. Not so.

US House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) says the same thing. He told the Daily Herald in a Chicago suburb that “’it doesn’t make sense to me. And it’s a question that certainly we should ask.’” That answer was to the question whether or not New Orleans should be resurrected on the same spot.

“Infeasibility of Rebuilding New Orleans”. Pure Energy Systems. 23 Sept. 2005 – The river is moving away from the city. The city is sinking because of its weight, because no upbuilding by new muck for many decades, because of being cut off from the fresh water, because it is sliding off a cliff (the Continental Shelf), and because the Oil and Gas Industry is extracting oil out from under it. It is a city that for all intents and purposes is now Sea domain. Spend the money on developing alternative energy solutions instead.

[…]A wise evaluation of the facts tells us that the horrendously expensive project he has proposed is a fool’s errand. The city is doomed. There is absolutely no hope for it in the long term. Emotionally pleasing as it may be, rebuilding New Orleans prophesies an even worse disaster than what we have just seen. Hurricanes are only a small part of the threats destroying the city.

Joan Hough. “The Case Against Rebuilding New Orleans”. Georgia Heritage Council. – the Army Corps of Engineers in the middle 20th century was charged with protecting N.O. from floods. The Corps took defensive measures to keep the river and N.O.’s canals confined to defined pathways. These measures did serve to prevent many floods, but, also, prevented the movement of sediments in to build up the areas that were growing lower and lower. As a result the land sank while the defenses were being repeatedly raised and strengthened.

No matter the admirable intentions of the engineers, the defenses were never designed to protect NO against a direct hit by a category five hurricane or by the eye’s landfall east of the city in a category four.

We should not forget that the level of the Gulf, itself, has begun its inevitable rise, which, in the estimate of the scientific community, will reach possibly to three feet and will rise more and more rapidly as time passes.

If rebuilt, what is in New Orleans’ future?

New Orleans, no matter what, will no longer exist in 100 years or even sooner.

Andrew C. Revkin. “New Orleans: Still Inevitable, and Impossible?”. 2 Sept. 2008 – The question is, when do humans hold the line, and when do they back off, in the face of inevitable disasters? New Orleans, a city largely below sea level, will at some point face a storm that will be perfect — perfectly destructive, that is. It will be something like the 1969 category-5 Hurricane Camille, but on a track 10 or 15 miles further to the west. I don’t wish for it, but it is as inevitable as the chance of hitting snake eyes with enough dice rolls, and the destruction dice may well be getting increasingly loaded, both by rising sea levels and — possibly — warming seas.