12 December 2005

Levee Board, One Voice/Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs . . .

Over the past several years in New Orleans there have been many grassroots efforts addressing particular proposed projects. A major part of these grassroot campaigns are mass-produced political campaign-like signs with a slogan denouncing or supporting the particular project. Recent examples include opposition to "highrise" apartment/condos Uptown and in Old Jefferson, opposition to the Wal Mart/Lower Garden District-St. Thomas redevelopment, and opposition to a zoning variance allowing Bruno's to build a new and improved Bruno's Bar/Restaurant on Maple Street in Carrollton. In some cases, organized campaigns on both sides of an issue produce the signs--like a political campaign for Politician A or Politician B. Some examples of this are signs for the opposition and support of the expansion (involving demolition of non-blighted buildings) of Stuart Hall School and both types of signs for the proposed expansion of Tulane University at the Uptown Square site at the foot of Broadway. I would consider myself a stringent preservationist--not only of our architecture but also for our culture, heritage, and way of life here in New Orleans. But even I have had protest fatigue in that it seemed that every project met opposition to the point where it seemed nothing could ever get done. But then I realize that this is actually a good thing as it proves a significant segment of our population cares so very much what happens to New Orleans and that protecting it from becoming like any other place is of the utmost highest priority.

Post-KTMB, signs have had a different role. Need someone to gut your house?? Need someone to hang sheetrock or repair your roof? Did you hear that Raising Cane's is open on Clearview? Do you need some adult books or DVDs? Do you want to hire illegal non-English speaking aliens to do your work cheap? These signs are everywhere: on poles or medians or at intersections. Everywhere. Over the past couple of weeks, however, a new non-commercial sign has appeared: Levee Board 1 Voice--with a website address at the bottom (http://citizensfor1greaterneworleans.com/). In addition to producing the signs/posting a website, the effort is in the process of a petition drive. As I was doing yard work on Saturday, a neighbor of mine canvassing the neighborhood asked me to sign their petition and later in the day at Uptown Langenstein's I was approached again as the effort was setup at the entrance of the store. They seem to be galvanized and determined and the signs are beginning to pop up around the City. Their website lists how each state legislator (and provides contact information for each) voted on the failed levee board consolidation bill a few weeks ago.

Under the current setup by the state, there are multiple levee boards based on geography/jurisdiction. Each has its own board all under appointment from the Governor. For instance, there is the Orleans Parish Levee Board and the East Jefferson Parish Levee Board. Both of these shares a boundary that happens to be a water body susceptible to the Lake Pontchartrain storm surge therefore requiring flood protection through walls and/or levees. This common boundary is the now-infamous 17th Street Canal. Under the current and long standing arrangement, each side of the canal is maintained, inspected, and patrolled by two independent entities with as far as I know absolutely no required communication between the two. The Levee Board One Voice campaign seeks to eliminate the multiple state levee boards and create one all encompassing board. The current setup breeds corruption (a levee board appointment is a plum deal) and seems to not be the most efficient or effective way to oversee such an essential thing as the flood protection of Southern Louisiana.

Ultimately, however, the New Orleans area Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain flood protection system is the responsibility of the federal government (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and not the state or local government because of federal legislation following the 1927 Mississippi River Flood and Hurricane Betsy in 1965. The existing levee boards are meant to play a support role to the federal government. Unlike Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee (who voiced his opposition on the radio last week--with valid concerns however) I believe that a consolidation of the levee boards would probably be a good idea. Actually, the important aspect of this is to eliminate the political patronage appointees and limit the appointees to those that have professional backgrounds in relevant things towards flood protection such as engineering, hydrology, geology, etc.


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