Thursday, February 09, 2006

The big thieves hang the little ones*
Bill to Reform New Orleans Levees Approved

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- A panel of lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday that would put the state in charge of the levee system in and around New Orleans, but opponents vowed to fight its final passage.

The Senate Transportation Committee endorsed the amendment to the state constitution to meet a congressional requirement that Louisiana take over control of the levees before it can receive funding for a $12 million flood-control study. If adopted, it would mark a significant change from the current system in which more than a dozen local boards manage and inspect the levees.

But some lawmakers pledged to oppose the bill when it is considered by the full Senate.

"The bill is not going to pass in its current fashion," Democratic Sen. Robert Adley said. "There's just no way…"

Critics complain the boards are fiefdoms of nepotism, incompetence and corruption. They blame board members for failing to properly inspect the levees, leading to the failures that left the city submerged in floodwaters during Hurricane Katrina.

Opponents in the Senate said the proposal would protect New Orleans at the expense of surrounding parishes. Others complained they did not want the state meddling in their districts, and some lawmakers defended the existing levee boards as their only hope against future storms…

Sen. Heulette "Clo" Fontenot told supporters they were being used as political pawns by Gov. Kathleen Blanco's administration, which has urged passage of the bill.

"You're being taken for a ride," said Fontenot, a Republican who referred to the proposal as "a political football between the state of Louisiana and our congressional delegation."

Although the levees are largely federal projects, they are maintained by local boards of political appointees. The new, single board backed by Blanco would have experts on hydrology and engineering.

* - Czech Proverb

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