Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Orleans Headline Round-up

Here's a round-up of important Times-Picayune stories from the last month. Since this is a long post, and you may not have time to read the whole thing I've arranged the stories in what I believe to be order of importance. The first four are the biggest. I've provided a brief summary of each story, along with the link if you want to read the whole thing - but even I didn't read the whole thing on many of the stories. If you just read this whole post without clicking on any links, you'll get the general idea/big picture.

Major Stories

Good News: Mayor Nagin has finally, over a year later, selected a N.O. recovery chief (finally) - Edward Blakely, who at least has experience and thus may be a good pick: he helped recovery planning after the Bay Area earthquake and the 1991 Oakland wildfire. (Dec. 5)

Bad News: The Road Home program is the official homeowner rebuilding grant process, and is the worst example of government incompetence and inefficiency I have ever heard of or seen. The grants and rewards it gives out are not NEAR what people need - for instance, $550 for over $200,000 in damage (Dec. 14); only ninety-seven applicants out of 90,000 have received checks (Dec 31); and the program is incredibly slow to fix errors (Dec. 29). The Road Home contractors have been blasted by the St. Bernard Parish government (Dec. 20), the federal recovery czar, (Dec. 21), and citizens (Dec. 25). But not everyone is ticked (Dec 29), and I guess we've got to give equal time to that .001%. The program is trying to do better, but to little avail. (By the way, the link for 97 out of 90,000 is a Reuters piece giving an overview on the whole recovery picture in New Orleans.)

Mixed: Levee governance will become more streamlined, efficient, professional, and accountable as a regional board that crosses parish lines takes over, abolishing the old system of smaller, local parish boards. (Jan. 1) Unfortunately, the Army Corps of Engineers is unsure if it will have the money it needs to upgrade/fix all levees. (Dec. 29)

Mixed: FEMA is giving $74.5 million for "alternative housing" to Louisiana, but $280.8 million to Mississippi. I call this mixed news because that's great for MS, but unfair to LA.(Dec. 22) LA officials are mightily and justifiably ticked. (Jan. 2) But is it really any surprise? Can you really expect anything else from FEMA?

Slightly Less Major But Still Important Stories

Good: It's not every day - heck, it's not every month - that you find a good story about FEMA, but they are speeding up a number of top-priority projects. Yay! I wonder if on-the-ground results will be as good as they are on paper. (Dec. 13)

Good: The St. Charles line streetcars are running again! This is a highly visible sign of recovery with lots of symbolism. (Dec. 20)

Bad: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) successfully blocked a big hurricane protection bill, despite please from then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Louisiana's two Senators. I've never had a very high opinion of Tom Coburn, and this isn't much of a surprise. (Dec. 12)

Bad: Landlords of one-four dwellings haven't gotten any of the $869 million earmarked for them yet, and they won't for months to come. No surprise - their program is run by the same people who run Road Home. Despicable. It's almost enough to make this New Deal Democrat become a government-hating conservative.

Mixed: Insurance issues are a complex mess, too complicated for me to follow along with or understand, which is why I don't rank it higher on my list. If it's a subject you're interested in, there are stories here (Dec.12), here (Dec. 13), here (Dec. 14), here (Dec. 15), here (Dec. 16), and here (Jan. 1).

Mixed: Army Corps of Engineers contractors are done picking up debris in Slidell, LA (Dec. 5). I call it mixed because that means most has been picked up and progress is made, but some debris remains that citizens will now have to pay to have removed. Elsewhere, free FEMA debris removal is ending, but Gov. Blanco will use part of the state's budget surplus so cash-strapped cities and parishes don't have to pay. (Dec. 23)

Big but not Big Enough to be "Major" Stories

Good: The Army Corps of Engineers has called for the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) to be closed (Dec 18), and scientists have called even louder (Dec. 22). Mister Go is a canal running through New Orleans that should have never been built in the first place and caused much of the flooding and storm surge.

Bad: Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), the corrupt, soon-to-be-indicted, yet-still-re-elected New Orleans Congressman, will not be given back his seat on the all-important House Ways and Means Committee (Dec. 13). This means the city will not have the Congressional clout it needs at a time it needs it most, thanks to the voters' terrible decision to re-elect Jefferson. Told you so. I've heard Jefferson will be replaced on the committee by another member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), who I have met and greatly admire - but as wonderful as that may be for the country, it does New Orleans little good.

Good: An oil company is drilling for oil right in the middle of Chalmette, LA, giving residents lots of hope for an economic boom. Chalmette, in St. Bernard Parish, was completely under water. (Dec. 18) This'll be a bigger story if they actually find oil.

Good: The city is helping, via a $15 million program, elderly and low-income homeowners to comply with a law requiring residents to "gut, secure and maintain flood-ravaged real estates." The program should gut about 5,000 homes by the end of next year. (Dec. 14)

Good: The LRA is making a $74 million down payment so that LSU can build a teaching hospital. In a city with only two fully functioning hospitals and 125,000 residents without health insurance, this is a big deal. (Dec. 15)

Bad: Twenty-nine New Orleans intersections are still without functioning traffic lights (Dec. 18). I put this story so low on the list because it's old news to anyone who's driven around the Lower Ninth or New Orleans East.

Happy New Year, everybody! Thanks for reading and for caring!

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