Thursday, December 14, 2006

Increased Destruction

There’s a scientific consensus - for whatever that's worth - that wetlands mitigate the effects of hurricanes. In an eerily prophetic 2001 article on New Orleans’ vulnerability to hurricanes, Scientific American emphasized the needs to restore coastal marshes:

A year from now another 25 to 30 square miles of delta marsh--an area the size of Manhattan--will have vanished. An acre disappears every 24 minutes. Each loss gives a storm surge a clearer path to wash over the delta and pour into the bowl, trapping one million people inside and another million in surrounding communities. Extensive evacuation would be impossible because the surging water would cut off the few escape routes.
After Katrina hit, calls for restoration grew more strident:
"We should not countenance another acre of coastal wetlands loss anywhere," said Jim Tripp, an environmental activist who serves on Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco's Advisory Commission on Coastal Restoration and Conservation. "It's foolhardy."
None of this impressed the Bush Administration, which reacts to common sense and scientific evidence in pretty much the same way that the average warblogger reacts to the sight of a military recruiting center.

Needless to say, they have a better idea:
The latest plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) would allow increased destruction of wetlands in the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. Under this new plan, developers would be able to destroy five acres of wetland per project without public input, thus threatening flood storage capacity, drinking water quality and aquatic ecosystems....

In an effort to promote re-construction, the Corps would let developers self-certify their compliance, as well as make decisions as to whether a wetland is “low quality,” meriting even less protection. Additionally, the limited safeguards that the Corps proposes in the plan are unenforceable.
In other news, thousands of the poorest refugees are still stuck in FEMA trailers, and hundreds of accused criminals find themselves in a situation that sounds rather...familiar:
In October 2005, less than two months after Hurricane Katrina struck, Pedro Parra-Sanchez was arrested for allegedly stabbing a man with a broken bottle during a fight. With the city's prison damaged by flooding, he was taken to a makeshift jail at the Greyhound bus station, then transferred to a correctional facility about 70 miles away, and later to a prison in southwest Louisiana.

That's where Parra-Sanchez sat for more than a year — never seeing a lawyer or setting foot in a courtroom. At the time of the fight, he had been in New Orleans only six days: He'd left his family in Bakersfield, Calif., and come to help with the storm cleanup effort.

By law, the district attorney should have brought Parra-Sanchez to court to formally charge him within 60 days. Instead, "he disappeared," said Pamela R. Metzger, director of Tulane University's Criminal Law Clinic.
All of which serves as a reminder that Katrina's real death toll will never be known:
"I'm telling you, all the way, it was Katrina. It just broke his heart," said Joann Bowers, a social worker at the Grace Living Centers nursing home. "You really can die of a broken heart. I don't care what anyone says."

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