Lawmakers "Insulted" Levees Won't Be Improved - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Lawmakers "Insulted" Levees Won't Be Improved

We've seen three Category 5 hurricanes form this season, so why would the federal government spend more than a billion dollars to protect us from only a Category 3 storm? That's the question angry legislators were hurling Monday at the state capitol.

The quickest fix is to simply patch holes and make the levee system what it was before Hurricane Katrina hit. But legislators say that wasn't enough to protect us before -- what makes it different this time?

The latest images out of the flood-soaked Ninth Ward show the devastated area still soggy, still vulnerable. It sends shudders through those at the mercy of the same levee system elsewhere in the state, like Representative Karen St. Germain of Pierre Part.

She says, "We're surrounded in our area by levees. I ride from Morgan City to Iberville Parish, it's a levee, all the way to Ramah, and it's a levee. So how well are we protected? I don't really know."

Transportation Secretary Johnny Bradberry says the state is helping to investigate why the levees broke during Katrina, but it could be they did exactly what they were designed to do -- stand up to a Category 3 or weaker hurricane.

Bradberry told the tranportation committee, of the 208 miles of levees in Louisiana, 27 miles were weakened or breached during Hurricane Katrina.  That's 13 percent of our levees.

The Army Corps of Engineers is getting more than a billion dollars to repair those levees by the start of next year's hurricane season on June 1st. But the corps will only rebuild them the way they were, to withstand a Category 3 hurricane.

"Why aren't we working on 5 right now?" demands St. Germain. "Why should that have to be such a major request when it's common sense?!"

Bradberry explains, "Because you're not going to do Cat 5 reconstruction in a year. And so the plan is to bring you back to pre-storm condition. You can do that in a year."

Bradberry says bringing the state's entire 208 miles of levees to Category 5 status would take more like 20 years, and a lot more than a billion dollars. But St. Germain says let's at least get the ball rolling.

"In my eyes, it's an insult to go back to something that we just saw didn't work," she says.

DOTD Secretary Johnny Bradberry heads to Washington D.C. Tuesday to make the case for more money, not just to fortify our levees, but to rebuild and improve our roads. He's asking for $32 billion. That includes money for improvements in Baton Rouge, like widening I-10 and I-12, and creating a commuter rail system between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. But he says convincing Congress these improvements are necessities will be a challenge.

"I think they're sensitive to it. I haven't had any response to say 'we'll give you money' yet, that's what we're looking for. They're listening... it's a matter of what degree they'll appropriate money to the area."

Changes have already been made to adjust to the traffic, but permanent changes are tricky because Baton Rouge is not yet sure how much of the population is permanent.

Reporter:  Marie Centanni

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