Monday, May 7, 2007

New Orleans' Inconvenient Truth

For The Children Literacy Program
May 3, 2007
New Orleans, La.

Family and Friends--

The people in room 213 have what you want in lawmakers.

Passion. Clarity of thought. Action.

It’s too bad they’re in the fifth grade.

At Banneker Elementary, students are penning letters to Louisiana Congressman Bobby Jindal about the daily erosion of the Louisiana wetlands, which serve as a natural protection from hurricanes and tropical storms for New Orleans.

“I think that we need the wetlands because it slows down the hurricanes that are coming our way,” 11-year-old Alvin says. “We don’t want to have the Gulf of Mexico to be right next to us.”

Ten-year-old Thaddeus wants Coastal Erosion and its threat to be a 2008 Presidential issue.

Dear Senator Barack Obama,

“I don’t want the Gulf of Mexico to be in the Ninth Ward because that is where I’m from,” he wrote.

“I was here for the hurricane and I live in the lower ninth ward and I had to swim in 22-feet of water.

I lost my step-little-sister in the flood. My little sister was only four-years-old.

We lost everything. See, this is why we need to save the wetlands.”

The hour before, the AmeriCorps team had a discussion/yelling contest about Coastal Erosion using New Orleans'
Times -Picayune
writers Bob Marshall and
Mark Schleifstein’s three part series, “LAST CHANCE: The Fight to Save a Disappearing Coast” as a reference.

Marshall and Schleifstein say that wetlands the size of three football fields are lost every day. What was once a 70 mile buffer for New Orleans from the Gulf of Mexico is now 30 miles. By 2040, at current rates, New Orleans will be a coastal city according to experts.

They say we have 10 years to fix the current erosion dilemma before it passes the point of no return.

“We’ll just have to put up a huge floodwall,” AmeriCorps member Jeff Swartz said intentionally mimicking the "laissez le bon temps rouler" attitude often used to describe New Orleanians.

“After reading LAST CHANCE,” another said “I was wondering why we are rebuilding in the low-lying 10 years will this all be for naught?”

Michael Pizzolatto, our AmeriCorps supervisor at Tulane and life-long Louisianan stopped the conversation. He had the “I have something to say and you all better listen” face.

All over the country pundits and critics of New Orleans say not to rebuild. They say it’s too dangerous. But only 50
percent of
New Orleans is below sea level, he said.

“What about Miami?" The entire city is only three feet above sea level at it's highest point with no natural hurricane protection, he said.

When they say not to rebuild New Orleans, pundits conveniently forget or do not know that New Orleans ports are the life-force in American exports and imports.

Do they say, “The largest port tonnage-wise is between New Orleans and Baton Rouge?”

Or, “Twenty-eight percent of the US Energy supply comes from SE Louisiana?”

“No,” he said with one of those “I’ve been frustrated by this for a long time” looks.

The AmeriCorps team talked about the Tennessee Valley Authority that was a part of FDR’s New Deal. How in the 1930s without the luxury of 21st century technology, but with massive man power and post-World War Era dollars solved major ecological problems including flooding and erosion.

“But we’re in a war,” another AmeriCorpsian said.

To stop Coastal Erosion and block the Gulf of Mexico from moving in as New Orleans’ new next door neighbor, a serious federal commitment is needed.

We’re talking “How much do they want?” numbers.

One-hundred billion dollars would be a good start. If not, we can always build that big wall.

It would be a shame to see New Orleans' youth lose their homes in another storm.

"Can you please give us the money to fix the wetlands?" Alvin asked.



To view LAST CHANCE: The Fight to Save a Disappearing Coast, a Three-Part Series in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, click here:

Erosion images by Ted Jackson of the Times-Picayune.