Saturday, September 17, 2005

1997 - Congress ordered FEMA to develop evacuation plan for New Orleans

Oh, this is nice but not too surprising. According to this AP report, Congress gave $500,000 to FEMA with orders to develop a comprehensive evacuation plan for New Orleans. So, what happened? It appears that FEMA, under Clinton appointee James Witt, sent the money along to the Louisiana state government's emergency planning commission who then passed the money on to the Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission which used it to fund a study of future options for the 24-mile bridge over Lake Pontchartrain.

Congress, two years later in 1998 and apparently frustrated that the evac study had not been made, clarified its intentions. Congress ordered FEMA to produce "an evacuation plan for a Category 3 or greater storm, a levee break, flood or other natural disaster for the New Orleans area." That didn't happen, either.

As to why not and who authorized the $500,000 to be spent on a study of the future of the causeway, well, as usual, nobody knows.

Billy Tauzin, former Rep., R-La., says,
"They never used it for the intended purpose. The whole intent was to give them resources so they could plan an evacuation of New Orleans that anticipated that a very large number of people would never leave."
Butch Kinerney, FEMA spokesman, said that:
The $500,000 that Congress appropriated for the evacuation plan went to a commission that studied future options for the 24-mile bridge over Lake Pontchartrain.
Robert Lambert, the general manager for the bridge expressway:
"In general it was an overview of all the things we need to do for the causeway through 2016."

Lambert said he could not trace how or if FEMA money came to the commission.
Shelby LaSalle, a causeway consulting engineer who worked on the plan said that:
He could not trace how or if FEMA money came to the commission and that it would be "ludicrous" to consider his report an evacuation plan, although it had a transportation evacuation section, dated Dec. 19, 1997. "That part was tacked on mainly to promote the causeway for future designation as an official evacuation route"

"We didn't do anything for FEMA,"
Barry Scanlon, senior vice president in the consulting firm of former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, said that:
He believes the agency did what it needed when it gave the money to the state.

"FEMA received an earmark which it processed through to the state as instructed by Congress."
James Lee Witt who was head of FEMA at the time of both directives from Congress is now acting as a private consultant to Gov. Kathleen Blanco in Katrina's aftermath (possibly studying evacuation procedures).

Billy Tauzin, again:
"They gave it to the causeway commission? That's wacky"
Bob Livingston, former Rep., R-La., who was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee which controls the government's purse strings, said that:
He could not explain what happened either. "Do I wish the study had been made? Sure, but now that's by the boards. We're doing the best we can right now to repair and rebuild"
Mark Smith, spokesman for the Louisiana state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said,
"To the best of our knowledge we can find no information on this."
Yes, Billy Tauzin, wacky . . . and deadly.

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