The Corner

Levees Again

Read this report from NBC News last night:

LISA MYERS reporting:

It’s called the Mardi Gras Fountain, and its unveiling was celebrated this year in typical New Orleans style. The cost? Two point four million dollars paid by the Orleans Levee Board, the state agency whose main job is to protect the levees surrounding New Orleans. The same levees that failed after Katrina hit.

Mr. BILLY NUNGESSER (Former Levee Board President): They misspent the money, so any dollar they wasted was a dollar that would have went to the levees.

MYERS: Billy Nungesser, a former top Republican official, was once president of the Levee Board, and says he lost his job because he targeted wasteful spending.

Mr. NUNGESSER: A cesspool of politics, that’s all it was: provide jobs for people, and state senators and, you know, contracts–giving out contracts.

MYERS: In fact, NBC News has uncovered a pattern of what critics call questionable spending practices by the Levee Board, a board which at one point was accused by a state inspector general of “a long-standing and continuing disregard of the public interest.” Beyond the fountain, there’s $15 million spent on two overpasses that helped gamblers get to Bally’s riverboat casino, critics tried and failed to put some of that money into flood protection. Forty-five thousand dollars for private investigators to dig up dirt on this radio host and board critic, then another $45,000 to settle after he sued.

Unidentified Man: They hired a private eye for nine months to find something to–to make me look whacko, to make me look crazy or bad.

MYERS: Critics charged for years the board has paid more attention to marinas, gambling, and business than to maintaining the levees. Example, of 11 construction projects now on the board’s Web site, only two are related to flood control.

Mr. JAMES HUEY (Levee Board President): I will assure you that you will find that all of our money was appropriately expended.

MYERS: Levee Board president Jim Huey says money for the levees comes from a different account than money for business activities, and that part of the board’s job is providing recreational opportunities. And despite the catastrophic flooding, Huey says…

Mr. HUEY: As far as the overall flood protection system, it’s intact. It’s there today. It worked. In 239 miles of levees, 152 floodgates, canals throughout this entire city, there was only two areas.

MYERS: But those two critical areas where major canals, and their collapse contributed to hundreds of deaths and widespread destruction. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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