26 February 2006

New Orleans and New, New Orleans

Ok, the French built New Orleans. That says it all, doesn't it?

The place sounds like the Castle from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

"Listen, lad. I've built this kingdom up from nothing. When I started here, all there was was swamp. The king said I was daft to build a castle in a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third one. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. An' that's what your gonna get, lad -- the strongest castle in these islands."
So, New Orleans is strategically situated at the mouth of the Mississippi for shipping and trans-shipping and commerce. And New Orleans has actually gotten things *worse* by the state getting the cut-off. You see, the mighty Mississippi is looking for a shorter route out of Louisiana (and who isn't?) and the Atchafalaya river was serving that need and it was slowly silting up along its old course. So the USACE made the cut-off, so that the Mississippi could not continue building the delta elsewhere. And so the wonderful silt continued to build up along its old path... and, perforce, compact the sediment under it, causing everything to continue sinking. Ever since it was built, New Orleans has been sinking, with parts of it now below water level by some six inches or so.

The wonderful mid- to late-20th century allowed for a system of embankments, dikes and drainage systems to be built to clear land and allow more building to go on in New Orleans. Which removed water from between the particles of silt, compacted them and, yes, sunk them further. Dry land!!!

Then modern high rises and concrete structures get added and... well, everything sinks a bit faster now.

So the system of flood control embankments, levees and such was put in during the 1960's and not rated above a Category 3 hurricane and not really well maintained by the city, either. But, it is a prosperous place, and more people came, which meant more land clearing, more building and... well... more sinking.

The entire flood control system, pumping system, levees, canals and such is put together as-needed over time, maintained with New Orleans élan, which mostly means looking at it once a year and shaking your heads in marvel and having a party. Sometimes in the reverse order. And, since the 1960's to mid-1990's was a quiescent time for hurricanes, nothing much ever happened and no one, NO ONE wanted to pay the billions of dollars necessary to get a real system of flood control in place.

Did I mention the city is sinking?

So here we sit with a disaster *still* on our hands and Baghdad looking better all the time. Of course it isn't sinking, either.

My idea at the time was to declare all of New Orleans and surrounding metro area a disaster area and memorial. Like other memorials in the US, it would have armed guards that would shoot intruders without warning.... condemn the land that is sinking, save a historical district in the French Quarter, which would be rescued as a visitor center and tourist stop. Allow the greatest science experiment of 'what happens to a modern city when it dies in a swamp?' to be run for generations to marvel at our stupidity.

And then let the Mississippi flow into the Atchafalaya. By lowering the water levels and letting the flow lessen and the deposition lessen... well, the city will sink *slower*. Actually, I had thought that if they wanted to actually stop the flood from rising, they could just have done that anyways. But as one engineer said back in the '70's: "Opening the cut-off is the easy part. Once the flow starts, the channel will deepen and I don't think you will ever close it again." But you could have immediately lessened the flooding and possibly have reversed it in outlying areas. It would not save the city of New Orleans, but would have made the disaster a bit less awful.

So, first, make it a National Memorial and Monument run by the Park Service. Then build a new city about 50 miles inland. So it would not matter how large a hurricane hits, it would not flood! Then build a high speed rail line between the tourist center and the New New Orleans. One road will allow controlled traffic, only, into the city. Everyone else gets shot on sight.

Second have the USACE make an all-weather survivable port away from the tourist center. Have *it* connected by a high speed rail line and controlled surface road so that *only* regulated traffic can go to/from the port. The city of New Orleans will have a *tourist* port for yachts and cruise vessels, but its port needs to be moved to the new head at the mouth of the Atchafalaya at some point... or perhaps a central facility between the two mouths. Someplace *safe* and regulated.

Third, keep the damn refineries and pipeline heads away from the tourist area and the port. So if a terrorist strike hits it cannot get a two-fer but has to go for individual attacks. Again, high speed rail and regulated surface transport.

That is it! New New Orleans serves as the central housing community for the port, tourist facility and petrocomplex heads. No unauthorized people are allowed upon the hallowed ground of destruction, containing the beloved bodies of those lost in the storm. Let the Federal Government determine for the insurance companies that they will pay in full to everyone in the disaster, and if the companies go under, then it is their own damn fault for insuring a city that is SINKING!

The scene cut from the Titanic: ship hits iceberg, people running around, save for one insurance salesman giving out policies for safe arrival....

Only the French would have gifted us a sinking city.

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