New Orleans Remains At Risk for Flooding, NPR Tell Me More

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: And we’re going to continue our conversation about flood risk in New Orleans with Monique Harden. She’s an environmental and community activist in New Orleans and she joins us from member station WWNO. Monique, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. MONIQUE HARDEN (Environmental and Community Activist): Thanks for having me on the show, Michel.

MARTIN: How do you think this report will influence the debate about which neighborhoods should be rebuilt?

Ms. HARDEN: Well, unfortunately, I think this report serves to keep people in a sense of limbo because it’s incomplete. Congress has authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to do a substantial upgrade to the levee system that should be completed by the year 2011. What the Army Corps of Engineers has released yesterday doesn’t include projected flood risks that would occur after that upgrade work is done. So what we have is flooding that took place before Katrina, the flooding that they project would take place after they’ve done a few band-aid kind of repairs, but we don’t know what the flood risk will be after the 2011 upgrades are done to the levee system.

MARTIN: So you don’t feel better off in any way? You don’t feel that you’re further ahead with information than you were before the report came out?

Ms. HARDEN: No, I really don’t, and especially when you look at much of the areas where people are struggling to come back and where some have been able to return. They look virtually identical after, you know, where we are in the phase of Corps work in terms of flood risk.

MARTIN: Hey, have you looked at your neighborhood?

Ms. HARDEN: Yeah.

MARTIN: What does the report say about your neighborhood?
My neighborhood is a part – as it’s sectioned up, it’s called OM-5 by the Army Corps of Engineers, and it’s the uptown midtown – uptown mid-city Broadmoor section of New Orleans. And where I can approximate my specific neighborhood in this section of town, we would still flood.


Ms. HARDEN: And – yeah. And so, again, which is why it’s important to see what improvements, if any, can happen with regards to reducing or eliminating the potential for flooding after the 2011 upgrades. And not having that information from the Corps doesn’t really create a situation where you can feel like you can make decisions with certainty and have some confidence in, you know, the future of – or have certainty about the future of the city. We’re still in this limbo of we know we’re going to flood, we know things haven’t improved, and we all – because of love and relationships and the unique culture of the city – we’re just going to take the risk of coming back and reworking and rebuilding. But we haven’t gotten any assurance from government on so many levels. The flood protection is just one of the most significant things that we’ve been counting and looking for the government to be responsive to.

MARTIN: Monique, what do you think that city leaders should do with this information?

Ms. HARDEN: Well, I think city leaders should be demanding the information of flood risks following the 2011 upgrade work that the Congress has authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to do. In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers hasn’t even provided all of the maps for all of the affected areas in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area.

MARTIN: Okay. But if it took two years to get this, for whatever reason, and, you know, you may or may not buy Mr. Link’s arguments about why it took this long. But if it took two years to get this information, what should people do in the interim before they get the additional information that they need?

Ms. HARDEN: Well, right now – sure. Right now, the Army Corps of Engineers is saying that the information on the risk of flooding after the 2011 levee system upgrades will be available in a few weeks. And we really need our city leaders to be there, dogging and pursuing that that gets done, you know, in a few weeks. You know, we can’t let this, you know, continue to lag on because this does impact the decisions folks are making about, you know, coming back or deciding not to come back.

MARTIN: Okay. Well thanks, Monique. And, you know, keep us posted.

Ms. HARDEN: Sure. Can I just add one thing?

MARTIN: Very briefly.

Ms. HARDEN: Real quickly. The problem that we have here is not just the Army Corps of Engineers, but it’s really a lack of any federal law that protects our right to return to our communities.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, we should talk about that.

Ms. HARDEN: Yes.
MARTIN: Okay. All right. Monique Harden is a New Orleans community activist and the co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. She joined us from member station WWNO in New Orleans. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. HARDEN: Thank you.