Morning Report 9/3/05
Rotten to the Corps

In New Orleans, that is, while money for Corps of Engineers water projects floods into Iraq

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Eric Draper/White House

The money went thataway: Above, Louisiana senator David Vitter (left) and Corps of Engineers Colonel Richard Wagenaar (right) point in what looks like the general direction of Iraq as Bush and Governor Kathleen Blanco look on during a tour Friday of Metairie, Louisiana. Below, the Corps of Engineers' $100 million water project in Erbil, Iraq.

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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is mighty proud of its $100 million water project in Erbil, in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. But that's just one of its thousands of reconstruction projects in Iraq.

In contrast, the entire 2005 construction budget for all Corps of Engineers projects in its New Orleans District was $94.3 million.

You don't have to wade very deep into Corps of Engineers documents to see the Pentagon's outrageous diversion of funds for rebuilding Iraqi facilities damaged by our bombing — at the expense of desperately needed projects right here in America.

On August 31, the very day that Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, the new issue of the Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region Division (GRD) magazine, Essayons Forward, came out, celebrating billions of dollars' worth of reconstruction work.

The "Gulf Region Division," of course, refers to Iraq, not our own Gulf Coast.

On August 15, just two weeks before Katrina slammed into the U.S., the Pentagon boasted of spending $6.4 billion — so far — on 2,705 Corps of Engineers construction projects in Iraq, all but 200 of them started since June 2004. Much of the work to repair, replace, or build dams, berms, levees, power plants, police stations, hospitals, port facilities, oil pipelines, and so on, as I've noted, have been undertaken to repair damage we caused by our reckless invasion. More than 1,588 projects, valued at $1.6 billion, have been completed.

So let's celebrate the Erbil project, which the Corps of Engineers proudly promoted last December on the main Pentagon website:

    Work has begun on a $100 million water project that could bring 6,000 cubic meters of clean drinking water to the people of Erbil every hour starting the end of next year. The project, which will be built in multiple phases, includes a potable water treatment plant, an intermediate booster station, a storage tank and pipeline. The city has wanted a new plant for twenty years.

What about projects that are not only wanted but also desperately needed?

Earlier this summer, the Corps of Engineers grimly announced that the 2006 federal budget called for record-breaking cuts in its New Orleans District operations. As Deon Roberts of New Orleans City Business wrote on June 6:

    One of the hardest-hit areas of the New Orleans district's budget is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes. SELA's budget is being drained from $36.5 million awarded in 2005 to $10.4 million suggested for 2006 by the House of Representatives and the president.

    The project manager said there would be no contracts awarded with this $10.4 million, [Marcia] Demma[, chief of the Corps' Programs Management Branch] said.

    The construction portion of the Corps' budget would suffer if Congress doesn't add money. In 2005, the district received $94.3 million in federal dollars dedicated to construction. In 2006, the proposal is for $56 million.

    "It would be critical to this city if we had a $50 million construction budget compared with the past years," Demma said. "It would be horrible for the city, it would be horrible for contractors and for flood protection if this were the final number compared to recent years and what the city needs."

The White House certainly didn't spin the budget news that way. The Bush regime's 2006 budget proposal, in its "items of special interest to Louisiana," pointed to this morsel:

    $28 million for the Army Corps of Engineers to continue construction at and around the West Bank in New Orleans. This project will reduce the risk of damage from hurricanes, storms, and floods in the surrounding area.

Yes, I know, it's bizarre that this Louisiana project is actually called the "West Bank." But word play aside, here's how much regard the Bush regime showed Louisiana: The all-but-certain budget cuts prompted the Corps of Engineers' New Orleans office to announce a hiring freeze and the scrapping of flood-control projects. Roberts's June 6 story said:

    In fiscal year 2006, the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is bracing for a record $71.2 million reduction in federal funding.

    It would be the largest single-year funding loss ever for the New Orleans district, Corps officials said.

    "I've been here over 30 years and I've never seen this level of reduction," said Al Naomi, project manager for the New Orleans district. "I think part of the problem is it's not so much the reduction, it's the drastic reduction in one fiscal year. It's the immediacy of the reduction that I think is the hardest thing to adapt to.

    "There is an economic ripple effect, too. The cuts mean major hurricane and flood protection projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now."

Don't blame just the White House. Roberts added:

    The House of Representatives wants to cut the New Orleans district budget 21 percent to $272.4 million in 2006, down from $343.5 million in 2005. The House figure is about $20 million lower than the president's suggested $290.7 million budget. …

    [Sen. Mary] Landrieu[, D-New Orleans,] said the Bush administration is not making Corps of Engineers funding a priority.

    "I think it's extremely shortsighted," Landrieu said. "When the Corps of Engineers' budget is cut, Louisiana bleeds. These projects are literally life-and-death projects to the people of south Louisiana and they are [of] vital economic interest to the entire nation."

The cheery magazine of the Corps of Engineers' Iraq branch is produced at its HQ on Essayons Base (Saddam Hussein's former Republican Palace, now another kind of Republican palace deep in the heart of the Green Zone). It rips your heart out to see the fruits of individual Americans' good intentions, hard work, skill, and money poured into rebuilding Iraq — repairing damage we caused — with money diverted from the very same agency's projects in New Orleans.

Not to mention, of course, the rapid response to crises in Iraq while the poor people of New Orleans were neglected. George W. Bush pledged an immediate $10.5 billion for New Orleans. That doesn't quite match the $11 billion in reconstruction projects for Iraq the Corps of Engineers trumpets.

Back to the Corps of Engineers' magazine: A nice glossy publication, it carried a glowing profile by permanently embedded reporter Tom Clarkson of the GRD commander, Brigadier General William McCoy — a "nation builder," as the mag called him.

Here's what McCoy says in the August 31 issue of Essayons Forward about the many ways of helping people:

    Keenly sensitive to prioritization and proper utilization of multi-national forces reconstruction monies for all that needs to be done, he is also mindful that much has already — and is presently being — done. "We've completed over 2,500 projects so far. These range from the nearly 850 new or re-built schools through hundreds upon hundreds of electric generation plants and transmission facilities, water projects, health and dental clinics, police and fire stations, new roads, border forts, railroad stations, and hospitals."
Dennis Hastert's desires aside, wouldn't it be possible to do some of this work in our own Gulf region?

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