Congress to New Orleans: Give Up on Some Parts of City

Congress urged Louisiana officials Tuesday to identify portions of New Orleans and the state that are high-risk areas for future flooding and perhaps should not be rebuilt.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told House members at a hearing that he has formed a commission to identify low-lying areas that could be flooded easily by future hurricanes.

Also, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said by a video teleconference from Baton Rouge that she has named a state commission to study other areas along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast that may not be recommended for rebuilding. The commission will make land-use recommendations in future months, she said.

New Orleans had flooding after Hurricane Katrina in August and Hurricane Rita in September.

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the transportation and infrastructure subcommittee on economic development and emergency management, recalled severe flooding in the Midwest in 1993 that prompted some communities to use federal funding to relocate to higher ground.

“Rebuilding New Orleans will be a massive, complicated matter,” Shuster said. “It should be federally supported … but fiscally responsible.”

Several government and community leaders from New Orleans said the top priorities are stabilizing the levees and providing new housing so that businesses and workers will return in larger numbers.

Tourism formerly was the top industry in and around New Orleans, employing 85,000 and attracting about $5 billion a year in visitor spending, according to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Now, New Orleans’s tourism is suffering like New York City’s was after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Towers in 2001.

Blanco said the hurricane damage and evacuation of many businesses and residents has left the state with a $1.5 billion revenue shortfall. Besides seeking massive federal assistance, she has called for a special session of the state legislature on Nov. 6.

Insurance companies are not covering the majority of the hurricane damage, claiming it was caused by flooding rather than wind damage. Nagin estimated that perhaps one-fifth of the property damage in New Orleans is being covered by insurance.

The Port of New Orleans, fourth largest in the country by total tonnage, needs more than $1 billion to recover from hurricane damage, said Gary LaGrange, president of the port authority.

Wynton Marsalis, an internationally acclaimed musician originally from New Orleans who now lives in New York, appeared at the hearing with Lt. Gov. Mitchell Landrieu to emphasize that music and entertainment is a huge part of the history and appeal of New Orleans.

“I can assure you the people of New Orleans want to come back,” Marsalis said. “I can’t tell you how many phone calls I’ve had. We need to give a clear signal that we’re going to do more than just pay lip service and give the money to somebody who is going to waste it.”