As I mentioned last week, colder weather was due, and as my friend Keith Davis said, "it is now about the same temperature here as in Upper Michigan in July." Even here, the colder weather means it is easier to get in that Christmas mood. It has been just over 3 months since Katrina washed through New Orleans, wreaking havoc with saints and sinners alike. In Update #35 I described our first trip back into the city as follows:
As the chasm between the "old city" near the river and the "new city" built on swampland towards the lake continues to grow, I can at least report that in the neighborhoods by the river, there is no way your eye can wander in which you cannot see Christmas decorations. To be sure, they are fewer and far between than in years past, but in a city that reveres celebration, it is good to see them nonetheless.
No matter which way your eyes wandered, in any direction and for any distance, you saw significant damage.
The debris piles are becoming fewer and fewer, and they get picked up faster now, although to an outsider's eye they would still be considered abundant, the Neutral Grounds have, for the most been purged of the piles of debris and abandoned cars.
We had another post-Katrina cookout this past Thursday. The primary objective of this event was to "get rid" of the Turkey stock we made from the Deep-Fried Turkey's we did on Thanksgiving Day. Both Janis and Jason did a great job, and Jason taught Janis how to make the best Roux in 10 minutes or less. As it turns out, it was also Lia Iverson's birthday, so the entire event turned into a birthday bash for her.
We also stopped by our favorite produce stand in the area, George's Produce. We first met George and Chanel(his wife) when we were helping WWOZ radio out with their hospitality tent at Jazz Fest. They lost everything due to Katrina they had 10 feet of water in their home. But they are bringing the produce stand back, and we bought a bunch of Mustard Greens to cook.
We also had deep-fried Chicken wings. For years, we have been attempting to make wings as good or better as those sold at The Bulldog here in New Orleans. I mentioned in Update #30, we came close while exiled in Nashville. Close but no cigar. On Thanksgiving we decided to make one of the Turkey's spicier than the others. Both Jason and I thought it would make an excellent base for wing sauce. And it did.
We made two batches, one mild and one kicked up a couple of notches. There is absolutely nothing better in the world than the natural high you can get when you kick your endorphins into high gear. We had many people who thought they were floating on cloud nine. It's a good thing we had just bought a new gallon of milk. Several people needed it. We'll play some more with the recipe next year. We are getting closer to the World's Best Hot Wings here, but not quite there yet. I'd say what we have rival those at the Bulldog, however.
The Forgotten City
And tonight I also offer this pledge of the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again.
- George W. Bush, Speaking from Jackson Square in New Orleans, September 15, 2005
I have never been a fan of the current George Bush, although I did like his daddy. But if there was ever a time to send the "Republican Guard" a message, this would be it. The current administration is simply not keeping its promises. To be sure, there were plenty of mistakes made at all levels of government and I am not prone to espousing a political viewpoint in public but this is getting ridiculous:
We are at a point where our recovery and renewal efforts are stalled because of inaction in Washington, D.C., and the delay has created uncertainty that is having very negative effects on our recovery and rebuilding.
- Mississippi' Governor Haley Barbour, December 7, 2005
You know it's bad when one of Bush's staunchest supporters (Gov. Barbour) speaks up. Look, it doesn't matter whether this is done by intent or ineptness. The effect is still the same. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Wednesday that Bush was actively involved in discussions on how to house people who lost their homes as well as whether to fund rebuilding the levee system that is designed to protect New Orleans.
Whether to fund rebuilding levee system? Not to mention what needs to be done to reclaim lost wetlands that help reduce the strength of an incoming storm. Here's how it works: the more land you have between you and a hurricane, the less its strength will be when it gets to you. Wetlands absorb wind-driven high waters (storm surge). For every 2.7 mile wide stretch of wetlands, a storm's surge is diminished by about 1 foot.
Over the thousands of years that preceded the settlement of New Orleans, approximately 5 million acres of marsh and swamp gradually accumulated due to the sediments carried by the Mississippi River. There are about 3 million acres remaining, and over the past 100 years alone, 1 million acres of those wetlands have disappeared, and the rate is accelerating.
It's not just about the levees. First, take a look at these alarming environmental statistics.
It is estimated that Louisiana is losing 25-35 square miles per year. An amount of land about the size of Manhattan. Can't comprehend that? How about this: land the size of a football field disappears every 15 minutes!
New Orleans is not just about great food, jazz music, and Mardi Gras. If that's all there were, there would still be a compelling cultural argument for saving it. But, admittedly, if it doesn't hit your pocketbook in Wisconsin, New England, Chicago, California, etc., it is a little hard to justify.
It's about food and energy, and that does hit your pocketbook.
Let's take a look at how Southern Louisiana, and the Port of New Orleans in particular, impacts every American citizen, no matter where they live:
13% of all oil produced in this country comes ashore from the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) through a 48-inch diameter pipe to the Cloverly Salt Dome in Lafourche Parish (southwest of New Orleans). This pipe carries 1,000 barrels of crude oil per minute! If it were to break, the resulting oil spill could amount to 2.5 million gallons per hour (dwarfing the Exxon Valdez, which "only" spilled 11 million gallons total).
If you look at the statistics, it would seem that California, then Louisiana are the biggest oil producing states, followed by Texas. But most of Louisiana's oil production happens outside the three-mile limit accounted for by the statistics. Ignoring that limit finds that 80% of the entire country's offshore production flows through Louisiana for processing and distribution.
Indeed, you all felt the effect of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma on gas prices.
Near Erath, Louisiana 5 interstate and 23 intrastate pipelines come together to form what is called the "Henry Hub." These pipelines send a daily average of 750 million cubic feet of gas to Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, New York, and all points in between. If you cook with gas, and you live east of the Mississippi River (and many points just west of it), you use natural gas harvested from the Gulf of Mexico and piped through Louisiana.
Something else happens at the Henry Hub. Buried in one of the 10 inch trunk line pipes is a special gauge that meters all the gas coming into and flowing out of the Henry Hub. The readings set the future price of gas, which is a commodity not unlike grains and pork bellies. If the gas you use flows through the Henry Hub, then your gas bill is determined in Erath, which sits just five feet above sea level!
We did this to ourselves, so we have to fix it
The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) is largely responsible for the flooding that took place in the Lower 9th ward of New Orleans. This is a 76 mile canal that was dredged out of the marshland in the 1950's by the Army Corps of Engineers. The intent was to allow container ships to travel a straight line from the Gulf to New Orleans, rather than having to spend 10 hours winding up the Mississippi River. The problem is, storm surge from a hurricane travels that same straight line and has several times in the past 4 decades.
The MRGO was originally dredged to 500 feet wide and 36 feet deep. Erosion from storms has increased its width to 2000 feet in most places. To be fair, the corps now realizes this dredging was a mistake from an environmental standpoint, and they have taken steps in recent years to reduce its width. But the reality is, it doesn't even need to be there. The container ships for which it was created have grown so large their draft exceeds the 36 foot depth of the canal, which means they are forced up the Mississippi River anyway.
After Hurricane Georges in 1998, the Corps spent $35 million clearing away the silt it blew in. That calculates to $48,000 for each of the 730 ships that used it that year. Imagine if that money could be used for rebuilding New Orleans or the wetlands instead!
Need more reasons?
New Orleans' economic impact extends far beyond the seafood, gas, and oil industries. It's Port is the busiest in the world, and the only deep water port served by six class one railroads.
Economically, the cost of rebuilding New Orleans pales in comparison to the increased cost of importing these goods elsewhere. These goods travel up and down the Mississippi, which is the cheapest transportation thruway in the US. Unless you don't mind your coffee, and all the products that use steel and rubber increasing substantially in cost, you need New Orleans and its port functioning. Prior to Katrina, maritime activity within the Port of New Orleans alone was responsible for more than 107,000 jobs, $2 billion in earnings, $13 billion in spending and $231 million in taxes statewide.
70 percent of Louisiana's 4 million people live in coastal areas. 90 percent live in areas less than 3 feet above sea level. Approximately 2 million live in the New Orleans metropolitan area alone, if you include the "cottage" communities of Covington, Mandeville, Abita Springs, and Slidell across the lake. You can't take that many people and simply move them.
The federal government spends $100 million every year restoring the beaches of New Jersey for sun worshipers and property owners, yet only $40 million for the entire state of Louisiana. Last week, I discussed the Catch-22 in trying to get people back to the city. Many people who actually have the ability to return do not want to do so until there is a plan for protecting their property when the next "big one" heads this way. I don't blame them, but the problem is not just the levees it's the levees and the wetlands. If we spent more money restoring the wetlands, perhaps we wouldn't need to spend as much money on the levees.
- The kitchen at Coop's Place is still not open (see Updates #48 and #49), and the natives (both employees and customers) are getting restless. Coop's has gone from one of the most frequented places in the French Quarter to one of the least. There can be no doubt the attraction there is the wonderful food that comes out of that kitchen. With any luck, it should be open sometime next week.
- The "Homeless for the Holidays" train display at Lakeside Mall gained a reprieve last week. The mall management asked that it be removed because they had complaints it was in poor taste. A survey was taken, and only 13% considered it inappropriate, while 87% overwhelmingly stated it was humorous and should stay. I hope to get pictures of it next week.
- The state of Louisiana has declared December 16-18 tax free, and will charge no sales tax on shopping during those days.
- Tulane, New Orleans' largest single employer, announced they are laying off 230 faculty members and cutting many programs. They are facing a $200 million deficit (in their otherwise $500 million annual budget). In an interesting turn, enrolled students will now be required to complete some community service work in order to graduate from the university
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