Nearly nine years have passed since Hurricane Katrina laid waste to four-fifths of New Orleans, prompting the city’s residents to join hands to demand more from a feckless and indifferent government.
One turbocharged civic effort was led by Ruthie Frierson, a real estate agent and grandmother, who pulled together a coalition that washed away a bloated network of parish levee boards and replaced them with professionally run flood protection authorities shielded from political influence.
Who can forget the legions of red-clad women who gathered 53,000 signatures in less than a month, invaded Baton Rouge and strong-armed legislators to value protection over patronage?
All of that seems like distant history now, as legislators are carving up the reforms of 2006 and restoring the pre-eminence of the political class in flood protection.
Last week, a state Senate panel approved a measure that would allow Gov. Bobby Jindal to remove flood authority members who violate state law or “public policy.”
The vote was an insult to members of the flood protection authorities and to the leaders of the nominating committees charged with recruiting professionals to serve on them.
It was a crude reaction to the decision by one of the new agencies, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority — East, to launch a lawsuit in 2013 against 97 energy companies for their role in degrading Louisiana’s shrinking coast.
We have said before that the flood authority failed the public by plotting its lawsuit behind closed doors and passing up the chance to solicit proposals from lawyers before signing a deal giving a group of law firms as much as a 32.5 percent cut of the action.
But dismantling the reforms is a disproportionate reaction to that error.
Powerful energy interests want to neuter the east bank flood authority, but SB79 by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, won’t solve all of their problems because Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes have filed similar lawsuits.
The lawsuits have blossomed because the Jindal administration, which has admitted that energy companies share some blame for Louisiana’s wetlands loss, has been sitting on the sideline. Letting individual jurisdictions carry the torch is inferior to a statewide resolution because local leaders will seek to protect their own constituents, but hurricanes are indifferent about which parish their floodwaters damage.
Louisiana depends on energy employment, and with better leadership, the state and the industry could craft a solution that would preserve the coastline and the businesses where our citizens work, cutting out the lawyers and ensuring that every dollar is dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable region in the United States.
But if the Senate and House knuckle under and approve SB79, the political class will regain control of flood protection in the New Orleans area and all those women in red will have wasted their time.