Welcome back to Louisiana, President Biden.
Frankly, we were hoping not to see you again quite so soon, given that presidential visits this time of year generally coincide with the sort of catastrophic hurricanes that have been happening way too often lately. But we appreciate your attention, your quick major disaster declaration as Hurricane Ida carved a destructive path through our state, and your decision to deputize adviser Cedric Richmond as the White House’s point person on response and recovery, given his long record serving our area in Congress.
When you came through in May to pitch your $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, you focused on the dangers of failing to invest in public works. Nothing you said, though, gets the point across quite so powerfully as the second Category 4 storm to hit Louisiana in just over a year.
The good news is that the ambitious hurricane risk reduction system, put in place after Katrina hit metropolitan New Orleans, worked beautifully. Gov. John Bel Edwards acknowledged that it’s hard to think of silver linings after a catastrophe, but said it’s worth noting that “we don’t believe there was a single levee anywhere that actually breached, or failed.”
We’re thankful for that, but Ida also brought a reminder of all the other things that need shoring up.
So since you asked what we need, Mr. President, we’ve got some ideas.
Ida proved that the River Parishes need the same level of protection that the New Orleans area got. Construction has started on the long-awaited West Shore Lake Pontchartrain hurricane levee project, and we urge the federal government to show the same sense of urgency as it did when it built flood gates and other innovative defenses after Katrina.
Our people were already reeling from the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly those who were counting on this fall bringing the revival of the tourism economy. Now, thanks to power outages and the loss of sewer and water service in some areas, many will be also displaced for an extended period.
That costs money, and just like after Katrina, it would be great if the federal government could get cash into the hands of those who need it quickly. And please consider using your discretion to waive local matches for the cities and parishes that will be stretched thin cleaning up and getting services back on line.
And just as the levee collapses of 2005 focused attention on the need to upgrade flood protection, this year’s power failures should light a fire under the federal government to make sure power supplies can withstand increasingly severe weather events, whether they be hurricanes, freezes (remember Texas?), or fires. This applies to both fossil fuel and green energy sources. We’re glad that’s a focus of that infrastructure bill you came here to promote, along with investments in coastal restoration and environmental resilience to help minimize the effects of future Ida-like storms.
And while you’re here, please spare a thought for the people of Calcasieu Parish, who are still waiting for a supplemental appropriation for damage from Laura, the first in a series of disasters to strike the state’s southwestern corner since August of last year. Officials there want to use it to set up a permanent housing program, and Edwards said Wednesday that's the state's top priority for Ida survivors as well. So perhaps you and Congress could pair the two.
It would be a great way to remind the folks who feel forgotten after Laura — and to show all the Louisianans who found themselves in Ida’s path — that their country cares.