Louisiana editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Courier of Houma on Congress extending the National Flood Insurance Program:
The good news is that the U.S. Congress was able - just barely - to extend the National Flood Insurance Program with a last-minute bill.
The bad news is that the extension does nothing to attack the underlying causes of the program’s problems.
It has a massive amount of debt, around $25 billion - the result of huge payouts following past storms.
But there are viable solutions.
Banks and mortgage companies could be forced to do more to ensure that borrowers who are required to carry flood insurance actually do so.
That step alone would make allow it to draw premium payments from a much larger pool of policy holders, increasing the amount of money flowing into the program.
Another easy improvement would be reducing the lucrative fees paid to the insurance companies that write the flood-insurance policies but carry none of the risk associated with the coverage.
These are good, common sense reforms that would achieve a more fiscally sound system without imposing unduly steep price increases on policy holders who depend on the coverage to protect their largest investments.
So far, though, they have not gained any traction in Congress. Perhaps the coming four months of the extension will allow coastal lawmakers - though we are not the only people who rely on federally subsidized flood insurance - to work with their colleagues to craft legislation that will set the program on sound financial footing.
It would be a real shame if, four months from now, we are looking once again at an imminent lapse of the program, a possibility that could throw our real estate market into turmoil.
Without the national program, people and companies would be unable to complete many real estate transactions. In 2010, when the program did lapse for about a month, about 40,000 property sales were affected.
There is some real pushback from some members of Congress who see the program as a subsidized perk for the rich, sinking in debt and in dire need of reform or elimination.
Maybe there is some room for changes that would change that image while maintaining most homeowners’ ability to use the coverage.
In any event, little long-term good has come from a series of short-term extensions. While they have kept the vital program going, they have not spurred the kind of urgent action that will be needed to save it.
Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.
The Town Talk of Alexandria on erosion of the Red River levee:
What’s dumber than a box of rocks? How about a bureaucratic mess that prevents getting a barge of rocks to fix a small but growing problem before it becomes a major problem.
That’s the case with what is happening with erosion of the Pineville side of the Red River levee that could ultimately lead to the collapse of Riverside Drive, the road that leads to Forts Randolph and Buhlow historic site.
Pineville resident Mike Tudor first saw the danger spot on the levee in Pineville two years ago while driving over the Gillis Long Bridge from Alexandria. “Water was rushing by the piers (on the bridge), creating whirlpools, and you could see the whirlpools go over the rock and hit the bank,” Tudor said. “I saw a chunk (of the levee) fall off. You don’t need to be an engineer to see the problem there.”
Since then, engineers have confirmed there is an issue. Sen. Bill Cassidy reached out to the Army Corps of Engineers to ask about the situation. Their reply noted “The Corps believes that the current bank erosion issue is not creating an immediate threat to the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway Navigation Project itself and the Project is functioning as designed. However, it has been determined that the Alexandria front dike is causing increased erosion on the opposite bank (Pineville) near Riverside Drive.”
In short, barge traffic along the river is fine, but Riverside Drive could get real wet real soon. The fix should be simple, just add rocks. And it briefly looked like the solution was coming when a barge of rocks appeared early last month. But rather than being used to fix the issue threatening Riverside Drive, those rocks were used to address a potential navigation issue a few hundred yards away.
Officials explain the Corps of Engineers can fix the problem, but the funds have not been allocated. And apparently the account that was used to pay for the rocks used for the July repair to the channel couldn’t be used to buy rocks for the levee repair.
One would think that if saving money was a goal, they would have done both things at once. Wouldn’t it have been more economical to bring enough rock for both projects all at one time in a single trip than to do the projects — located just a few yards apart — separately? And, even more importantly, won’t it be cheaper for the government to fix the issue now rather than waiting until the erosion gets so bad Riverside Drive becomes simply river? It seems to us that will cost a whole lot more to fix than a barge of rocks.
The Corps of Engineers say they have the capacity to fix the issue next year if the project is funded. We encourage our representatives in Washington to keep pushing for funding and a fix as soon as possible — preferably before Riverside Drive is washed away.
We’re reminded of what our state leaders kept saying about finding a solution to the fiscal cliff — “It shouldn’t be this hard.” Neither should this.
The Advocate on lawsuits against the energy industry for damages to Louisiana’s coast:
In rejecting an attempt to consolidate some 40 lawsuits against the energy industry for damages to Louisiana’s coast, a panel of federal judges has advanced the latest chapter in what promises to be a long legal saga concerning the state’s fragile wetlands.
Regardless of who prevails in the courtroom, the prospect of complex environmental questions playing out in multiple courtrooms doesn’t seem like victory to us.
In fact, it feels more like defeat. The plaintiffs, which involve five coastal parishes, are seeking relief in the courts because state leaders, over several generations, have failed to advance a comprehensive solution to the state’s land loss that includes all the key stakeholders. In the absence of resourceful and courageous political leadership, this issue has, by default, ended up in the courts, which can be pretty blunt instruments for enacting public policy.
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal had worked to derail similar litigation against the energy industry, pointing to a political solution as a better alternative. But Jindal didn’t really move the ball on such a grand bargain, nor has his successor, John Bel Edwards. Edwards had tried to nudge coastal parishes into jumping on the lawsuit wagon, a potential boon to the trial lawyers who helped him get elected.
Louisiana’s coastland has been disappearing for years, starved of replenishing sediment by levees that limit the sweep of the Mississippi River as it flows toward the Gulf of Mexico. In years past, oil and gas operations accelerated the coast’s decline by weakening the local ecology. Rising sea levels have exacerbated the problem, too.
It’s a complicated crisis, and the legal system will now have a hand in determining specific degrees of culpability among the players.
But that could take years, with a big chunk of any potential financial settlement going to the trial lawyers. That’s not the best way to make the coast and its communities more resilient.
With any luck, the lawsuits will create momentum for a global settlement of environmental claims — something more strategic than the current piecemeal litigation that cannot help but produce a fragmented result.
In the meantime, as the lawyers litigate and the judges deliberate, the coastline of Louisiana continues to sink.