McCain Calls Louisiana Levee, Wetlands Projects ’Imperative’

Mon May 19, 2008 - Southeast Edition

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said April 24 it is time to stop studying how to build a costly Category 5 levee system and get working on it.

During a tour of New Orleans, McCain said building more robust levees and restoring the Mississippi River delta’s wetlands and barrier islands is imperative.

“We have to get the studies completed as quickly as possible and act as quickly as possible to cope with a Category 5 hurricane,” McCain said at a news conference in the Lower 9th Ward. “That still remains the greatest threat.”

After Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, Congress told the Army Corps of Engineers to perform an analysis on what it would take and cost to build a levee system to protect south Louisiana from the strongest hurricanes. The corps missed a December deadline to finish the report.

In a nod to Louisiana’s environmental community, McCain said restoring barrier islands and wetlands are as important as building levees.

“Friends, we all know the great buffer for a thousand years against a hurricane has been the barrier islands and the wetlands,” McCain said at a town hall-style meeting at Xavier University.

He said rising sea levels caused by climate change makes “preserving this great, God-given buffer” even more pressing.

Protecting south Louisiana from the biggest storms with levees and restored ecosystems would come with a hefty price tag. There is no official estimate, but scientists agree that it would cost tens of billions of dollars and rank as one of the most costly government public works undertakings ever.

McCain said the money could be found by prioritizing spending and stopping Congress from approving wasteful projects.

“Our Congress invested billions of dollars of your money in pork barrel and wasteful and unnecessary projects. The right kind of investment was not made here in the city of New Orleans,” McCain said.

McCain also said the Corps of Engineers needs to meet a goal of upgrading New Orleans’ by 2011.

“Obviously, every day that goes by without that protection being in place places the citizens of the 9th Ward and New Orleans in great danger,” he said.

On the Democratic side, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the two remaining presidential candidates, have made similar pledges to defend Louisiana against Category 5 hurricanes.

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