In the wake of the Great Flood of 2016, questions abound. How long will the recovery take? What could the state and federal entities have done differently? Who’s the blame? How can we keep this from happening again?
The first question has no easy answer: local and state officials await tax collection results; businesses that are open look to stay that way, while some are still trying to get everything put back together; and, finally, some residents in the flooded areas of East Baton Rouge, Livingston, and Ascension Parishes are getting back into their homes.
Many families aren’t there yet and, to some degree, quite a few are simply abandoning their homes.
It’s a bridge that must be crossed, eventually, but for the most part recovery is occuring in the flooded areas and life continues to go on.
The answer to the other questions on the minds of Louisianians isn’t so simple.
What could the state and federal entities have done differently? The answer is it doesn’t matter - that rabbit hole can be traversed for as long as any person cares to go down it, and there will be no end.
How do we know that? Well, because of the City of Walker’s fight to settle the business of “who’s to blame?”
Walker and now, basically, every governmental entity in Livingston Parish has hired a law firm to sue the State of Louisiana, the Department of Transportation and Development, and a few engineering firms who each had a little something to do with the barrier wall on I-12.
The problem with suing the state - and its subsidiaries - revolves around the notion of “sovereign.” A group can win a suit against the state or, in this case DOTD, but Louisiana has every right to either not pay, or ship the request off to the House Appropriations Committee.
The Committee has to approve this payment, which then gets added to the budget, which must be approved... at this point, the rabbit hole has consumed the payment, which probably won’t be distributed.
And, in any case, both the State and DOTD have held their hands up saying things like “we had to” and “not our fault.”
So, as mentioned, the firm got smart and included the engineering firms - non-sovereign entities - in the suit. The law firm’s goal is the engineers’ insurance money, and any cash needed to cover the difference if the insurance can’t fill the gap - could put a firm or two under, but the crux of the case is that the engineers cut corners by not cutting drainage holes in the wall.
Seems simple enough, and in most past cases the group to go to in this event would be engineers.
However, there’s a new sheriff in town to handle Louisiana’s flood issues - hydrologists.
Hydrology is the study of how, and where, water will flow while taking into account ecological and topographical factors.
Based on that definition, it seems like a great plan to bring this new group of scientists into the fold to help determine the future of Louisiana’s flood control and drainage systems.
In fact, one must wonder why this group wasn’t more involved already - especially since the group suing the engineering firms used hydrological studies from Rice University as the cornerstone of their suit.
To assume that engineers designing models didn’t consult a hydrologist during their work would be silly; most hydrologists perform pre-construction ecological studies before projects in Louisiana even begin, but the question remains as to why, suddenly, hydrologists are being put on the same pedestal as engineers.
According to a recent quote by the Amite River Basin Commission’s contracted hydrologist, Bob Jacobsen, it’s time for Louisiana to move forward with better models and get away from the “100” and “500” year projections, focusing more on where the water will flow when it breaks the river’s banks, due to natural land formations and human construction.
Clearly, more focus is being placed on the planning of projects and creating better parameters for the engineers, who design the plans. That’s good, to a degree, but there’s also the problem of being stuck in a state of “forever planning” which has killed - or severly delayed - several infrastructure projects in the past.
There’s nothing wrong with revising the way projects are designed and executed. Unfortunately some had to live through life before such standards were met.
However, there is another scenario that must be considered. Is this another group looking to take a larger chunk out of the government dole, and recent events have given them the open door to walk through?
Time will tell, but it will sure be interesting watching those engineering firms work with hydrologists and their newfound power - especially after it was a hydrological study that gave the Walker suit against engineers legs.