After Two Years, My Sink is Still Shiny

By Beacon Staff

Two years ago, my wife and kids went to Bozeman for the weekend to a book signing with the 15-yr-old author of Eragon (yes, it was a book before it was a movie).

It seemed like the perfect time for me to rip out an old, annoying two pan ceramic kitchen sink festooned with a leaky faucet, and replace it with a shiny new stainless steel sink / faucet.

I’ll never forget installing that sink. It took me all weekend. While I’m not the handiest guy around, installing a sink isn’t like rebuilding a short block Chevy. It shouldn’t take an entire weekend.

I have an excuse.

As I was removing and installing the sink, I was watching a large American coastal area get treated like one of Michael Vick’s dogs – first by Mother Nature, then a couple of days later by our government. Yep, Katrina.

I’m fortunate enough to have a Cajun friend in Louisiana who knows what’s going on behind the scenes. Having a born and raised Louisiana friend offers the privilege of looking at the Gulf Coast and New Orleans area through his eyes. For him, being this close is often too painful to bear. He can’t even take pictures in some areas. My friend was a college student at 16, studying petroleum engineering and finance. Not the stereotypical Cajun that Hollywood portrays.

While I was writing this, I asked him for a comment and a status report about Katrina, Rita and the recovery.

His comment:
The biggest thing I took away from the whole thing was the shock that our country would react politically to a humanitarian need. Or, should I say, our country wouldn’t react. I never thought our country would abandon our own people.

His status report:
Status wise … business is returning for the same reasons that New Orleans first came into being. It’s the perfect place for trade and commerce. It’s where all of the Middle East oil comes in and where much of our ocean-going grain and goods go out.

Families aren’t returning. There are few schools and few children. There were no schools open until the Catholic schools reopened. It took months for public schools to follow.

Soldiers still patrol the streets. Seeing people grabbed and quickly handcuffed by military personnel jumping out of Humvees in the middle of the day still happens.

Here’s some strong economic numbers that mirror what I’m seeing. New Orleans is hurt, the rest of Louisiana is getting an economic increase from New Orleans’ bad fortune.

Most telling is that the meeting was held at the LSU School of Dentistry because … it’s closed (it is supposed to reopen for the first time this week). Higher education, which was always an area of need in our state, is still lagging behind horribly.

Finding out a big picture status of the recovery requires some patience and a lot of web surfing.

The FEMA Katrina website ( http://www.fema.gov/hazard/hurricane/2005katrina/anniversary.shtm ) hasn’t been updated in over a year. There is a “weekly update” page on the FEMA site ( http://www.fema.gov/hazard/hurricane/2005katrina/weekly.shtm ). It’s a spreadsheet and graph that shows financial allocations to projects in the states, but it is of little use.

Visit the Louisiana Recovery Authority website ( http://lra.louisiana.gov/secondyear.html ) to get a status of the Louisiana portion of the recovery. The report has a bit of a “political feel” to it.

You can also see flood risk maps recently created by the Corps of Engineers at http://nolarisk.usace.army.mil/, which should be seasoned with a dash of http://www.levees.org/commission and http://www.levees.org/risk (in case you have family or friends in areas of risk similar to New Orleans).

So far, U.S. taxpayers have spent $10 billion on Katrina/Rita-related recovery in the first two years of the recovery. At an average daily cost of $177 million, that’s the equivalent of 58 days of Iraq war costs.

After digging around on various government websites, it isn’t hard to get the impression that there isn’t a single person or agency that really has a handle on the overall status of the recovery of the Gulf Coast, much less one that offers the ability to drill down and examine states, towns, or projects. Don’t bother searching house.gov or senate.gov. It’s barely on their radar judging from the information you can find there.

The impression you get from what info you can find is that two years later, sizable areas of a large American city and the nearby coastal and inland towns still resemble places like Beirut or Calcutta.

As a country, are we more concerned about American Idol or Michael Vick than we are about the people of the Gulf Coast? I hope not. It makes me wonder if this is what we’ll face here if Hungry Horse dam lets go. Or if fire season strips the towns along Flathead Lake, the Whitefish Range, the North Fork and Bad Rock Canyon of their forests and homes. Do we get “Good job, Brownie” and snipers too?

Every time I stand over that kitchen sink, as I did this morning while doing the breakfast dishes, I am reminded of that weekend.

My sink still looks like it did when I installed it two years ago.

For the most part, so does the Gulf Coast.

For that, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

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