Since its creation in 1775, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has constructed 11,000 miles of navigation channels, built 8,500 miles of levees and floodwalls, raised 500 dams, and deepened more than 140 ports and harbors. As is the case for most Americans, my very life depends on the abilities of the Corps. In a recent editorial in The New York Times, Alex Prud’homme wrote about how over a year ago the Corps admitted that 122 levees around the country are at risk of failure. Prud’homme says, “These levees were designed poorly and built of whatever material was close at hand clay, soft soil, sand mixed with seashells. Tree roots, shifting stones and rodents weaken them further. The land the berms are built on often subsides, while the waters they restrain constantly probe for weak spots.” That’s exactly what happened in New Orleans, where the commander of the Corps admitted a “design failure” led to the breach of the 17th Street Canal. Still vulnerable to a heavy rain, we are all more than eager to support measures to repair these levees as quickly and safely as possible. To accommodate the urgency of our situation, federal, state and local agencies have created an alternative process to the normal NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act). Unfortunately, these alternatives to the law that requires federal agencies to study the environmental effects of their actions through an interdisciplinary environmental planning process are not all New Orleans needs. To repair these levees, the city requires enough dirt to fill 20 Superdomes (for those of you not familiar with the Saints’ home that’s 30,590 Olympic-size pools of clay)! One GRN member at the recent New Orleans Home and Garden Show suggested that the Corps go into the Dome after a monster truck rally and get the dirt. Unfortunately, it does not appear as if the Corps has any connections with the Monster Truck circuit, and is instead, entering devastated communities like St. Bernard Parish to dig 20-foot deep “borrow” pits. A St. Bernard resident asked that the Corps devise an alternative that does not call for “cannibalizing the very land the levees are to protect.” At the Gulf Restoration Network, we are working very hard to ensure that neither sound science nor real public participation are sacrificed within this process. Matt Rota, Director of our Water Resources Program, has endured countless Corps’ meetings, while other staff and interns have tracked the process extensively. Yesterday, along with other environmental group representatives, we spoke with Horst Greczmiel, the Associate Director for NEPA Oversight from the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality about some of our concerns. Today, at 4:30 pm, we will meet with Mr. Greczmiel and representatives from the Corps at the USACE New Orleans district headquarters at 7400 Leake Avenue. This meeting is open to the public, so although this is short notice, we ask that GRN members attend and participate. We are dedicated to protecting our best natural storm defenses our wetlands and will seek a commitment that neither the Corps nor contractors hired by the Corps will enter wetlands for borrow. We represent concerned citizens of the Gulf Coast and will work to ensure their meaningful involvement in the hurricane protection planning process. And finally we are devoted to a healthy Gulf and ensuring that the agency responsible for its protection and restoration is more relevant, ready, responsive, and reliable.Megan Milliken is a Natural Storm Defenses Intern for the Gulf Restoration Network.

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