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Local inertia dooming recovery, report says
N.O. 'has no plan at the moment'
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
From staff reports

The lack of a comprehensive rebuilding plan and shortages of housing and labor are crippling New Orleans' recovery from Hurricane Katrina, while other communities in the Gulf Coast region are coping with a windfall of economic growth, according to a storm-impact study released today by independent researchers.

The first in a series of reports by the Rockefeller Institute of Government of the State University of New York and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana is critical of leadership in New Orleans for failing to articulate a plan for the future.

"New Orleans has no plan at the moment, and the excruciatingly slow pace of the recovery bears witness to that," PAR President Jim Brandt said. "What seems to make the difference is the ability of local officials to take clear, decisive steps to get the planning process under way as well as provide an opportunity for as many members of the public to participate as possible."

Communities out of range of the storm, including Baton Rouge and Jackson, Miss., have seen their economies grow sharply as a result of increased population and revenue, according to the study, "GulfGov Reports: One Year Later." Although eastern St. Tammany Parish was hit hard by Katrina, it too is among the communities that have experienced an economic surge since the storm.

The "hurricane economies" were created in different manners across the Gulf Coast.

"Some communities are experiencing an economic boom, while others are fighting to recover economically," Brandt said.

"The recovery of the most damaged communities has been slowed by the uncertainties surrounding federal plans to revise flood-elevation levels (for rebuilding), continuing disputes with insurance companies over damage coverage and the fact that the federal housing aid program is just now getting under way in Louisiana and Mississippi," Brandt said.

Housing and labor shortages cut across the region from Cameron Parish to Gulf Shores, Ala. "There are not enough workers to fill available jobs, nor is there adequate affordable housing to accommodate them," the report says.

Suggestions for future

The report is part of a three-year project just begun by the Rockefeller Institute and PAR with the help of a $900,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. The John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University and Jackson State University are partnering with the project, which includes a team of researchers focusing on 22 jurisdictions in the Gulf Coast region. Former Mississippi Gov. William Winter is the advisory committee chairman.

The goal of the reports is to provide a baseline analysis of how the storms changed these communities and to make recommendations for future action.

"The importance of a timely planning process cannot be overstated," said Dr. Richard Nathan, co-director of the Rockefeller Institute and the co-principal investigator on the project. "Without clear guidelines from community leaders about what areas will be rebuilt and when, many residents put off making a decision about whether to return, and the longer the delay, the more likely they are to stay where they are. That, in turn, has consequences for any community's long-term survival."

While a few communities have rebuilding plans in place, New Orleans "most notably, does not," the report says. Unless residents have specific information about how and where a community plans to rebuild, they will find it hard to make decisions about rebuilding, the report says.

'Two disasters'

"In the end, Katrina and Rita produced two disasters. The first was the immediate crisis created when the hurricanes made landfall," the report says. "The second was the difficulty various levels of government had in working together to respond to the crisis. This was -- and remains -- the more dangerous of the two because the inability to work well together has spilled over into the recovery efforts, with ordinary citizens caught in the middle.

"The long-term impact could be the haphazard rebuilding of the devastated communities, meaning mistakes will be repeated, segments of the population will be left out, and a rare opportunity to reshape a region for the better will be lost," the report says.

To see the report, visit