On the occasion of the 5th anniversary of Katrina, it is important that we take a critical look at where we stand this long after the central Gulf Coast suffered the nation’s worst natural disaster. A look back over the past five years gives us a perspective we’ve not had since the storm and that will help guide our actions from this point forward. Everyone who lives on the Gulf Coast has a stake in our recovery and we all stand to benefit from this review. We have to start by recognizing our successes while being realistic about the challenges we still face.
One of the most positive developments is that the New Orleans school system is undergoing a much-needed transformation. Just last week, FEMA announced it will award the Orleans Parish School Board and the Recovery School District a $1.8 billion lump sum for Katrina-related damages. That is a huge step forward for our recovery. A single installment, instead of a series of partial payments, will let us take a broad and integrated approach to rebuilding our school system rather than going one step at time in mismatched phases and fragments. It will also allow us to provide the most up-to-date classrooms and other school facilities for our children. Every student deserves a quality education. We must remain vigilant to make sure these reforms provide our children the best education possible.
Our recovery is marked with many other bright spots as well. New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish have become a hotbed for young entrepreneurs and startup businesses. That’s been a welcome boost to the local economy. We’re building a flood protection system that’s much better than before but frankly, it’s still not good enough. Our communities deserve the strongest levees, the best canals and the most functional pumps that can be made anywhere. We need to stay alert to the need for improvements, upgrades and additions that will ensure that nothing like what happened five years ago will ever happen again.
Some problems left over from Katrina are getting less attention than others. Many of our people are still living in far-flung parts of the country with no idea when they can come home. Parts of New Orleans, particularly in the 9th Ward and New Orleans East, as well as Jefferson Parish, are in need of rehabilitation and not yet ready to welcome anyone home. We must also get crime under control. It’s important that we focus on how to get the criminals off the streets while addressing the root causes of crime and end the violent criminal epidemic that has plagued our streets since 2005. We still have to get our hospitals and medical services back to fully functional levels. The City of New Orleans recently announced it will purchase the abandoned Methodist Hospital in New Orleans East and reopen it- most likely under a new name in 2013. That is a step in the right direction but we still have a long way to go before our people have the level of care they need.
To complicate matters, we are still dealing with the fallout from the BP oil spill that began with the April 20th explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, killing 11 workers. The nearly three-month gusher from BP’s broken seafloor well head caused all kinds of social, emotional and economic upheaval in my District at a time when our people were beginning to make real headway in our recovery from Katrina. The spill temporarily disrupted many of our key industries, such as commercial fishing and oil and gas. Fortunately, the federal government has now reopened all but 20 percent of federal waters to commercial fishing. We are still urging the Administration to lift the moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling so we can avoid hurting the petroleum industry any more than it has already suffered and keep jobs in Louisiana.
I am deeply appreciative to the American people, my colleagues in Congress and the Obama Administration, particularly FEMA Administrator William Craig Fugate and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan for their understanding, support and cooperation during a difficult five years. Without their assistance, we would have achieved nowhere near the amount of progress we have made. While there is much work left to do, I know we can count on our friends in Washington to be there for us. After all, Louisiana’s coast is America’s coast, and all that belongs to Louisiana—its history, its future, its culture and way of life—are uniquely American and irreplaceable.