September 29, 2008

Storm Prep in Rebuilding Necessary, N.O. Mayor Nagin Says

By Cohen, Ariella

New Orleans officials must take a stronger lead in protecting its infrastructure and buildings from future hurricanes, said the planner behind the city's forthcoming 20-year land-use master plan.

At the long-awaited launch of the citywide rezoning and planning initiative, planner David Dixon emphasized the need to "harden" city infrastructure against future hurricane threats. He said that without more storm-resistant power lines, buildings and sewerage systems, the city would face difficulties attracting the investment needed to carry out the ambitious visions mapped in the document.

"New Orleans is going to have to know more about its protection than anyone else and take the lead in asking for more protection," Dixon said. "The city is going to have to ask developers and everyone else to do what is needed to withstand the storms that were not the case 15 or 30 years ago."

The master plan, which will be done in tandem with a revised Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, will be the blueprint for the city's future growth and development. Unlike previous planning efforts, the development rules mapped in the document will be signed by Mayor C. Ray Nagin and carry the force of law. The legally binding plan is intended to eliminate the city's notoriously fickle land-use process and depoliticize decisions, an intended impact that has won support for the initiative from the development community.

Nagin indicated he agreed with Dixon that more needed to be done to make the city less vulnerable to hurricanes, though he did not offer any specific proposals for "hardening" the system beyond those that have already been introduced.

"We are armoring our levees, hardening our electrical service and creating backup system for our sewage and water," Nagin said. "There are already new building standards and we will probably adopt more."

Nagin also alluded to unhappiness with Entergy's failure to perform during Hurricane Gustav.

"We cannot have another event where 14 out of 15 transmission lines go down. That cannot happen again," he said.

The mayor acknowledged that the nation's ongoing financial meltdown compounded with the added risks that come with investing in a hurricane-prone region was likely to slow the redevelopment anticipated in the plan.

"The nervousness is going to be there (for investors)," he said. "You look at the bailout of the nation's largest insurance company, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Layer that on top of our hurricanes, which are a different animal than we have dealt with in the past, and you see the challenges facing us."

Credit: Ariella Cohen

(Copyright 2008 Dolan Media Newswires)

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