NEW ORLEANS —
Many locals remain uneasy, even though Turner's agency is a welcome replacement for local levee boards that were previously derided.
"It's scary," said C. Ray Bergeron, owner of Fleur De Lis Car Care, a service station in the Lakeview neighborhood where water rose to rooftops after levees collapsed during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Before Katrina, Bergeron said the local levee boards were complacent. "They told everybody everything was fine, 'oh yeah, it's fine. Let's go have martinis and lunch.'"
After Katrina, the locally run levee boards that oversaw the area's defenses were vilified, and quickly replaced by the regional levee district run by Turner.
Congressional investigations found the old Orleans Levee Board more interested in managing a casino license and two marinas than looking after levees. Though the Army Corps of Engineers had responsibility for annual levee inspections, the local levee boards were responsible for maintenance. Still, the boards spent millions of dollars on a fountain and overpasses rather than on levee protection. And there was confusion over who was responsible for managing the fragmented levee system, U.S. Senate investigations revealed.
Still, experts generally agree the old levee board's failings did not cause the levees to collapse during Katrina. Poor levee designs by the corps and the sheer strength of Katrina get the lion's share of the blame.
Since the Flood Control Act of 1936, the Army Corps has given local or state authorities oversight of water-control projects, whether earthen levees in the Midwest or beach walls in New England.
"That's been the eternal problem with flood-protection systems," said Thomas Wolff, an engineer at Michigan State University. "You build something very good and then give it to local interests who are not as well-funded."