There was an interesting op-ed in the Houston Chronicle today about the recent federal court decision in New Orleans against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The authors of Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow argue against so-called “economic development” projects designed at the expense of the environment. Good advice as the Corps considers the Trinity Toll Road:
At the center of the lawsuit is a shipping channel — the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, or “Mister Go.” New Orleans sits 120 river miles from the Gulf of Mexico, and Mister Go was intended to provide a 75-mile long channel, straight to the Gulf.
Building Mister Go was a massive effort, moving more dirt than did building the Panama Canal. Politicians called it the “key to the region’s economic future,” providing a busy outlet for commerce.
Local critics predicted that, instead, it would be an inlet for marsh-killing salt water….
Unfortunately, while the flood concerns were largely on-target, the economic claims were not. Mister Go never delivered the boon it promised. What it did deliver, with every high tide and every storm, was salt water. That killed plants in formerly healthy wetlands. Once the plants died, soil would slump into the channel, after which we taxpayers would pay to dredge it again….
In hindsight, it all seems implausible. Unfortunately, it’s not just plausible — it’s being repeated all across the country. New developments in California sit below sea level and atop fault lines. In Missouri, strip malls and industrial parks have paved over floodplains. In North Carolina, tax dollars help speculators build expensive homes on fragile barrier islands.
That’s how the Growth Machine works. Ignoring environmental warnings and promising great economic rewards, a small number of speculators push projects that usually don’t help the economy and that, in the most severe cases, can actually destroy lives, costing billions of dollars.
That’s also the real significance of the judge’s decision in New Orleans: When politicians support economic growth at the expense of the environmental systems that protect and support us, we need to know that they may be talking about a kind of growth that we probably can’t afford.
We owe it to ourselves to learn that lesson before we fall for the same empty promises again.