Saturday, October 14, 2006

Katrina, Professor Houck, and Speed Bumps

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

The Tulane Law Review just completed a highly successful and fascinating symposium "Hurricane Katrina: Reshaping the Legal Landscape of the Gulf South."  One of the treats was the chance to spend a couple days with uber-blogger Jim Chen, whose presentation on urban planning issues in post-Katrina New Orleans is posted over at Jurisdynamics.

One of the windfall (sorry) benefits of coming to Tulane is the honor of sharing a suite with Professor Oliver Houck, who was one of the three presenters on the environmental panel (with Richard Lazarus of Georgetown and Daniel Farber of Boalt Hall).    Professor Houck embodies the kind of passion and vision that, whether or not you agree with him about everything (and he's certainly persuaded me on the environmental issues around land loss in Louisiana), inspire our students and bring honor to our profession.  Not to mention, as he demonstrated last night at Mulate's, he does a hell of a Texas two-step

One of my prized possessions now is an autographed copy of the just published Volume 19 of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal which contains his essay "Can We Save New Orleans?"  Get it and read it. This is not your father's law review article.  Here's a taste:

It is Tuesday afternoon and we don't know a thing.  The storm has blown through, some trees are down, poles, wires, pieces of roof.  The only station we can get on the radio is a call-in and they begin Oh Jerry I've Always Loved Your Show and then they say something about water coming up to the front steps.  I go stand outside.  A couple comes down the street with plastic bags in both hands, full of clothes, picking their way over the branches.  I say, just making conversation, where's the water?  He says, its about four blocks up.  Then she says, and there's a body in it, shot through the head.  Then he says, and they ain't coming to pick him up.  Then I say to Lisa, ok, you win, I think we'd better go.

* * *

We have also know that the coastal marshes act just like a levee, only a flat one.  They knock down storm surges, and over the 80-some miles between New Orleans and the Gulf that amounts to the height of a tall man, 6 feet or more.  That's a lot of free levee.  All we had to do is nurture it and leave it alone.  Instead, of course, we starved the marshes from the main River and then started cutting them up with canals.  The combination was devastating.

And lest you think Professor Houck is a johnny-come-lately to this issue, see Oliver A. Houck, "Landloss in Coastal Louisiana: Causes, Consequences, and Remedies," 58 Tul. L. Rev. 3 (1983).

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