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September 14th, 2005 HENRY STERN | News Stories
 

For His Next Prediction...

New Orleans' destruction makes Earl Blumenauer a reluctant prophet.

     
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Earl Blumenauer
What would have happened if last September, Hurricane Ivan had veered 40 miles to the west, devastating the city of New Orleans? One likely scenario would have had a tsunami-like 30-foot wall of water hitting the city, causing thousands of deaths and $100 billion in damage.... Considering the reaction of the American public to the loss of a dozen people in the recent mud slides in California, it is hard to imagine what would happen if a disaster of that magnitude hit the United States. -Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., in a Jan. 26 speech on the floor of the U.S. House.

Tempting as it may be for Earl Blumenauer to say "I told you so" in Hurricane Katrina's wake, the Portland Democrat won't take that bait.

"Those words will never escape my lips," Blumenauer says.

In a sense, the congressman doesn't have to say another word. On top of forecasting catastrophe for New Orleans, he also polished his disaster-warning bona fides last year, when he steered a bill into law limiting repeat flood-insurance claims-over fierce resistance from lawmakers representing watery districts.

That track record gives the bow-tied wonk from the minority party, long one of the House's premier "smart-growth" experts, the spotlight when it comes to disaster.

"People are now appreciating what we're trying to do," Blumenauer says. "I think this had a searing effect."

In the last week, the congressional newspaper The Hill pointed to Blumenauer's prescience. And the conservative Wall Street Journal said the liberal Blumenauer was proven right when he fended off Louisiana lawmakers who called his flood-insurance bill an "assault" on their culture.

So, now that he has everybody's attention, what does Blumenauer think about New Orleans' future?

Rebuild the city, but do it smarter. For Blumenauer, that means a plan he says strikes the sweet spot between bulldozing New Orleans and blindly raising it up a few feet on landfill.

Blumenauer's vision for the Crescent City blends incentives for rebuilding homes in less hazardous areas, employing residents in the rebuilding, with converting parts of the city that aren't rebuilt into a memorial.

"This is the best opportunity America is going to have to do something right,'' Blumenauer says. "We're getting as close as we're going to get to a blank canvas.... This community can come back. It's just not going to come back in such a risky fashion."

 
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