First we have the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the bumbling bunch often criticized for bungling the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Along with another federal agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, FEMA somehow allowed a bunch of formaldehyde-tainted mobile homes sold as scrap to instead turn up as human habitations near Grovetown and elsewhere.
And then we have yet another federal agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These are the folks who have been on the PR circuit lately trying to rebut criticism for their stewardship of Clarks Hill Lake levels.
So here we have a couple of agencies that lately have done little to inspire confidence. How do they build on that lack of success?
The tell the city of Augusta to spend a gozillion dollars to test a levee that never worked in the first place.
In some respects, the test-frenzy of the feds is understandable. They took a lot of heat for the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina, and now-by-God will make sure everybody's levees are in tip-top shape.
It would have been politically incorrect for FEMA and the Corps to have told the residents of New Orleans: "Your city is nearly 10 feet below sea level, and stays dry even under the best conditions only because of the levees surrounding it and the pumps that expel the water. You got hit by a Category 5 hurricane. What the heck did you expect - a sprinkler party?"
Instead, bowing to pressure from butt-covering politicians - sorry; that was redundant - FEMA and the Corps demand everyone recheck their levees. That includes Augusta, which is being told to "recertify" the pile of dirt that blocks the city's view of the Savannah River at a cost of $624,470.
Isn't this typical of the feds? One loon tries to set off a shoe-bomb on an airplane, and now everyone has to take off their shoes when they go through an airport.
That would work fine if terrorists were devoid of imagination: "Curses! The Americans have stopped us from making shoe bombs! We have no more destructive ideas! We must now go back to goat-tending!"
Likewise, a levee somewhere failed, so everyone has to check theirs. Period.
If Augusta's levee ever worked, recertifying it after another levee hundreds of miles away failed during a once-in-a-lifetime storm might make a little sense. Yet Augusta's levee does not work. Never has, never will.
The historical time line goes like this: Augusta floods; Augusta builds a levee to protect it from the rising Savannah River. Augusta floods again; Corps of Engineers builds Clarks Hill Dam, preventing river from rising. Augusta no longer floods.
You'd think the feds would have said, "Now that we have a dam, you don't need that levee any more."
Nope. Even as the Corps agreed to lower the flood plain for North Augusta to develop its riverfront, the feds not only insist that Augusta continue to block its view of the Savannah River - but that it "certify" a structure that doesn't work anyway!
This is like forcing businesses to maintain horse-hitching posts.
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver's response? "Give me liberty or give me death"? Not exactly: "Apparently we're going to have to do it."
No. They don't. They can tell the feds, "You folks don't have the common sense God gave a gnat. We aren't about to spend more than half a million dollars to 'certify' that pile of dirt. Go take a long walk off a short levee."
What's the worst that could happen? Lenders might - might! - force some property owners to buy flood insurance before letting them borrow money. If that's what the free market dictates, let it.
But the free market also dictates that worthless things don't survive. If we still had any respect for the free market, that levee would be gone - as would FEMA.
There's currently a nifty T-shirt fundraiser for Golden Harvest Food Bank, sporting a profile of the mayor with the phrase, "Do it, Deke."
Regarding this levee boondoggle? Don't do it, Deke.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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