A Waiver for New Or­leans

The city has a new plan to build on higher ground, but it needs an­other push from Wash­ing­ton.

The Washington Post Sunday - - Outlook -

AF­TER MONTHS of false starts and a raft of in­co­her­ent plans, New Or­leans Mayor C. Ray Na­gin (D) an­nounced a re­de­vel­op­ment plan last week that might ac­tu­ally stand a chance of be­com­ing re­al­ity. Rather than pur­sue a blan­ket approach to re­viv­ing the city dev­as­tated by Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, the pro­posal tar­gets 17 ar­eas for di­rect in­vest­ment that Mr. Na­gin and oth­ers hope will spur private de­vel­op­ment. There’s one hitch: the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

The $1.1 bil­lion plan re­lies on bond­ing and state grants, but the big­gest share of the fi­nanc­ing de­pends on the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency waiv­ing a re­quire­ment that lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions in Louisiana sup­ply 10 per­cent of the funds for in­fra­struc­ture projects fi­nanced by FEMA. That would have the ef­fect of free­ing up $324 mil­lion that Mr. Na­gin and his renowned re­cov­ery chief, Ed Blakely, could lever­age to at­tract private dol­lars to the Cres­cent City. Not only that, the waiver would free New Or­leans from the bur­den­some red tape re­quired for ev­ery project that uses FEMA money. Putting in a new street­light gen­er­ates a sheaf of doc­u­ments that slows down rather than spurs the city’s re­birth.

So far, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion is not in­ter­ested. Since Wash­ing­ton in­cluded grants to cover the 10 per­cent lo­cal con­tri­bu­tion for projects in the latest $4.2 bil­lion al­lo­ca­tion to Louisiana, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials seem mys­ti­fied by the waiver clamor com­ing from Louisiana. Yet a waiver would al­low fed­eral funds now ear­marked for cov­er­ing the FEMA re­quire­ment to be put to bet­ter use fund­ing projects that would al­low New Or­leans to re­build on higher ground. The ex­emp­tion the state is seek­ing was granted to New York af­ter the at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to Florida af­ter Hur­ri­cane Andrew. A waiver has passed both houses of Congress, but it is tacked on to the sup­ple­men­tal spend­ing bill for Iraq and Afghanistan that Pres­i­dent Bush has promised to veto.

The 17 sites, spread through­out the city, rep­re­sent a wel­come will­ing­ness of Mr. Na­gin to pri­or­i­tize the city’s re­de­vel­op­ment ef­forts. The ex­tra com­mit­ment from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment could be the sig­nal that the private sec­tor is wait­ing for to make a firm com­mit­ment to New Or­leans. And it would al­low Mr. Bush to make good on his solemn vow that “this great city shall rise again.”

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