Louisiana Governor Creates New Hurricane Recovery Agency

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, October 18, 2005 (ENS) - Faced with the enormous task of rehabitating her shattered state, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Monday announced the creation of the Louisiana Recovery Authority as the guiding agency to lead the state's rebuilding efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The new agency will focus on key state issues such as housing, jobs, transportation, the environment, healthcare and education.

"The effort to restore our state requires a daring, yet realistic plan. A plan based on input from people in all walks of life. A plan created from the ground up. A plan driven by local needs. A plan inspired by innovation," said Governor Blanco. "We cannot simply re-create what the storms destroyed. We must make the new Louisiana smarter, safer and stronger."

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Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco swears in the Board of Directors for the Louisiana Recovery Authority Monday morning. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
The governor's office said today that in Louisiana 1.5 million people were displaced by the hurricanes, and 81,000 businesses were disrupted and are at risk.

Schools, universities, hospitals and transportation infrastructure has been damaged, destroyed or overwhelmed and there is "severe financial fallout" throughout the state.

At least 200,000 homes will have to be replaced, the governor's office said, and there is "massive environmental damage."

The U.S. Coast Guard says personnel from the multi-agency unified command are still assessing, investigating and cleaning six major and three medium oil spills in Southeast Louisiana, caused by damage to facilities after Hurricane Katrina struck the area. Some eight million gallons of oil were spilled, and 1.2 million gallons remain to be cleaned. Personnel are also investigating 122 minor pollution incidents throughout the area, also caused by Hurricane Katrina.

An in situ burn oil removal procedure was used at the Chevron Pipeline; Empire Facility, in Buras, Louisiana, to remove some of the more than 100 barrels of oil in a 47 acre marsh adjacent to the facility. The burn was chosen as the best environmental removal method to reduce impacts of oil in the sensitive habitat, as well as reduce impact to wildlife. More than 800 people are conducting cleanup operations at the Chevron facility.

Oil spills are not the only pollutant running into Louisiana waterways. New Orleans is dumping 26.1 million gallons of raw sewage into the Mississippi River every day, Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Mike McDaniel said.

The sewage is not processed as it is collected from toilets and drains, but it is diluted with water before flowing into the Mississippi River, according to McDaniel, who says tests show no dangerous levels of toxins in the water.

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U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, left, Governor Kathleen Blanco and General Russell Honore confer prior to a press conference on the evacuation plans set for Hurricane Rita. September 21, 2005. (Photo by Jocelyn Augustino courtesy FEMA)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted a six-month variance to allow the city to dump sewage into the river because Hurricane Katrina damaged the sewer system.

In New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has pumped the city dry of all floodwater. All of the city - except for the Ninth Ward - is now open for New Orleanians to return, check their homes and businesses, clean and repair, and begin to recover.

Tap water is safe to drink in much of the city, and electric power and gas services have been restored to about 40 percent of all New Orleans customers, including those who can accept service in the famous French Quarter, which was never under water.

In the French Quarter, St. Louis Cathedral has resumed worship services. Live music has been pouring into the streets from bars and clubs, some restaurants are offering limited service, and crowds of returned locals and recovery workers stationed in the city are beginning to frequent Bourbon Street.

To move plans for complete recovery along as quickly as possible, Governor Blanco has asked her Chief of Staff Andy Kopplin to head the new agency.

The governor appointed a 24 member Board of Directors to oversee the authority and to direct short and long term recovery plans. As advisors to the governor, the board will seek public input and will set benchmarks to gauge progress.

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Dr. Norman Francis addresses the newly formed Board of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
Governor Blanco appointed long-time president of Xavier University and respected New Orleans leader Dr. Norman Francis to chair the Board of Directors. For vice-chairman, Governor Blanco selected journalist and author Walter Isaacson, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and former chairman of CNN.

"I have charged these two distinguished leaders to harness the energy of the entire board and put forth strong, aggressive initiatives," said Governor Blanco. "The Louisiana Recovery Authority will help me bring the entire state together in the effort to rebuild Louisiana. It will be a unified voice with the single focus on rebuilding. It will show the nation that we can work across all of the old boundaries that once kept us apart."

The board encompasses both political parties with the appointment of Republican consultant Mary Matalin and Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile.

The authority will also focus on issues such as the environment, infrastructure, economic and workforce development, and family services. It will be staffed by state employees on loan from cabinet agencies.

Operating with what the governor called "unprecedented financial accountability," the authority will coordinate the rebuilding across all levels of government, and will support community recovery and resurgence.

The effort is on a fast track schedule.

Within seven days, Governor Blanco asked the board and the new agency to:

Within 30 days: Within 100 Days: Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in conjunction with state and local governments, and other federal and voluntary groups continue supporting recovery efforts for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.