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State of New Orleans, Nagin, and a "Little Wet Spot" in the Dike

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Article originally posted with Huffington Post

Less than a month before the start of the 2008 hurricane season, Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans offered a surprisingly sunny outlook for NOLA, given that his State of the City speech one year ago castigated both state and federal government with the refrain that Hurricane Katrina "was not our fault." During this year's 57 minute speech, Nagin offered only a veiled swipe at former Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco, and none at the Bush administration.

Nagin's speech opened a wide door for fact checkers, and we are going to walk right through it, armed with state, city and federal statistics, and commentary. Nagin lauded Blanco's successor Republican Governor Bobby Jindal and Louisiana's new aid czar, Paul Rainwater, for "cracking the code" and releasing millions of dollars in federal aid to the city.

The Louisiana Recovery Authority offered a breakdown of New Orlean's plans for state- approved $125 million in recovery-related rebuilding projects. These statistics were released immediately after Nagin's speech. Funding includes, but is not limited to, reinventing the Crescent Downriver Park, ($30 million), a theater and performing arts district ($15 million), and 17 streetscapes throughout New Orleans ($14.9 million). The category of "Other Recovery Projects" is earmarked for $9.1 million. In addition, the state is making $28 million available to the Finance Authority of New Orleans for a program to create homeownership opportunities. For a map of proposed projects and funding amounts, click here.

To date, a dumpster load of money has either been allocated or earmarked for New Orleans. It is a long and winding road to follow the money trail, but money is distributed through the Louisiana Recovery Authority. The LRA is a 33 member body created by former Governor Kathleen Blanco, but Blanco's contribution has now been eradicated from the official press coming out of the Governor Jindal's offices.

In addition, Louisiana's Long Term Community Recovery Program provides funds for recovery plans in the most heavily impacted communities in the state. In February, the LRA approved reallocating $500 million to the program, bringing the total amount of funding that will be available to the parishes to $700 million. But, The Action Plan reallocating the $500 million needs Legislative approval before it moves to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for final approval, according to statements by the LRA

For a by-parish breakdown of proposed funding, click here.

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For all of the money, for all of the rhetoric, all you have to do is take a stroll down Banks Street in mid-city to see the formaldehyde FEMA trailers, blighted, abandoned, rat-infested buildings, pot-hole filled side streets, and enough mufflers and hub caps along Carrollton Avenue to open a small auto parts store. And this was a middle class neighborhood before Katrina.

OK, we just have to say it: Where's the money? It sure as heck is not in the lower ninth which now resembles a cow pasture. Brad Pitt's pink cardboard homes aside, less than 10 percent of the former residents have returned.

The Times-Picayune reports that LRA money is still untapped. Officials said they are working with the Nagin team to plan the expenditures. "161 recovery projects have reached the drawing board, with some minor jobs under way. Other projects, such as rebuilding libraries, police stations and playgrounds, are in design or contracting phases," the Times-Picayune said in a mid-term assessment of Nagin's job performance. Find entire report card here:

A Very Bad Joke

Just a couple of weeks ago Nagin made a very bad joke to the American Association for Public Opinion Research when he said that the best way to deal with the city's homeless population was to ""find some bus tickets. We'll see, one way."

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The New York Times, among other news outlets, was not amused. Some estimates indicate that there are 12,000 homeless living on the streets of New Orleans. Of those, 40 percent suffer from some type of mental illness and another 19 percent have disabilities or addictions. Some joke.

The American Medical Association concurs that Hurricane Katrina left a legacy of "anxiety-mood disorders" with a "strong associations of hurricane-related stressors." In other words, people are still freaked out.

Freezing out the Press

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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