When Lt. Gen. Russell Honore led 20,000 federal troops into the city of New Orleans for search-and-rescue missions in the aftermath of the collapse of the federal levees following Hurricane Katrina, he instructed his soldiers not to let the contaminated water touch them.
Nine years later, Honore said, the risk of pollution to New Orleanians is coming not from the failures of the federal government, but from decisions made by leaders right here in the city and state — such as the plan to rebuild Booker T. Washington High School in Central City on top of heavily contaminated soil at the old Clio Street dump. State documents show that in some locations, cancer-causing compounds are present in levels more than 100 times what is considered acceptable.
“As we worked nine years ago to help save this city, we’re going to work now to help save this city from itself,” Honore said. “Because you know what? It’s not the White House doing this. It’s not President Bush doing this. It’s the leaders in New Orleans doing this, and it’s people we did not put in the office — the RSD.”
Many alumni of Booker T. Washington, however, believe that the Recovery School District’s plan for treating the contamination is sufficient, that Honore’s concerns are an unnecessary excess of caution, and that it is time to move the long-delayed construction of a state-of-the-art school forward.