noun sink·hole \ˈsiŋk-ˌhōl\
: a low area or hole in the ground that is formed especially when soil and rocks are removed by flowing water
The most appropriate metaphor for Mitch Landrieu’s tenure as mayor of New Orleans would be a sinkhole. If there’s a monument to the Landrieu’s legacy, it will be a gigantic Hell-maw (the devourer-of-Hondas) located right smack in the middle of a major thoroughfare.
Why the unflattering memorial? Well, let’s put it this way: Landrieu has not merely been content to erode New Orleans in metaphorical sense – no, he has also decided to permit the effluence of actual rock and soil, creating gigantic fissures in streets.
The onset of summer, with its accompanying torrential downpours, expectedly greeted New Orleans with a rash of flash flooding. This could have been prevented had the city turned on the drainage pumps in something resembling a timely fashion, but given the legendary lethargy of municipal employees, that would probably have been expecting a smidgen too much.
Instead, major streets were fully inundated. Acting franticly, I was forced to move my car onto the sidewalk as manholes belched up countless gallons of rainwater. New Orleans was tested by the fury of rain and was found wanting.
As the waters receded, alas, they revealed far greater inadequacies. The first sinkhole emerged on Constantinople Street near Tchoupitoulas. A 12-inch water main failed, collapsing more than 10 feet of pavement . Reached for comment, local gadfly Ignatius Reilly reported that the stress of the incident served to irritate his Pyloric Valve.
Unfortunately, the second sinkhole emerged in a more prominent location. Just this past Friday, around 1 p.m. on Canal Street at Convention Center Boulevard across from Harrah’s Casino, a 20-foot sinkhole developed. Tourists usually accustomed to a sanitized view of New Orleans municipal incompetence were instead greeted with a front row seat.
“This is really a catastrophic failure, it’s quite incredible,” said Mayor Landrieu, exhibiting a staggering propensity for understatement.
“That’s one of the reasons why we’ve begun this massive overhaul that’s going to take a long time to fix all of this. You can’t just snap your fingers and fix incidents like this.”
Landrieu is right on one score. The disregard New Orleans has for infrastructure does not fall entirely on his shoulders. Nay, it’s been generations in the making – year after year of city officials passing the buck while hoping and praying that everything holds together with a mixture of spit and bailing wire. It’s a bill that’s long overdue.
On the other hand, we probably could have avoided major infrastructure failures under the same annual budgets if not for the fact that our city has habitually frittered away taxpayer dollars on corruption and general incompetence. Presently, the city is seeing a budget surplus. Nevertheless, the drumbeat from public officials remains the same – we need more money, extracted from those who can afford it the least, to pay for the most basic of services.
Civic pride is one thing; rolling over is quite another. If New Orleans spent wisely, there would be ample funds to provide for repairing sinkholes and preventing future ones. Indeed, we’ve already agreed to pay for that with eight years of water and sewerage rate increases, compounding at 10% per year until 2020. Isn’t that enough?
Apparently not. Despite our commitment, despite our stated willingness to pay to repair our decaying infrastructure, we are still expected to accept the indignities associated with failures of infrastructure traditionally associated with the Third World.
We try and laugh about these things. Years ago, there was a bumper sticker some enterprising buck released: “New Orleans: Third World and proud of it.”
At the time, I found it funny. As time passes, I find it less so.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.