NEWS BEAT: Group lobbies for “8-29 Commission”

The nonprofit, grassroots group Levees.org is calling on Congress for an investigation of the Hurricane Katrina levee disaster in New Orleans akin to the one that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2005. 

The group is asking Congress to create what it calls the “8-29 Commission,” a reference to the date of Aug. 29, 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck. Like the 9-11 Commission that investigated the terrorist attacks, Levees.org says this body should be independent, bi-partisan and provide an analysis of what went wrong and how to improve what failed.

“For the first time in history, Congress would take a comprehensive look at flood protection in Louisiana,” says Levees.org founder Sandy Rosenthal. “The commission would have to give a report and Congress would have to act on it.”

A federal investigation of the levee failures was conducted late in 2005 by the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency responsible for the levees. Since those results were released in June, three independent levee investigation teams have criticized its findings as incomplete and inaccurate.

The campaign for an 8-29 Commission got started after Rosenthal heard about a separate call for congressional investigations of the integrity of contracts issued for hurricane recovery jobs. She thought the attention of Congress could be better directed at the cause of the flood rather than one of the responses to it.

“We wouldn’t even need an investigation of contracts if the levees held,” she says.  
She went right to the top with the idea, asking members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation for their support. Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Bobby Jindal have embraced the idea and the Levees.org campaign has received further endorsements from the chairman of the National Science Foundation Levee Team, the directors of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the League of Women Voters in New Orleans, among others. The New Orleans City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the creation of a congressional 8-29 Commission, as did the St. Bernard Parish Council. Levees.org is collecting electronic signatures from citizens in support of the commission on its Web site. The group has also been holding town hall-style meetings around the community to spread the word.

“I know the most significant thing we can do is keep growing our membership because as a big group you’ll be heard [by Congress],” Rosenthal says. “I don’t know what the magic number is, but I’ll keep reaching for it.”