Aides to Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) helped shape the bill.
But the list of potential projects also includes a 50-year-old plan for a $750 million lock for the New Orleans Industrial Canal, a project rated the fifth-worst Corps boondoggle in the country by an alliance of taxpayer advocates and environmentalists. It also includes an effort to deepen the Port of Iberia for oil and gas tankers, a project that the Corps had concluded would provide only 30 cents of economic benefit for each dollar expended by taxpayers.
The 440-page bill also includes $50 billion in open-ended grants for storm-ravaged communities and $13 billion for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, along with mortgage assistance, health care, substance abuse treatment and other services for hurricane victims. It also includes hefty payments to hospitals, ports, banks, shipbuilders, fishermen and schools, as well as $8 million for alligator farms, $35 million for seafood industry marketing, and $25 million for a sugar-cane research laboratory that had not been completed before Katrina.
Vitter and Landrieu tapped John M. Barry — author of “Rising Tide,” the definitive history of the 1927 flood — to lead the working group on the Corps response to Katrina. Almost all the other members of the group were lobbyists from firms such as Patton Boggs, Adams & Reese, the Alpine Group, Dutko Worldwide, Van Scoyoc Associates, and a firm owned by former senator J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.). There was a lobbyist for the Port of New Orleans, a lobbyist for Verizon, and three lobbyists who were former aides to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska).
Internal notes from the working group obtained by The Washington Post suggest that hurricane protection was by no means its sole preoccupation. A list of “outstanding issues” from a Sept. 15 conference call mentioned the possibility of authorizing at least six unrelated navigation projects, and included questions such as “Are there other things we can do to boost our ports?” and — perhaps a joke — “How much can I bill my client?”