President Bush Visits 141st Readiness Center

21 August 2008

President Bush Visits 141st Readiness Center

Woodward Design+Build crews hosted President George W. Bush as he toured the Louisiana National Guard’s new 141st Readiness Center at Jackson Barracks.

The Times-Picayune and

Bush says “Hope is Marching On”

The Times-Picayune and

20 August 2008

THE TIMES-PICAYUNE President George Bush, right, talks with construction workers during his tour of Jackson Barracks on Wednesday, August 20, 2008 in New Orleans.
Standing in a freshly rebuilt operations building at Jackson Barracks on Wednesday, President Bush highlighted a litany of achievements that he said demonstrate the Gulf Coast’s revival nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina and praised the industriousness of residents who have shown that “hope is marching on.”

Speaking nine days before the third anniversary of the flood, Bush focused on signs of recovery, from the return of students this fall to more than 80 New Orleans public schools to the return of Saints running back Deuce McAllister to the gridiron.

“Not to be an ‘I-told-you-so, ‘ but I was in Jackson Square, and I predicted that New Orleans would come back as a stronger and better city, “ Bush said. “That’s the prediction I made.”

Although he acknowledged there is “still work to be done, “ the president generally steered clear of the tough challenges still plaguing residents, namely thousands of homes that remain uninhabitable since they were swamped in floodwaters.

Just blocks from the historic Louisiana National Guard facility where Bush delivered his comments — and stretching for miles in every direction — large swaths of New Orleans and nearby St. Bernard Parish remain a hodgepodge of restored houses and stores, rotting buildings and empty concrete slabs.

The region’s health care, criminal justice and public education systems also continue to struggle through a long rebuilding process.

Before Bush’s arrival Wednesday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said he planned to ask the president to hasten the authorization of federal money for restoring public assets, commit to building a Veterans Administration hospital downtown and forgive millions of dollars in federal Community Disaster Loan money made available to the city after Katrina.

The mayor said Bush must do more to live up to the pledges he made in the wake of the storm to help the region recover.

“I think the promises are still unfulfilled, “ Nagin said. “I think we’re making good progress in a lot of respects, particularly with levees and infrastructure. On the people side, there’s so much that has to be done, and I’m going to encourage him to continue to push for us until his last day in office.”

But Bush made few allusions to what federal help might be on the horizon. He said only that he listened carefully to requests from Nagin and Gov. Bobby Jindal, who joined the president early Wednesday afternoon on a helicopter flight from Louis Armstrong International Airport to the Chalmette National Battlefield, near Jackson Barracks.

“This isn’t a chance for me to be a typical politician and make you a promise that I don’t intend to keep, “ Bush said.

Chronicling federal help

The president opened his speech with an index of government aid he said has been directed to the recovery so far: $126 billion in federal money invested along the Gulf Coast, including $7 billion in Road Home money delivered to 115,000 Louisiana homeowners, and $2.6 billion for mental health services and health care for the poor and elderly.

He said the Army Corps of Engineers has repaired 220 miles of levees, and he extolled his recent decision to let Louisiana pay back its $1.8 billion share of future levee improvements over 30 years, instead of three.

“We are on track to meet our goal of 100-year flood plain protection by the year 2011, “ Bush said.

Interrupted several times by applause, Bush insisted that his comments, made five months to the day before his second term ends, were intended as plaudits for residents of hard-hit communities.

“This is not supposed to be self-congratulatory, “ he said. “I am congratulating you.”

In a statement released after the speech, however, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, noted that “only a fraction of this funding has been invested in our long-term recovery.”

“Far too much has been lost to the inefficiency and red tape of FEMA and the federal bureaucracy, as well as the pockets of out-of-state FEMA contractors, “ said Landrieu, who is seeking her third term.

Praising what money the federal government has committed, Landrieu also pointed out that the House of Representatives in June, bowing to pressure from the Bush administration, stripped about $300 million out of a bill that had been slated for hospitals, crime prevention and flood projects in the Louisiana storm zone.

Lauding locals’ hard work

Beyond talk of federal assistance, Bush took a moment in his speech to praise volunteers and donors from around the country who have contributed an estimated 14 million hours and $3.5 billion to victims of the 2005 hurricanes. He also heralded the perseverance of local residents who helped revive their own neighborhoods.

“This is a part of our country that was flat on its back and is now standing up and headed for the future, “ Bush said. “It’s an awesome example of courage and determination, desire, and I am here to honor you all.”

Bush tossed bouquets to three New Orleans residents whose efforts to revive the city he called inspiring: Daryn Dobson of The Idea Village, who has advised entrepreneurs trying to succeed in the post-disaster environment; culinary matriarch Leah Chase, who with the help of volunteers reopened her Treme restaurant; and Doris Hicks, the principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward.

The trio, who sat behind Bush on a makeshift stage, joined an audience of about 400 local leaders that also included the presidents of Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes; retired Maj. Gen. Doug O’Dell, Gulf Coast recovery coordinator; Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau and Maj. Gen. Hunt Downer of the Louisiana National Guard; U.S. Rep. William Jefferson and state schools Superintendent Paul Pastorek.

Wednesday’s visit marked Bush’s 13th trip to the New Orleans area since Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005. He arrived after addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Orlando, Fla., and was greeted at the New Orleans airport by two Saints players, McAllister and quarterback Drew Brees.

After his speech, the president toured three sections of the Jackson Barracks military compound, now undergoing major renovations. He inspected renderings of two armories under construction on the 100-acre site and gestured to workers in hard hats to take a break and join him for a photograph.

Bush was scheduled to have dinner in Gulfport, Miss., before returning to his ranch in Crawford, Texas.


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