Quinlan reports the Corps considers the levee, pump and reservoir system for the Mississippi River and its tributaries one of its greatest accomplishments. It was built after massive floods in 1927 took 256 lives and caused the modern equivalent of $5 billion in damage. Before floods last spring, the system had brought a 27 to 1 return on investment to taxpayers, according to the corps, and prevented an estimated $350 billion in damage. Critics such as Robert Criss, earth and planetary science professor at Washington University in St. Louis, say the benefit analysis ignores levee-building and channelizing, which is making flooding worse.
The corps predicted blowing the levees would cost $314 million in damages and prevent $1.47 billion in destruction elsewhere. Ecologists' proposed buy-out would cost about $582 million. The corps has chosen to rebuild levees to pre-demolition height for about $30 million. Quinlan reports the corps has failed to assign a dollar value to avoided flood costs and enhanced ecological benefits of not rebuilding levees and restoring floodplains. (Read more) For a New York Times story on Birds Point, click here.