Rock Steady Part 2
Out of Katrina, The Solutions to Recovery: Lott Sees Momentum Building For Prosperity Envisioned Many Years Ago.
By Perry Hicks- Special to GulfCoastNews.com and Keith Burton Filed 7/11/06 Updated 7/12/06
Senator Trent Lott is happiest when he is can slip away from Washington and be home in Mississippi. He is more relaxed and accessible and he is better able to touch base with the family, friends, and constituents whose votes have sent him to Congress.
What those family, friends and constituents are telling him is how frustrated they are with the slow pace of recovery. All they see as they drive down the broken and battered Highway 90 is nearly 70 miles of utter destruction. While the bulk of debris may have been removed, but so far, little has been rebuilt along the beach highway since Katrina roared ashore over 10 months ago. If coming at all, recovery seems to be moving at a glacial pace.
The problem here is the expectation of recovery. The misconception many have is that the Coast can and will be restored to what it was before the storm. Another take of that drive down 90 is the number of new condominium constructions. Biloxi alone has nearly 21 high-rise condos about to come out of the ground.
The truth is, the shoreline will no longer be a setting of cozy little cottages nestled along narrow lanes shaded by live oak trees. That is gone forever.
Neither will recovery come by a single all encompassing federal program that will fund every reconstruction project both private and public. Recovery, or perhaps more correctly, the solutions to recovery, will come from a myriad number of sources in a myriad number of forms.
This is Lott’s motivation for serving one final term in the U.S. Senate: Navigating the federal reconstruction support and the cost of those solutions through congress. Getting this job done will take considerable skill.
Said Lott,“The situation may not look good now, but think of this: The return of gaming revenue, about $50 billion over the next 3 years in federal money coming into the 6 southern counties, plus the coming construction boom- you can’t have that much money come into an economy without having a major impact.”
All told, that influx of capital from all sources could be as much as $120 billion; possibly enough money to power the state to new levels of prosperity and out of its perennially last place in state comparisons. These numbers represent the investment of the entire nation and is nearly unprecedented.
Mosaic of Recovery
A good analogy might be Biloxi’s Hurricane Katrina Memorial. Part of the memorial is a mosaic: Up close, one can be lost in the details of each colored tile; pull back and the effect of the whole and the importance of each tile and its relationship toward one another is readily discerned. On the memorial, the tiles resolve into a wave.
One may ask, if we step back far enough, what image of the Coast would recovery reveal?
“That is a good question,” Lott said pausing thoughtfully, “Governor Barbour had created the Charrettes to help with this vision but what we will end up with will have to be worked out over time. In a few years, we will look back and marvel at where we have come.”
The name “Charrette” may ultimately be an unfortunate choice. While the word is French for a farmer’s tip-cart; it is the very kind of cart used to carry condemned aristocrats to the guillotine.
When questioned if he thinks Katrina recovery will elevate Mississippi’s economic standing as compared to the other 50 states, Lott points out, “Mississippi has seen great economic progress over the last 15 years so we aren’t last anymore- we’re something like 46 or 47th- and while that is an improvement, we still have a long way to go.”
Depending on how one wants to make the measure, Lott is correct in claiming Mississippi no longer languishes in last place.
“I had come to the conclusion many years ago that what Mississippi needed was not welfare, but jobs- and not the low wage, entry-level kind, but high-end jobs. In order to get those jobs, we needed to improve the transportation infrastructure- airports, highways, and rail services- and we needed to create higher educational programs- not soft, not liberal arts- but the kind of programs that prepare people for hard-skill jobs. That is what I have been working to do,” Lott added.
· In late 2000, Lott announced Nissan’s choice of Canton, Mississippi for its $950 million SUV assembly plant. By its opening in 2003, its cost had risen to $1.4 billion and suppliers brought another $200 million in investments. At full production capacity, Canton Assembly alone can employ 5700 workers and suppliers thousands more.
· 2004, Lott announces Delta Airlines was upgrading its service between the Coast and Atlanta.
· 2005, Rolls Royce expanded and upgraded its Marine Foundry operation in Pascagoula.
· 2005, Airbus names Mobile, Alabama, as the site for a plant to build military refueling tankers. While Mississippi had vied unsuccessfully for the plant, the location in adjacent Mobile would potentially provide Mississippians jobs as well as create some synergy for attracting other aerospace companies.
· 2006, Rolls Royce breaks ground for its new jet engine testing facility at the John C. Stennis Space Center. The Rolls operation will test engines for the European Airbus A380 and the Boeing Dreamliner.
· 2006, Lott announces American Eurocopter, a subsidiary of EADS (European Aeronautic Defense & Space) has been awarded a $2.2 billion contract to produce the next generation of light utility helicopters for the U.S. Army. The contract will expand the AE’s existing Columbus plant creating 150 new jobs. EADS is also the parent of Airbus.
· 2006, Trent Lott and Representative Gene Taylor were joined by Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, and Federal Aviation Administrator Marion Blakey in announcing a $44 million federal grant to repair the Gulfport/Biloxi International Airport (GBIA), heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
“Regardless of economic rankings between us and other states, I wouldn’t trade the quality of life in Mississippi over anywhere else,” Lott said emphatically.
The slow progress in the recovery as the Coast nears 11 months since the storm is shared by Lott, who is also a Katrina survivor. His home on the beach in Pascagoula was leveled by the hurricane. The insurance claim on Lott’s Pascagoula house is being litigated because his wind carrier, State Farm Insurance Company, ruled the 150 year old home was destroyed exclusively by flood.
(Photo Right -Lott's home days after Katrina hit, the storm cleared the site of debris)
“I actually had flood insurance on that property,” Lott told GCN, “But even though my house was taking the brunt of the winds ahead of the surge for something like 10 hours- winds with gusts up to 160 mph- they wanted to blame the entire loss on surge.”
Fortunately, Lott and his wife Tricia had a second home near Jackson to retreat to after Katrina. They bought that home so that they could be near their daughter and grandchildren. The home is in Pocahontas, located about 14 miles north of Jackson, not far from the Natchez Trace on Highway 49. It is now their primary residence.
However comforting it may be to have a second home also built before the civil war and the confidence that the former one will someday be rebuilt; nothing can assuage the sense of loss for those things that can never be replaced.
Lott told GCN, “While I was home (last December,) I had talked to friends- supporters and my family, and they kept asking me, “You are going to rebuild, aren’t you? And I will, but this time it won’t be filled with antiques and memorabilia.”
In many places, if homes can be rebuilt at all, construction may have to meet new FEMA height requirements. For some, this may mean houses perched on stilts high up in the air.
“We will be rebuilding the Pascagoula house higher (relative to sea level,”) Lott had told GCN, “But we will do it by raising the ground level.”
Mississippi’s railroad lines had located largely back in the late 1800s for the ease of laying track. Once thriving towns withered as the population shifted to the new settlements springing up around locomotive coal and watering stops.
In those days before national highways and airline service, rail was the only practical way to travel between cities and move farm products to market. As such, it made sense that rail lines would go right into the center of every town. However, in the day of the truck, automobile, and air travel, these same rail lines bisect towns making it difficult and even dangerous to cross from one side to another.
Lott addressed this problem saying:
“Ten years ago, I started looking at ways of getting the railroads out of the middle of towns because they are an impediment to local travel and of course the safety issues. The line running through the Coast has something like 143 crossings. I have known people who have died at some of those crossings.
“My idea was to move the line north and run it down the I 10 median strip. I got six million for the Mississippi Highway department to study it but they contracted with a New Orleans firm that just kept coming up with these grandiose plans so nothing happened.
“Then Katrina happened and the governor formed the Charrettes to study how to rebuild the Coast and what do you think was their number one recommendations? Move the railroad. The old rail route could then be used for another east-west highway.
Did you know that the rail bridges have had to be rebuilt twice in 35 years? Moving the line just makes tons of sense, but,” Lott paused for a moment, “It will cost $750 million dollars.”
Not only has the railroad tracks had to be rebuilt, but also several bridges of the Coast's key highways. The loss of which after Katrina is still being felt. Losing so much of the Coast's transportation infrastructure at once is a major reason moving the CSX tracks is being pursued.
(Photo left - CSX Railroad bridge over Bay St. Louis after Katrina )
Senator Thad Cochran is the point man for navigating this legislation through Congress. But it is Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and his lobbying skills that will be the primary tool to get the funding to move the railroad. An effort to fund the CSX project nearly derailed money for Katrina recovery in Washington when it was included as part of the funding package. President Bush had threatened to Veto the package if it remained after some House members incorrectly targeted the funding as waste since CSX had spent their own money to repair the bridges to the tracks.
GCN contacted Cochran's office about the CSX issue. Jenny Manley, communication's director for Cochran responded by email:
"Sen. Cochran was supportive of the Governor’s request to reroute the CSX rail line and move it to a less densely populated region. The funding was included in the Senate version of the latest supplemental spending measure, but the House of Representative refused to go along with the project. Sen. Cochran has spoken with Governor Barbour about the issue, and the Senator is confident that if the Governor remains committed to this project, he will use existing funding to finance it."
In the aftermath of Katrina, experts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency are encouraging coastal communities to raise building heights with the flooding levels of Hurricane Katrina as the standard. While the FEMA height requirements have yet to formalized, local communities are already protesting as the proposed heights make rebuilding for most people too expensive and ridiculous. But FEMA is warning that if the communities don't eventually adopt their requirements, then federal flood insurance will not be made available.
“FEMA has been such a disappointment. These building heights they want will just have to be modified or people will ignore them. The Pascagoula house was elevated and it is totally gone, swept away. But, when we rebuild, we will be raising the height but we will do it by raising the ground level.” Lott said.
He continued addressing the problems with FEMA saying, “Some of the problem with FEMA can be laid right at the feet of Congress. We created this behemoth department called Homeland Security and put FEMA under it which we can see now makes no sense at all. They (FEMA) are undermanned and under funded for the job we expect them to do. It also makes no sense for the (Army) Corps of Engineers to be under them if they are responsible for debris removal.”
Congress is moving make changes to FEMA. Just this week, the U.S. Senate voted to reorganized FEMA, passing a bill authored in part by Lott. After the vote, in a news release sent to GCN, Lott said:
“While I would have preferred to see FEMA reestablished as an independent agency outside of the Department of Homeland Security, this amendment does make FEMA a more autonomous agency within the Department, just like the U.S. Coast Guard,” Senator Lott said.
“The new agency – to be called the U.S. Emergency Management Agency – will have direct access to the President and to the Congress. It will have its own command and control structure and have much more flexibility than did FEMA. If the extraordinary performance of our Coast Guard after Katrina is any measure, the new agency should be able to provide a more spontaneous and sure response when the next inevitable emergency comes.”
Senator Lott worked with Senator Susan Collins of Maine in writing the language to create the new emergency agency. Lott said he did so when it was clear that there weren’t enough votes in the Senate to break FEMA completely away from the Department of Homeland Security.
“But I believe this plan will work and be infinitely better than what we had before,” Lott said.
Note that outside of the airport and airline announcements outlined earlier, all of the companies expanding or creating new operations are foreign. This could be seen as a powerful statement about the decline of American industrial power. Where are the U.S. companies? Why are foreign companies investing here?
This realization is not as benign as some free traders would want you to believe. It was American industrial might that literally out produced the Axis Powers during World War II, fed and clothed a destroyed Europe, and not only stopped the expansion of communism, but ultimately defeated it.
Besides meeting the needs for making war, industrial capacity fills another critical role: creating wealth. A nation simply cannot service its way to prosperity. These concerns are not missed by many conservatives.
Coupled with the apparent intransigence toward securing the nation’s borders, the conservative base has withdrawn considerable support for the Bush administration over its globalist outlook. People are clearly sensing that what the U.S. is shipping to China are jobs, not just the product of America’s factories.
Bush has not been the only recent president to give away the candy store.
“No one has been willing to do it, insist China, Europe, and other places open their markets up. Not Reagan, or Ford before him, not Clinton, not Bush senior. So, our present president is not an exception,” Lott said. Lott seemed to be defending the president though his tone of voice perhaps harboring a bit of dissatisfaction.
“But, at the same time, Mississippi has benefited from foreign investment from Nissan, Airbus, Eurocopter, and Rolls Royce,” Lott added.
Why have these administrations refused to demand fair trade, refused to stop illegal immigration at the border?
“Well,” Lott paused at the difficulty of answering such a question, “I don’t know. Clinton went to Oxford so he was educated in a global atmosphere and sold on the idea that this is the way to go. Then when you get in office you are just hammered with people with credentials and expertise also telling you that everyone benefits from free trade.
“The problem is not with the theory but the execution. China, for example, has put many obstacles in place to (the importation of) our products,” Lott said.
Historically, trade with China has been problematic. Companies doing business there have long complained that patents are not honored and proprietary information, even complete designs, are quickly stolen.
If a product is shown to be popular, the Chinese will not endeavor to compete for the market, but may actually close it off to only domestic producers.
Lott gave an example of this last point showing that even seemingly insignificant products were subject to Chinese usurpation saying, “They hurt the (American) western apple growers by keeping the (Chinese) domestic apple cider market for themselves.”
As to George W. Bush, Lott answered my probes as to the president’s character by saying, “He told you what he is: He said he is a compassionate conservative. Do you know what that means? He is willing to spend the money to do the things he thinks needs to get done.”
Lott did not view his inability to stop the recent Senate immigration bill a failure. The bill passed by the Senate is so soft on immigration that is unlikely to be reconciled with the House version. In Washington, he quite candidly predicted that the bill as it stood would never pass the House.
“We got over a third of the senate to oppose it which is more than I thought we would get,” Lott said.
“On the matter of border security, if we can’t step up to the plate and fix this problem, I think we would have to question just why we (Congress) are here.”
Lott continued, “I thought we might be able to smooth the bill but in the end we couldn’t. I offered to help but they weren’t listening. When this bill fails, and it will, I figure by the Fall they will be calling.”
Lott went on to enumerate some points he thought should be in a successful bill such as the creation of a guest worker status, improved border control, and a path to citizenship that would not be fast-tracked.
“Notice I didn’t say anything about illegals. That is because there is nothing that can be done about it. Right now there is something like 11 or 12 million illegals in the country. All we can do is catch them when we can and send them back and punish employers for hiring them. But we have to act now before it becomes a 29 million illegal problem,” Lott said.
Trent Lott is so popular in Mississippi and swings such power as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration as well as sitting on the Senate Finance, and the Intelligence, Commerce, Science, and Transportation committees, his final election bid will have no credible opposition. However, considering his previous desire to retire (as referenced in part 1), the question begs to be answered: Will he stay for the full term?
“When I could have resigned (during the Strom Thurmond affair) I didn’t. The people sent me here to do a job and I stayed then so there should be no expectation that I would seek reelection without intending to stay the full term,” Lott said before adding, “But considering my personal situation, the least is this lawsuit against my insurance company, there is no way to predict what might happen in 2 or 3 years.”
About the Authors.....
Perry Hicks is a former Mississippi Coast resident and was a correspondent for the old Gulfport Star Journal. He has appeared on Fox News Channel. Perry has also hosted his own radio talk show on the auto industry with a mix of politics. Perry is a former college professor and is a senior writer for GCN on stories of national importance with local interests. His articles can be found in the GCN Archive.
Contact the Author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Keith Burton is the owner and editor of GulfCoastNews.com