To the surprise of no one, New Orleans Lakefront Airport, which sits between estuaries and Lake Pontchartrain, was flooded by Hurricane Ida, but it could have been worse. Authorities could have had the floodgates closed.
In a bizarre state of affairs, when major storms threatened the area, tenants at the historic airport begged authorities to keep the floodgate that lies at the entrance to the airport open. Lakefront, in addition to being a general aviation hub on the Gulf Coast, serves as a critical staging area for relief flights during emergencies. It also houses an historic art deco terminal building.
In a strange twist, the airport entrance main gate that ostensibly protects the airport was not even installed when Ida hit, as it had been removed for maintenance. But airport tenants are not complaining.
That’s because many consider the gate extraneous to the larger and more extensive flood protection infrastructure protecting the area. So while the gate offers limited protection during a storm, it turns out that it’s very effective at keeping flood waters from storms like Ida from draining back into Lake Pontchartrain following a storm. This greatly exacerbates the effects of the flood, causing greater damage to hangars, buildings, runways and taxiways, not to mention possible damage to aircraft, as well as making the airport inaccessible to ground vehicle access including emergency vehicles.
After Hurricane Katrina, according to the story from New Orleans Channel 4WWL news, taxpayers spent nearly $70 million in repairs, including $19 million for the restoration of the terminal building. Local residents are pleading for federal funding for a levee system that would protect the airport specifically, which advocacy groups argue would pay for itself over time by protecting airport infrastructure instead of repairing it after every major storm. So far, however, the pleas have not been answered.
A system to specifically protect Lakefront Airport has been estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $200 million, part of which local taxpayers would pony up but the majority of which would be footed by the federal government. Without the contribution from the federal government, new flood control measures are unlikely to happen.