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Mary Pitt: Pay Me Now Or Pay Me Later

Pay Me Now Or Pay Me Later

by Mary Pitt

These words have been familiar for generations as regards prevention of bad circumstances from neglect. And we have certainly been negligent in maintaining our largest national waterway, the Mississippi River. We have used it and abused it by adapting its resources to the benefit of mankind without regard for the welfare of the river or the ecology that is so dependent on it. We have not paid when we should have and now we will pay, in human life, in lost resources, in blood, and in money.

The "Lazy Ole Mis'sip'" wandered its way the depth of the nation, accepting water from every stream between the Rocky Mountains and the hills of Appalachia, carrying it to the Gulf Of Mexico, in the process creating wetlands along the delta and barrier islands offshore which afforded protection for man and beast alike. One can only imagine the wonder with which European eyes first gazed up on the majesty of the environmental kingdom which this river created and nourished. But that wonder was soon eclipsed by the greed which drove them to this land, greed which caused them to use , abuse, and destroy the very things that gave life and meaning to it all. Over the years, as shipping became more important and larger ships were built to carry the resources of the world to our shores, it was necessary to dredge the river to allow them to pass. This dredging caused the water to flow more rapidly and, as a consequence, the delta was slowly washed out to sea.

Measures were taken to protect the "wetlands" comprising the toe of the Louisiana boot but, over time, more of them were allowed to be filled and tilled as the ever-growing City of New Orleans and the industries positioned there wanted to expand. Our government, on a non-partisan basis, came under the influence of the corporate lobbyists and continued to encroach on the demands of nature. Warnings have been ignored for decades regarding "global warming" leading to the washing away not only of the delta itself but of the barrier islands which offered some protection from tropical storms. Some three decades ago the Army Corps of Engineers suggested the re-routing of the Mississippi River shipping channel which would leave the original fork to return to its old habit of depositing the rich silt which it had carried from the Midwest to replenish the delta, the islands, and the wetlands which were the natural characteristics of the region. At the time, this salvation of the entire delta region and the cities located there would have cost about 10 billion dollars over a period of some ten years and create even greater possibilities for growth of the port facilities and industry.

Congress, of course, rebelled at the prospect of "profligate spending" and, in the interest of a "balanced budget", totally denied rational discussion of the problem. Since then, the funding has dwindled until, this year, the budget for the Corps of Engineers was cut so severely that they could not even have maintained the old levees by repairing the most deteriorated of their sections. Now, all the early estimates are for a cost of some 300 billion dollars just to repair the damage to the levees and rebuild a part of the structural damage caused by hurricane Katrina, and that's just an early assessment. In addition, we can expect a major Congressional authorization for a sizeable sum to compensate the insurance companies for the immense amounts they will be required to pay for the loss of private property and increased expenses for the foreseeable future in order to re-settle and absorb into the society of the rest of the country.

No amount of money will remove the horror from the memories of those involved, particularly the children who, at this formative time of their lives, suffered separation from families, literal imprisonment, starvation, dehydration, and nightmares enough to last for a lifetime. But money, and lots of it, will be required to salvage the commerce and industry that have been so well and faithfully supported by this mighty river. One recalls the old commercial for margarine where a vengeful figure appears and states, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!" She has once again proven that it is also very expensive to neglect her.


Mary Pitt is a septuagenarian Kansan who operates a small business caring and advocating for the handicapped and the under-privileged. Questions and comment may be directed to

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