"It would have to be an astronomical sum of money," McCarthy says of selling out to the feds.
But it's a different story for his aging grandmother, who very well may face a buyout, or another form of property seizure, in the near future. Her home is just 100 yards from the London Avenue Canal breach. McCarthy says she's gradually accepting what may be a brutal reality.
"My grandmother is willing to take what she can get and walk away from it," he says. "It's just too hard for her."
Residents' feelings are mixed on the issue, and confusion has taken hold as details remain scarce. And in coffee shops, congressional hearings, dining rooms and every other imaginable space one question keeps resurfacing: How will Louisiana rebuild?
Aside from levee and coastal restoration costs, private property rights are shaping up as one of the most explosive issues in post-Katrina America.
Some private land ' no one knows how much ' undoubtedly will need to be taken by the government for any long-term plan to progress. Will it be done with or without the property owner's consent? And if it's done with their consent, how will values be determined?
The outcome will impact the livelihoods of thousands ' and the livability of large communities. It also could set a national precedent for how future land expropriations are handled. "This will be the sticking point of the entire debate because you are talking about peoples' property and peoples' money," says Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, a Baton Rouge-based think tank. "And we're only talking conceptually on these issues right now. Nobody is getting any answers, and when they do, they probably won't like it."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the government entity stirring the pot at the moment. They reportedly want to obtain huge swaths of land ' some pieces spanning more than 150 feet ' along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals for levee improvements. In Plaquemines Parish, the feds are considering seizing portions of land from 250 property owners to widen the Mississippi River.
Such takings are not supposed to be government grift. Initial reports suggest ' and the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires ' that property owners will be compensated justly. However, details of any compensation plans have yet to surface. Meanwhile, some parish officials are going public with their fears and expressing concern that purchase prices could drop below pre-Katrina fair market value.
Rachelle Levitt, executive vice president for policy and practice at the Urban Land Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit that researches emerging land use trends, says her group has heard the concerns and is responding with plans and suggestions. She says there needs to be a conscious effort to ensure that all homeowners are compensated at pre-Katrina values ' whether the selling pressure comes from a legislatively-formed corporation, or the government itself.
"There should be some rationalization to that part of the process," she says, admitting there's no way to tell how the payment options will play out. Another widespread concern is that values will be pegged to assessments calculated by Louisiana's elected parish assessors ' especially in New Orleans, where most homes are grossly undervalued.
A more immediate threat to property owners may be the concept of eminent domain ' the flavor of the month for legal and political junkies, thanks to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling and the onslaught of reactive legislation. Eminent domain is the legal doctrine that allows governments to take private property for certain public uses that are supposed to serve the greater public good. According to the recent High Court decision, those uses can include economic development that ultimately will yield higher property taxes. While many Americans view that court decision with disdain, it's hard to argue that flood protection for an entire region does not qualify as a legitimate, even overriding, public interest that ought to trump individual property owners' interests.
Of course, it's a lot different when it's your property. It's even more dicey when the "public interest" is infused with private gain.
While eminent domain is routinely used to help build highways and public buildings, it also has been invoked to transfer property to a private owner operating in cahoots with the government. Currently, in Riviera Beach, Fla., the local government is preparing to force nearly 350 property owners and more than 1,000 renters to sell out to a private yacht development because of "blighted" conditions.
While nothing like that is in the works locally ' at least not on the surface ' Gov. Kathleen Blanco told a congressional committee recently that a number of private developers have contacted the state about assisting with the restoration process. That raises fears not only of eminent domain but also of gentrification ' forcing poor folks out so that the silk suits can move in.
State Rep. Mickey Frith, an Abbeville Democrat and chairman of the Acadiana delegation, says it's better to be safe than sorry. He plans to file a bill next year to limit local governments, or state-sponsored corporations, from seizing private property for economic development. "If you are looking to improve infrastructure, that's one thing," says Frith. "But I don't think we ought to be making a land grab just to build a super store or something."
Concerns about eminent domain and how it might be invoked locally also have surfaced at the federal level. A clause allowing it was initially included in landmark home mortgage assistance legislation by Baton Rouge Republican Congressman Richard Baker, but that language was quickly pulled in response to widespread objections in south Louisiana. The bill would establish a special corporation to buy distressed ' and often underinsured ' properties from willing sellers in an attempt to stabilize the local housing market and prevent widespread foreclosures. The bill was racing against the clock last week during Congress' final days before Christmas.
Closer to home, another urban land-loss threat springs from Mayor Ray Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back Commission, which has been working with the Urban Land Institute to draft a citywide rebuilding plan. An initial draft of ULI's plan would halt developments in flood-prone areas and replace them with wetlands, parks and inner-city levees to reduce flooding of remaining neighborhoods and create a buffer for surges. Here again, it's all a matter of perspective: Whose property gets sacrificed for the greater public good?
All of these ideas could translate into lost property for some, but for others it could mean losing or preserving a way of life, McCarthy says. Such factors may or may not affect market values or buyout options or congressional intent.
"I think there will be a lot of disappointed landowners who will want to return, but can't," he says. "But we're a determined people down here, and we'll find a way to make it."
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Oscar de la Renta dies; Pistorius sentenced; World Series begins and more national and international news for Tuesday, October 21, 2014.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.
Will $400 be enough for the re-election campaign of LPSB's Hunter Beasley to overcome two years of holding our school system hostage and hurting the education of our children all because of a personal dislike of the superintendent?
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.
Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.
Coming off the high of a fourth quarter comeback against Tampa Bay and a helpful bye week, linebacker Junior Galette sees a real turnaround coming for New Orleans' struggling defense.
Former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party's most popular surrogate this fall, is heading to Louisiana early next week for a campaign rally with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Time and again you hear people say DA Mike Harson is unbeatable because he's doled out political favors over the past 20 years. But a new lawsuit could end that speculation.
After the season's signature win (so far), here are some helpful tips for Cajun Nation during the conference stretch.
Did the state close last year's books with a surplus or a deficit?
Practicing without limitations on Wednesday, running back Mark Ingram looked ready to return to a New Orleans offense that once again ranks among the NFL's best when the Saints play at Detroit on Sunday.
It’s been decided: Superintendents of Louisiana’s public school system will retain the controversial powers granted by Act 1 of the 2012 session.
Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy has a bone to pick with the Jindal administration, which recently — surprise! — announced that the state ended the most recent budget year with a $178.5 million dollar surplus.
The messaging battle, however, isn't tied to individual campaign accounts. Third-party groups have poured millions of dollars into advertising.
With her political future in jeopardy, Sen. Mary Landrieu is turning to a natural constituent base in her re-election bid.
Terrance Broadway threw for a touchdown and rushed for 113 yards to lead Louisiana-Lafayette to a 34-10 victory over Texas State on Tuesday night.