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2006 Trendsetters

2006 Trendsetters

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    Katie Curry's efforts to encourage others to recycle have made her a local hero. Plus, she gets to sit on her own hard-earned benches when she needs to take a break from bicycling around town with family. Photo: Mary Ann Carter/Black Star

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    Andres Duany

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    John Duncan Jr.

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    Al Gore

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    Interstate Highway System

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    Tim Pawlenty

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    Rich Giani (seated, second from left), water-quality manager at Washington, D.C.'s Water and Sewer Authority, headed a research team that revealed how chloramines affect the leaching of lead into drinking water. Photo: DC WASA

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    Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association president Kathleen Holst is more concerned about road-related issues than she is about her status as the association's first female leader. Photo: IRTBA

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    Bruce Logan is using bacteria in wastewater to create electricity. Photo: Shaoan Cheng

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    Raymond Seed worked without pay to discover why New Orleans's flood control system failed during Hurricane Katrina. Photo: Jenni Spinner

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    At 35, Kris Riemann is the youngest public works director Gulfport, Miss., has had. Thanks to careful planning, the city was the first to restore services after Hurricane Katrina. Photo: Pat Sullivan

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    Diane Linderman asked Congress to allocate homeland security funds directly to public works as well as police and fire agencies. Photo: APWA

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    Joe Haworth (middle) urges public agencies to partner with each other to educate their customers about what they do. “Much of the public wants to help; they just need to be told what to do.” Photo: LACSD

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    Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter

For the complete list, click here.

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You get what you pay for

Raymond Seed, PhD, professor of civil engineering, University of California, Berkeley; team leader, Independent Levee Investigation Team

During Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans's levee and flood control system crumbled. More than 1100 people died, hundreds of thousands were displaced as their homes were destroyed, and the city and its people lost millions of dollars to damage and lost tourism.

So what caused the world's most costly failure of an engineered system?

Seed uncovered the unsavory answer: It wasn't just the hurricane. The local and federal governments could have used better materials to build the levees. Instead, safety was trumped by cost-cutting.

“We kept trading risk against efficiency, and we're telling people we're protecting them,” says Seed. “Build it right, or don't build it at all.”

Seed led a National Science Foundation-sponsored team of 38 engineers and investigators as they examined why New Orleans's levees and flood protection system failed. They worked for free because, Seed says, it was the right thing to do.

The Independent Levee Investigation Team presented its findings in May, and Seed pulled no punches. In addition to cost-cutting, Seed also cited poor design and construction, infighting among local agencies that prevented work from being done, stingy federal funding that delayed projects, and lots of human errors as reasons for the levee failures. The bottom line: Most of the levees would have withstood the storm if they'd been built properly.

To avert other catastrophes, the team recommended changes from the White House and Congress to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers all the way down to the local levee district level. In his report, Seed stated that short-term savings will result in massively larger losses when disaster strikes.

“In the end, we will get no more than what we pay for, and we get that only if we are careful and clever,” Seed says.

— Victoria K. Sicaras