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Monday, December 28, 2009


Posted on DECEMBER 21, 2009:

New Orleanians should not have to take ownership of an inferior federal product

By now it is abundantly clear that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intends to
stick New Orleans with the fatally flawed floodwalls the Corps designed and
built along the city's three outfall canals at London Avenue, Orleans Avenue
and 17th Street. No New Orleanian who lived through Hurricane Katrina will ever
forget that the London Avenue and 17th Street canals catastrophically failed
during the storm, playing a part in flooding tens of thousands of homes and
killing more than 1,000 people. We also know that, in the wake of the storm, the
defective floodwalls have not been fully repaired but merely patched where they
failed. That is unacceptable.

Col. Robert Sinkler, commander of the Hurricane Protection Office,
made the Corps' position known at a recent meeting with the New Orleans City
Council's recovery committee. Sinkler told council members that because of the
interim gates near the mouths of the outfall canals, the interior floodwalls are
no longer part of the federal flood control system รณ and the feds therefore are
no longer responsible for them. To make sure we understood Sinkler's comment,
Gambit asked the Corps for clarification. We were told via email that operation
and maintenance of the outfall canal floodwalls are the responsibility of the
nonfederal sponsor, which means the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection
Authority-East. That's news to Tim Doody, president of SLFPA-East's board of
commissioners. "Those walls have not been decommissioned," Doody says. "They are
still part of the federal system."

During the same council meeting, Sinkler added that Corps civil
works projects are "typically" turned over to locals for operation and
maintenance upon completion. Sinkler has commanded the hurricane office only
since May, so perhaps he doesn't understand there's nothing "typical" about
those canal floodwalls other than their defective design and construction. New
Orleanians should not have to take ownership of an inferior federal product.

It has been suggested that the Corps will make $90 million in
repairs to rehabilitate and refurbish the floodwalls, which will somehow prevent
future breaches. Baloney. It doesn't take an engineering degree to recognize
that when you put the equivalent of Band-Aids on floodwalls that ruptured in
multiple places, there is no way to guarantee those floodwalls, some of which
still have the substandard "I-wall" design, will ever be made foolproof.

The safest approach is to start from scratch, and in this case, that
means adopting the plan known locally as "Option 2A," which includes permanent
pump stations at the end of the three outfall canals. This plan also would
remove the floodwalls and levees along the outflow canals and then deepen and
pave the channels, allowing water to use gravity to flow to the lakefront. Some
older New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board interior pump stations no longer
would be needed; the permanent lakefront pumps would become all-purpose,
year-round pumping stations. Additionally, the plan would add a pumping station
in Old Metairie to send water directly to the Mississippi River.

Unfortunately, in September, a U.S. House and Senate conference
committee rejected an amendment co-sponsored by Sens. Mary Landrieu and David
Vitter that would have directed the Corps to conduct a peer-review study with
cost estimates for this and other options. Landrieu blamed the Corps for
lobbying against the study, and she vowed to amend other bills to incorporate

We support Landrieu's idea of modifying another bill to include the
study, but we also think it's time for the Louisiana delegation to beat the
Corps at its own game. The Corps loves to say it can only do what Congress
authorizes, a posture that allows the Corps to claim it doesn't have the
authority to build Option 2A. If that's the case, then our delegation should
work with other members of Congress to direct the Corps to take full
responsibility for the floodwalls it builds as part of the region's federal
flood protection plan and to take all possible steps to prevent future
breaches, including a full study of Option 2A. There must be no doubt that the
feds are responsible for the local floodwalls.

We hope that once the Corps realizes it must build a holistic
flood-control system, it will recognize the need to tear down those walls, not
put $90 million worth of lipstick on them while leaving Louisianans in jeopardy
and proceed with Option 2A.

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