Fix the pumps

Friday, September 15, 2006

How? Why? Part 1

Each time I've given a presentation or talked to people about the lack of repairs, the questions of how and why we got to this point come up.

I can answer part of the how, but the why still remains a mystery.

Here's a basic chronology of the actions (or lack thereof) leading us to the current situation. Page numbers refer to the numbers in Adobe Acrobat Reader, not within the document itself. You can see all this in my presentation as well.

September 15, 2005: Corps sends out Notice to Public Sponsors, "notifying them that the application period to request Rehabilitation Assistance for Flood Damaged Flood Control Projects expires on October 15, 2005." In English, this was a letter (with some blanks to fill in) to the drainage departments or boards of Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines Parishes saying the Corps would help out in repairs if they sent back the letter by October 15. [Orleans Parish pump station PIR, page 8]

October 7, 2006: In the wake of Katrina, Corps approves one-time deviations to their own poicies to, among other things, "…for non-federal flood damage reduction projects, including pumps and pump stations, not active in the RIP, at full federal expense use FCCE funds to … undertake permanent rehabilitation to pre-storm condition." [Plaquemines Parish pump station PIR, page 93]

Note: The RIP, which is sort for Rehabilitation and Inspection Program, is a Corps list of federally funded flood control works. Almost the entire S&WB drainage system is not on the RIP. FCCE stands for Flood Control and Coastal Emergency, which is a Corps pot of money designated for repair of structures on the RIP list after a disaster. It comes out of a law called P.L. 84-99.

October 15, 2005: New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) responds to Corps Notice to Public Sponsors, requesting total federal funding of repair to drainage pumps and pump stations. [Orleans Parish pump station PIR, pages 38-42]

Note: In a particularly cruel twist of the knife, in its 9/15/05 Notice to Public Sponsors, the Corps included the following "complete the sentence"-type question to the public sponsor:

"It is in the national interest to provide permanent rehabilitation of the above described projects for the following reasons:"

It is heartbreaking to imagine Parish officials trying to think of a reason why the nation should care about helping them, especially considering all those parishes were still under water on September 15th. How could someone at the Corps seriously put that question on the form? Did they not watch the news?!? Here's what Plaquemines wrote:

"This area is the gateway to America for shipping and the oil & gas industry. We also have critical infrastructure such as oil and gas refineries, gas plants, and the Joint Reserve Military Base." [Plaquemines Parish pump station PIR, page 41]

Here's St. Bernard's response:

"Home to approx. 70,000 people, commercial marine and fish landings such as: oysters, shrimp, crabs, fish, etc., Port of St. Bernard Parish, oil and gas infrastructure including two major refineries and a natural gas plant, recreational fishing, and critical nesting habitat for a large portion of the U.S. waterfowl that migrate through annually." [St. Bernard Parish pump station PIR, page 29]

And New Orleans' response (yes, New Orleans had to justify its continued existence just 17 days after Katrina):

"New Orleans is one of the largest ports in the world, and the largest in the nation, at the base of the largest river system in the nation serving as a major economic gateway for industry and commerce to the nation and the world including the export market for the nation's grain to the world. There are three petroleum refineries producing fuel at a critical juncture in our nation's energy plan and serving natural gas pipelines serving major portions of the Northeastern United States. The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans provides water and sewerage services, and drainage to many of the aforementioned businesses and many residents who are employed in the aforementioned industries and business [sic]. Additionally, the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans drains 2200 acres of the adjacent parish, Jefferson Parish." [Orleans Parish pump station PIR, page 39]

You get the idea. Pure cruelty to put local officials through that.


October 17, 2005: Office of Management and Budget (OMB) affirms Corps' one-time deviations from policies, supposedly freeing up funds for permanent pump station repairs. It is unclear what this money is spent on besides damage assessments. It would be nearly seven months before the issuance of pump station permanent repair contracts in Orleans Parish. [Plaquemines Parish pump station PIR, page 29]

December 15, 2005: A relatively heavy rainstorm exposes in dramatic fashion the effects of the Corps' inaction toward repairing the pumps. Pump motors which had been inundated (nearly two dozen of them) were cleaned and dried by the S&WB immediately after the storm, but were not "rewound." Considering the age of the copper windings and insulation on those motors (90 years in some cases), they should have been rewound in a staggered fashion as soon as they were put back into service.

On December 15th, the motor on pump "A" in station 1 caught fire after just a short time in service. We know this because it was in the damage assessments compiled by the Corps (see February 15 below), and was used as justification for future rewinding by the Corps in the May PIR. [Orleans Parish pump station PIR, page 49]

December 30, 2005: Third Katrina Supplemental is signed into law. This bill contains more money for repairs, including cash for pump station repairs. It is very unclear as to what happened between October 17 and December 30, especially considering the urgent need to repair the stations. It would seem the Corps simply ignored the need for repairs to the pumps, concentrating instead on other priorities like levee repairs and floodgates.

Stuff from 2006 to follow. Keep in mind that as of 12/30/05, the S&WB had already been repairing pumps and pump stations for nearly four months, and the Corps had not issued a single pump station permanent repair contract.


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