Fix the pumps

Friday, October 13, 2006

A step back

Let's take one step back and summarize the "phenomenal" job the Corps has done:

Missed deadlines for installation of pumps at 17th St canal floodgates: June 1, July 9, September 7, September 30, October 31 (anticipated).

Missed deadlines for work on Orleans Parish pump station repairs: three sets (set given on March 15th to S&WB, set given on June 22nd to City Council, set given on August 17th to industry vendors).

Money remaining unspent on Orleans Parish pump station repairs: $30 million.

Days since Katrina: 410.

Days since Corps gave itself a medal for fabulous job rehabbing the flood control system after their own mistakes: 135.

That last one refers to the awarding of the Wheeler Medal to Walter Baumy, the Chief of the Engineering Division at the Corps' New Orleans District.

You see, the professional organization to which most of the Corps' professional staff belongs, the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) held a banquet the night of the first day of hurricane season this year, June 1. At that banquet, called the Society Ball, they gave out a bunch of awards, among them the Wheeler Medal. Here's the press release announcing Baumy's win. The key quote is this:

"Baumy served as the senior civilian and engineer within the USACE Task Force Guardian, leading the effort to repair the Greater New Orleans Hurricane Protection System by June 2006. As such, he oversaw the restoration of more than 169-miles of ravaged hurricane protection system, 68 pumping stations and four water control structures. This $800 million construction program was executed in the 276 days between Aug. 29, 2005, when hurricane Katrina struck and June 1, 2006, the start of the new hurricane season. Baumy also was personally involved in the engineering of improved designs of the earthen levees protecting the city of New Orleans, and in the stability improvements to miles of floodwall repairs."

As we now know, there were no pump stations restored under Task Force Guardian's watch. Don't take my word for it. Here's a Corps project manager quoted in the September 25th New Orleans CityBusiness:

"Since June 1 the pace has been phenomenal," [Corps project manager Daniel Bolinger] said. Prior to that, Task Force Guardian, the Corps agency overseeing repairs to levees and floodwalls damaged by Katrina, was not focused on repairing pump stations. TFG had begun assessing damages to pump stations, but the majority of pump station repairs never began under TFG, Bolinger said. TFG dissolved June 1.

So one would wonder how one person could get an award for restoration of 68 pump stations, when that restoration was obviously not done? Well, if that award wasn't bestowed by an independent organization, but was instead given by that person's clueless bosses, then it might be possible, right?

That's exactly what happened. The winner of the Wheeler Medal - titularly given by SAME for "outstanding contributions to military engineering by a civilian or uniformed member of the Army," - is actually selected by the Army Corps of Engineers! What chutzpah!

By the by, I have verified this information with the head of SAME, Dr. Robert Wolff (, who promised he would pass my concerns along to the right people at the Corps. I have never heard back.

Here's a picture of Baumy getting his award from Major General Ronald Johnson, the number two military man in the entire Corps of Engineers who gave the keynote address at the conference:

By the way, the local Public Affairs office at the New Orleans District must have known what an embarrassment this was, because they didn't even announce it themselves until August 8th, in this newsletter.

So just in case you'd like to voice your feelings about this, here's some email addresses:

Colonel Richard P. Wagenaar, Commander, New Orleans District of the Corps

Lieutenant Colonel Murray P. Starkel, Deputy Commander, New Orleans District

Colonel Jeffrey Bedey, head of the Hurricane Protection Office at the New Orleans District, which has direct responsibility over the pump station repair contracts and the floodgate projects

Jim St. Germain, Project Manager, New Orleans District; author of the Orleans Pump Station PIR

Christophor Gilmore, Project Manager, New Orleans District; author of the Floodgates PIR

Greg Breerwood, Deputy for Planning, Programs and Project Management, New Orleans District

Walter Baumy, Chief of Engineering Division, New Orleans District

Michael Lowe, Chief of Emergency Operations, New Orleans District

Brigadier General Robert Crear, Commander, Mississippi Valley Division (MVD) of the Corps (MVD is above New Orleans)

Colonel Albert M. Bleakley, Deputy Commander, Mississippi Valley Division (this one is a guess based on BG Crear's address above; I couldn't find it online)

David Sills, Chief of Emergency Management and Security Division, Mississippi Valley Division

To make copying into a "to:" field easier, here they are all together:,,,,,,,,,,


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