Fix the pumps

Sunday, December 31, 2006

More rain yesterday

Update, 12/31/06:

I'm reposting this today, because I've made some substantial revisions to the section on flow in the London Avenue Canal. What got no press coverage after the rainfall on December 21st, except here, is how close the water got in that canal to the level at which the Corps says a breach could occur. It was within seven inches.

This brings up serious questions around what the Corps is doing to safeguard the walls of all three outfall canals when there is not a storm in the Gulf of Mexico, if they are doing anything. I go into this in more detail below.

We've had some more rain today, but it seems it was a little less intense than the December 21st storm. I drove around again to check on pumps and canals. I was out in the late afternoon before and just after dusk, so this doesn't reflect any intense rain that may have come later.

For reference, here's a map of the pump stations in New Orleans (click to enlarge):

You can match up the locations on the map above with the locations shown on this map from the 12/22/06 Times-Picayune, which shows which areas of the city drain to which stations (though it does have errors in Hollygrove, the location of the Pritchard and Monticello stations).

I visited four stations this afternoon, as well as traversing a number of railroad underpasses. Here's what I saw:

Pump station reports
Station 1 (Broadmoor/Central City): Just as on 12/21/06, every pump that could be running was running. This includes pumps A&B (550 cubic feet per second, or cfs, each), C, D, & E (1000 cfs each) and pump G (1200 cfs). Pump F is out for bearing repairs. Pump G will be taken down for identical repairs once F is fixed. I couldn't tell if vertical pumps V1 & V2 (225 cfs each) were running. The Palmetto Canal, into which Station 1 discharges, was running about 3 or 3.5 feet lower than on 12/21/06.

Station 2 (Mid-City): Both 550 cfs pumps (A & B) were running, sending water to Station 3. One of the two 1000 cfs pumps (pump D) was also running, sending water to Station 7. The other 1000 cfs pump (pump C) remains out for rewinding repairs.

Railroad underpasses at North Broad Ave., Paris Avenue, Gentilly Blvd., I-10, and South Carrollton Ave. were all clear.

Station 3 (St. Roch/Fairgrounds/7th Ward): All major pumps were running. This includes both 550 cfs pumps (A & B) and all three 1000 cfs pumps (C, D, and E). The staff gauge on the London Avenue Canal discharge of the station, which indicates the depth of the water above sea level, showed around 3 feet. Note, however, that this measurement might not be reliable due to subsidence across the entire city over the years. The true depth might have been 2 feet; I just don't know.

Station 4 (Gentilly/Pontchartrain Park): This station also empties into the London Avenue canal. It is at the intersection of Warrington and Prentiss on the east side of the canal. It is difficult to get a read on which pumps are running at this station, but I know at least two of the three 1000 cfs pumps were pumping. I think they were pumps D&E, with C not running. However, that's only based on watching water flowing into the inlet basin. There are two other smaller vertical pumps (1 & 2), each rated for 320 cfs. Based on their inlet basin, I think they were both running.

London Avenue Canal depths
So the total flow into the London Avenue canal was at least 6740 cfs. I checked staff gauges along the canal in a number of spots, because the Corps has set the safe water level to only four feet in the London Avenue canal. At the Mirabeau Ave. bridge, which is between stations 3 and 4, it was about 2 ft. At the Robert E. Lee Avenue bridge, which is downstream of both stations, it was around what appeared to be 4 ft. However, spraypainted markings on the inside of the canal walls, obviously put there by Corps contractors working on the nearby canal breach, showed the height might actually have been 3 feet or less (this points up what I said about subsidence of the ground under the staff gauges).

London Avenue Canal analysis
The reason I'm bringing all this up is because of the criteria for closing the gates on London Avenue on the approach of a tropical storm. They're supposed to drop at when the water in the canal reaches four feet above sea level. Today, the lake was at normal stage, which is around 0 feet, or sea level. And the canal depth appeared to be at a safe depth. But it was at 3.4 feet on December 21st.

With a tropical storm approaching New Orleans - a storm that would be bearing lots of rain - it doesn't take a lot of imagination to create a scenario with lots of rain swelling the canal from the pump stations in the south, and a relatively minor storm surge raising the lake level from the north. The combination of the two would then probably add up to 4 feet, meaning one of two things, both of which lead to flooding in the areas drained by stations 3 and 4:

1) The gates drop and London Avenue canal users are limited to inadequate pumping capacity, currently at 2800 cfs, with plans to raise it to 4800 cfs by August 1. Either number is obviously lower than what would be required for both stations 3 and 4 to adequately drain that part of the city without flooding (remember, today's outflow was about 6740 cfs).

2) To keep the canal level below 4 feet without closing the gates, S&WB pump station operators might be "asked" by the Corps to shut down pumps in stations 3 or 4. This would be the preferable course of action, since it preserves as much flow as possible. However, it might only be a preamble to eventual closure of the gates when the storm gets closer. In any case, it is extremely unlikely this would happen, since pump station operators answer to the S&WB and the citizens of New Orleans, not the Corps.

As a reminder of the effects of inadequate pumping capacity at the London Avenue floodgates, take a look at the inundation maps here, specifically the July, 2006, 9 inches one. The reason I picked that one is it shows a ten year rainfall with the floodgates pumping capacity we can expect most of next hurricane season (2800 cfs). It shows extensive flooding in the area drained by station 4. And that is after just six hours. Of rainfall for which the system is designed. The gates are expected to stay down for much longer than six hours.

One other thing about that map is that it is based on a safe water level of five feet in the London Avenue Canal. The SWL is now four feet, meaning earlier gate droppage and longer time for those gates to stay down - definitely longer than the six hours shown on the map.

Why don't we know what will happen?
We would know exactly what the Corps' plans are if they had publicly released the Water Control Plan, which has been complete since August, 2006. The Water Control Plan, mentioned on pages 15 and 31 of the Floodgates Operating Manual, supposedly details exactly which New Orleans and Jefferson Parish pump stations will do what when the gates drop. Specifically, the manual says on page 15:
"Through the working relationships established in the Water Control Plan, the Canal Captains will primarily be observers at the Local Partner pump stations but if the canal level rises to one foot below the Safe Canal Levels they will notify the pump operators and continue to communicate with the operators to verify they are adjusting pumping accordingly."

And on page 31:
"The Canal Captains will observe canal levels and confirm that pump station operations are being performed in accordance with the Water Control Plan agreed to by the Corps of Engineers and the local interests."

Notice that in the first quote, pumps are supposed to be "adjusted" when the level in the canal reaches one foot below the safe water level. On December 21st, the water in the London Avenue Canal reached 3.4 feet, or about seven inches below the safe water level. Yet the Corps, specifically Chris Accardo (New Orleans District Chief of Operations and according to the Floodgates Operations Manual, the guy in charge of Canal Captains), had this to say the next day in the Times-Picayune:
"This event is a nonevent."

Did they violate their own procedures? Maybe not, because technically, the Floodgates Operating Manual doesn't kick in unless there's a storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. But if we can get within seven inches of the London Avenue Canal Safe Water Level with just a normal ten-year rainfall, surely there's also a Corps procedure simply in order to prevent another breach on London Avenue when it's just rainfall raising the canal level. I really hope there is, because the walls don't care whether the water comes from the north or the south. What if we had gotten a more serious downpour than on 12/21? What if the canal had swollen another seven inches?

I placed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Corps for the Water Control Plan as soon as I learned of its existence, on August 11, 2006. They never acknowledged the request, despite the unambiguous language of FOIA and their own regulations which direct that a substantial response be made within 20 days. Unfortunately, for some reason the Corps has decided to fight that request, and six others I have made since April 30th for various documents, in federal court. I believe the trial is scheduled for some time in March. Why they wouldn't release to the citizens of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish their complete plans for those citizens' homes, businesses, and livelihoods is beyond me, and seems to be in direct contradiction to their expressed wishes to somehow communicate openly and honestly with those citizens. After all, in their "12 Actions for Change," (this link may be broken, so try this to see the Actions for Change) released on August 24, 2006, the Corps had these two items under "Communication:"
Communication: Effective and transparent communication with the public, and within the Corps, about risk and reliability.
9) Effectively communicate risk.
10) Establish public involvement risk reduction strategies.

In light of the fact that the water in the London Avenue Canal can obviously get pretty close to or above four feet without much effort, we have a right to know what will happen in that eventuality. That would be "transparent," "effectively communicating risk," and involving the public. Fighting the release of documents which would achieve those goals does not fall within those "Actions for Change."

In sum, there is real risk to the people living and working in the areas along the London Avenue canal, as well as those draining into the canal. There is not - and there won't be - adequate pumping capacity to evacuate rainfall if the floodgates drop. And even before the gates drop, it seems likely that pumps will be turned off to safeguard the canal walls and levees as the canal level rises close to 4 feet. And part of that risk is because the Corps is not effectively, transparently communicating with the public.

So while much of the press attention has focused on the 17th Street canal, I believe the real story is on the London Avenue canal. Hard questions need to be asked of the Corps on this issue, and documents - specifically the Water Control Plan - backing up their answers must be released.

And just in case you'd like to ask those questions, 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

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:,,,,,,,,,,

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Orleans Avenue floodgate pumps still pulled

One other noteworthy item I noticed today: The eastern five pumps at the Orleans Avenue floodgates remain pulled out of their platform, as they have for almost three months now. There is clearly something wrong with them, possibly the motors inside them which led to the widely reported vibration problems. If there wasn't something wrong, why wouldn't they be in the canal?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Extra floodgates pumps contract announced

Updated 12/28/06

I found the announcement below on the Pentagon's contract issuance press release page. Based on a similar notice on the New Orleans District Awards webpage (under "Service & Supply," with an award date of 12/22/06), I have concluded this is the long-awaited contract for purchase of the extra pumps at the 17th St and London Ave floodgates. And it's a biggie: over $52 million for 19 pumps. Here's the original synopsis to the solicitation. The original contract for the 34 pumps supplied by MWI of Deerfield Beach, FL , which are the ones out at the floodgates now) was for about $26.6 million, or about $780,000 per pump/engine unit.

MR Pittman is the current prime contractor at the London Avenue floodgates. We do not know who is actually manufacturing the pumps.

Update, 12/28/06
According to this press release, the eight London Avenue pumps will be manufactured by Patterson Pumps for $15 million, or almost $2 million per pump/engine unit. Patterson has manufactured pumps used in Orleans and Jefferson Parish drainage stations. You can see a list of pumps and manufacturers in the Appendices to Volume VI of the June 1 IPET report. The appendices are here (it's about 43 megs). The list of Jefferson Parish pumps is on pages 303 and 304 of the document, while the list of Orleans Parish pumps is on pages 321 and 322.

The press release says the pumps will be rated for 135,000 gallons per minute, which is equivalent to 300 cubic feet per second (cfs). That's probably the maximum capacity. That is far bigger than the MWI pumps already installed there, which are rated for somewhere around 200 cfs, and perhaps less because of the need to run them slower to prevent vibration problems.

If we assume the rest of the MR Pittman contract is for the remaining 11 pumps for 17th Street (a big assumption), that works out to over $3.4 million per pump. I don't have a problem with the Corps finally throwing money at this problem. But it makes one wonder about the existing pumps.
end Update

Just a few weeks ago, on November 9th, the Corps issued a pre-solicitation notice for installation of the pumps at 17th St. It said that Boh Brothers would be doing the work at 17th St.

Also, keep in mind that the Corps has already announced that, despite the verbiage in the announcement, the pumps won't actually be ready to run until about August 1 at the earliest, so they're already two months behind schedule.

Anyway, here's the announcement:
M.R. Pittman Group L.L.C.*, Harahan, La., was awarded on Dec. 22, 2006, a $52,560,000 firm-fixed-price contract for Vertical Axial Flow Pump Systems for the 17th Street and London Avenue Canals. Work will be performed in New Orleans, La., and is expected to be completed by June 30, 2007. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the fiscal year. There were an unknown number of bids solicited via the World Wide Web on Nov. 5, 2006, and three bids were received. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans, La., is the reporting contract office (W912P8-07-C-0025).

So we got a little rain today...

Updated 12/28/06: I'm reposting this today because I've added links to Black & Veatch needs report for Sewerage & Water Board. If you have any interest in the future of New Orleans, please read this report. Some of it is pretty scary.

Updated 12/22/06: revisions about the power system, safe water levels and the underpass stations below. Heck, just reread the whole thing, because I did a big re-edit.

The whole New Orleans area got hammered with rain today. There was serious flooding throughout the region. Many of the usual areas (well, usual for the last ten or twenty years) took on water, including Clearview and Earhart in Jefferson Parish and the area around Nashville Ave. and South Claiborne Avenue in Uptown New Orleans.

What we got today (and last night) was approximately equal to a ten-year storm, which is about equivalent to around 9 inches over a 24 hour period. Yeah, there was a little less than 9 inches, but we were close enough. Most of the drainage systems in this town were designed to handle a ten year storm, so this was a very real test of the drainage system post-Katrina. Here's what I saw this morning. Keep in mind, I'm exclusively focused on Orleans Parish.

I stopped by Pump Station 1 around 9 AM and again at 11 AM. They were running pumps A & B (550 cubic feet per second, or cfs), C, D, and E (1000 cfs each), and pump G (1200 cfs). Pump F is out for bearing repairs, under this long delayed Corps repair contract that should have issued months ago. I don't know if the two small vertical pumps (225 cfs each) were running. That means there was somewhere between 5300 and 5750 cfs flowing down the Palmetto Canal. There was still a frightenly small (maybe two feet) of freeboard left before the canal overtopped. From what I've heard, the true capacity of the canal is around 5900 cfs. I got up on one of the pedestrian bridges to take a couple of pictures. That particular bridge has open grating for its surface, allowing me to see the water rushing by just a few feet from my, uh, feet. It was kind of scary.

We were very fortunate there was no wind with this storm. If there had been, the 60 Hz pump G would have likely gone out, causing flooding in Broadmoor and Central City. As it was however, Broadmoor mostly stayed dry.

Moving further down the system, I visited the railroad trestle in front of Station 6. They appeared to be running pumps C, D, E, F, and G (1000 cfs each), pump H (1100 cfs), and all four verticals (250 cfs), for a total of 7100 cfs. Admittedly, that's just based on looking at the discharges for bubbling, which isn't entirely reliable. One other data point is that the staff gauge on the discharge side of the station showed four feet. It normally shows about 0 to 1 foot above sea level. The safe water level set by the Corps is six feet. The canal was designed for 11 to 12 feet, which was shown to be fallacious (see: breach, levee). The water was just a couple of feet below the railroad ties, which was again scary.

UPDATE, 12/22/06: Incidentally, the water reached 3.4 feet in the London Avenue canal yesterday. The safe water level there is 4 feet. I do not know how many or which pumps were flowing at stations 3 and 4, which feed that canal.

Elsewhere in the system... I checked out the pumps in Hollygrove and the Monticello Canal. Oleander Station, which houses three 33 cfs pumps, only had one pump going. That one was turning on and off every few minutes, probably due to the level sensor being set just a bit high. The other two pumps were not running at all, which surprised me considering how much rain was falling.

Just down Monticello St., the Pritchard Place station was running both 125 cfs pumps, as seen here. The Monticello Canal was filled about two feet below the top of the channel on the Orleans side, which is unfortunately at street level. Understandably, this scares a lot of people in Hollygrove.

I don't know about the other two stations that dump water into the 17th St. Canal, on Canal St. in Metairie and the I-10 station, though I did hear radio reports of flooding at underpass drained by the I-10 station.

The local news (specifically WDSU TV) reported that at least three railroad underpasses in Orleans Parish (Carrollton Ave, Canal Blvd., and Franklin Ave.) required placement of temporary pumps, probably because the permanent underpass stations are still not working. A fourth underpass (Paris Ave), was reported closed by New Orleans CityBusiness. The S&WB has had a hard time getting funding for repairs to those stations. There are twelve underpass stations, and they are shown on this graphic which accompanyed this April 27th Times-Picayune article (the one about the motors burning up).

The Corps refused to repair them because they didn't consider them part of the hurricane protection system. I'm sure firefighters and EMS workers that get blocked by a flooded underpass when trying to traverse the city to a fire would disagree.

The underpass stations also show up in the Black & Veatch report that shows the S&WB with a short- and long-term funding gaps reaching into the billions of dollars, as reported in the Times-Picayune today. That report is publicly available here and here. In the Drainage System section there is the following line item:
FEMA Projects $40,410,000
FEMA will cover some minor damage to the drainage system; primarily, the underpass pumping station repairs, as well as damages to pump stations that have already been completed or contracted by S&WB. It is thought that remaining damage repairs will be turned over to the Corps of Engineers.

Could this be one of the items that is being held up by the state? Considering it was in a report prepared just two months ago, I wouldn't be surprised. The underpass stations also get a separate line item here:
Underpass Drainage Station Mitigation $6,500,000
Certain underpasses require pumping to prevent flooding during storms. Pump station mitigation projects are expected to cost $6,000,000 to $7,000,000.

According to the report, this project is unfunded, and is part of a S&WB $822 million emergency funding request to the Louisiana Recovery Authority to cover projects ineligible under FEMA guidelines . Based on the recent doling out of CDBG funds by the LRA (the city of New Orleans got just $116,000,000), it appears this request is not going anywhere without substantial additional funds being supplied to the LRA by Congress. Please read the report.

Everyone probably wants to know what caused all the flooding. I don't know, but there's a few theories:

1) Remaining silt that washed in from the lake during Katrina is clogging many drainage lines. The city is begging FEMA for more funds to finish cleaning out those lines. Robert Mendoza, New Orleans' Director of Public Works, testified about this in detail at a very lightly attended November 1, 2006 New Orleans City Council Public Works Committee hearing. That was the same hearing the Corps blew off. Incidentally, it's beginning to appear the Corps will again blow off the same committee at their next hearing on January 8th.

2) There may have been a power loss in the S&WB 25 cycle power plant at the height of the storm, according to this article in the Times-Picayune (important: see UPDATE below). This would be at least the second time this has happened since Katrina. The first time that I know of was July 10, 2006, also during a rainstorm. In that case, 25 cycle power was lost for up to two hours across the city. 60% of the city's drainage capacity is provided by 25 cycle pumps. Incidentally, the Times-Picayune did not report the July 10th incident, except as it related to shutting down the water intake pumps for the city. Frankly, the drainage system shutdown that day was far more important.

This is a big deal. If the S&WB 25 cycle power system is unreliable, it could not only cause flooding, but it could contribute to fires not being put out, since the same power plant provides power for the water distribution system. This is scary. Here's what the Black & Veatch report says about the 25 cycle system:
Power Plant $125,000,000

The 25-cycle power plant supplies energy for water treatment, water distribution, drainage pumping stations, sewer pump stations A and C, and the Algiers Water Treatment Plant. The existing power plant was shut down for five days after Hurricane Katrina, but was restored as quickly as possible as it provided crucial power to drain the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Fourteen months after the storm, Entergy’s power supply remains fragile and is unreliable. The backup power plant has become the primary power source for some assets and is now in full operation in spite of damages from Hurricane Katrina. Given the vulnerability and unreliability of the Entergy power feeds, the S&WB must improve its power generation capability. Its power plant needs significant modifications to prevent flooding and to ensure drainage, sewerage, and water purification services when commercial power is not available.

UPDATE, 12/22/06: Since I posted the above, I have learned there was no 25 cycle power outage, though I will endeavor to confirm that. The power loss at Station 6 was due to a current overdraw on one of the Station 6 Entergy feeders. It was fairly brief.

3) One of the pumps at Station 6 may be down for bearing maintenance, under the same contract as that at station 1, taking 1100 cfs out of circulation at that station. I don't know that for a fact, and Joe Sullivan's statements in the Times-Picayune article would seem to dispute it. I'll look into it further.

UPDATE, 12/22/06: Joe Sullivan's comments were merely meant to convey the capacity of Station 6, not to say what was actually happening in the station yesterday.

4) We just got a heck of a lot of rain. The system is designed for a ten year storm, and that's about what we got today. However, if any of the above factors contributed, it means that New Orleans should prepare for flooding like this for the foreseeable future, because (except for the bearing repairs), these are not problems that will be solved inside of five years, at the minimum.

Finally, much of the local press focused on public officials' blaming clogged catch basins, implying that residents are in some way responsible for flooding of one to two feet. Do these pictures look like a case of a few leaves clogging the drains? What about the pictures in this slideshow? No, they are indicative of much more systematic problems. Frankly, I'm sick of public officials using the catch basins excuse. Streets do not get inundated by clogged catch basins. If they did, no one would be able to drive anywhere in this city when it rained.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The world's fourth largest supercomputer can't be wrong, can it?

Updated 12/27/06, 12/28/06, 12/31/06, 1/2/07 and 1/13/07. See below

Some fun has been playing out on the editorial page of the Times-Picayune the last few days. It started with a December 19th editorial about the Corps of Engineers' December 15th report on closing the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MR-GO).

The editorial was hardly incendiary. It expressed fairly well what the local sentiments have been surrounding the closure of the channel, which is widely blamed for extensive flooding in St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, mainly through loss of wetlands (long term effect) and the creation of a shortcut for storm surge (extremely short term, tragic effect). It was no more controversial and than any other editorial the T-P publishes.

Then last Friday, a day after the big rains hit New Orleans and the surrounding areas, the following letter was published at the top of the Letters to the Editor page. I'm reprinting it in its entirety.

Experts, big computer clear MR-GO, corps says
Friday, December 22, 2006

Re: "Too slow on MR-GO," Our Opinions, Dec. 19.

The Times-Picayune asserts that "The Army Corps of Engineers failed to address the role the MR-GO played in increasing the height and velocity of storm surge from Hurricane Katrina, despite the compelling case made by scientists."

I don't know what "scientists" the editorial was referring to, but the corps' hydrologists, meteorologists, oceanographers and engineers tested scale models of the Katrina wave surge, entered wave data into the world's fourth-largest supercomputer and concluded that the MR-GO was insignificant in the storm's water surge.

The Times-Picayune gave no consideration to the corps' publicly available facts, and accepted information from others who didn't merit mentioning.

The editorial claims that the corps is "the same agency that refused for months to acknowledge engineering failures in the flood protection system it built." For the record, the Army Corps of Engineers is not an agency, but on the topic of accepting responsibility, the Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, accepted full responsibility in June. Gen. Strock waited until June for the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force investigation results, so he could base his statement on facts.

The Times-Picayune asserted that "the corps wants to act like MR-GO is just a bad investment instead of admitting that it is a killer." The burden of proof is on The Times-Picayune to establish that the MR-GO is a killer, which the newspaper has not done.

Furthermore, financial reasons were just one justification for closure of many parts of the MR-GO.

The Times-Picayune cravenly associated itself with Sen. David Vitter's opinion that appropriations enacted by Congress provided the corps funding and authority to close MR-GO. The $75 million is for continual operations, with a small part going to funding research on the MR-GO closure options -- not the authority to close.

When The Times-Picayune, the paper of record for New Orleans, writes reckless editorials, it is difficult for the public to develop balanced opinions about our service. New Orleans needs better record-keeping.

Vic Harris
Deputy Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
New Orleans District
New Orleans

I've followed the "debate" over closure of MR-GO very carefully since the storm, and even before it. Its a debate in which everyone and their brother (all the way up to the Governor) says, "close it," except for the Corps and a handfull of businesses along the waterway. I'm certainly no expert, so I'm not going to pass judgement on the assertions by Mr. Harris. However, the tone is just eye-popping in its chutzpah, and its no surprise the T-P put it at the top of the Letters column.

Senator Vitter's office received numerous calls of apology from upper-ups at the Corps the same day the letter was published, justifiably so. It takes some moxie to call the simple act of agreeing with a U.S. Senator "craven," unless that Senator is, I don't know, Joe McCarthy. Apparently Mr. Harris was expressing his personal opinion when he composed his letter, and then made the mistake of signing it as if he were representing the Corps' official position.

As far as the Times-Picayune's position as the paper of record for New Orleans, I'd like to ask Mr. Harris how many Pulitzer Prizes the Corps of Engineers has won?

There have been three responses published since Friday. Here they are linked with excerpted quotes:

12/23: Corps damaging the scant credibility it has left
"I suppose there may be some folks left on earth who believe that MR-GO did not permit the unfettered surge that swamped St. Bernard Parish and eastern New Orleans, but if so, they all work for the Corps of Engineers."

12/26 (2 letters): Even a big computer will say to close MR-GO
"Given correct data and asked appropriate questions, even the fourth-largest supercomputer on the planet will confirm that a healthy, strong coast is the foundation to sustainable hurricane protection for southeast Louisiana. And the cornerstone to restoring our coast below New Orleans is closing the MR-GO."

So we can't criticize the Corps?
"Vic Harris, deputy communications director of the Army Corps of Engineers, seems to be the embodiment of the arrogant weisenheimer attitude of the corps."

I'll update this post if there are any other letters published by the T-P. And just for reference, here's a list of the top 10 supercomputers in the world, as of last month.

12/27/06 Update:

Three more letters today:

12/27: Agency has earned distrust
"The corps should just shut up and work hard to gain our trust back. Maybe the fourth-largest supercomputer could fill a hole in the levee design, or at least give the corps a clue."

12/27: A typical federal spin job
"The burden of proof is on the federal government's shoulders. They have to prove that their huge, poorly conceived ditch, which leads directly to the Gulf of Mexico and through the path of Katrina's death and destruction in St. Bernard and Orleans parishes, is not the major cause of that death and destruction."

12/27: Corps' image already bruised
"The public has already decided for itself about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and any kind of "balanced opinion" went out of the window during the levee breaches. The people of New Orleans and the surrounding area will never again trust the corps with our lives as blindly as we once did. Every project, every missed deadline, every safety violation is being watched and questioned."

12/28/06 Update:

12/28: Corps should close MR-GO, apologize for failure
"This is not the first time that corps planning has gone awry. The levees and floodwalls that failed New Orleans are a stunning testament to that fact. The Government Accountability Office also testified to Congress in March that a number of recent corps studies were so flawed that they "did not provide a reasonable basis for decision-making." The studies reviewed by GAO "were fraught with errors, mistakes, and miscalculations and used invalid assumptions and outdated data." (GAO-06-529T, available at ).

Instead of calling The Times-Picayune "craven" and "reckless" for demanding a real plan to close the MR-GO, the corps should be doing all it can to put an end to the danger posed by the corps-built outlet. An apology for the corps' dreadful failures in New Orleans would also be in order."

12/31/06 Update:

12/31: Close MR-GO and pay up
"The deep draft channel MR-GO, designed, built and maintained by the corps has brought nothing but heartache, destruction and death to eastern Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes. The corps should have done the right thing many years ago, when experts warned that building MR-GO would cause saltwater intrusion."

1/2/07 Update:

1/2: Report reveals corps' agenda
"A case can easily be made to show that the failure of the MR-GO was a direct reason St. Bernard Parish flooded. Thousands of lives were directly affected by the corps' incompetence. Whole communities have been uprooted. How long will this foolishness continue? How many studies do we need to point out the obvious? Do we really have to wait until the corps' report to Congress in December 2007 to be told what thousands of people in St. Bernard have been saying for decades?"

1/13/07 Update:

1/13: Corps should quit inventing excuses, do its job

"The question Mr. Harris asked focuses on a straw man -- the claim that MR-GO was an exclusive conduit for storm surge. What he ignores is the leading role MR-GO has played in destroying much of our area's wetlands buffer over the past decades. It doesn't take a supercomputer, only a trip to St. Bernard Parish, to understand the channel's destruction of tens of thousands of acres of coastal wetlands and what that produced in Katrina -- devastating storm surge reaching heavily populated areas."

- U.S. Senator David Vitter

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Taking credit where it's not due

On the front page of the Corps' Hurricane Protection System webpage, there's a multi-image GIF that plays in the header. It shows various drainage structures around the area. I've highlighted the area in the picture below:

Here's the highlighted area blown up:

This image is of the I-10 pumping station near the Orleans/Jefferson parish line. It was built about two or three years ago by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LA DOTD) and was then turned over to the control of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board. It is an automated station that drains the nearby I-10 railroad underpass, which is notorious for flooding. Such flooding cuts off the main ingress and egress for New Orleans.

The Corps has absolutely nothing to do with this station. In fact, all interior pumping stations in New Orleans were specifically excluded as storm protection structures by the Federal government. This despite this conclusion from their own investigation into Katrina:
"The continued operation of pumping stations before, during and after a hurricane is essential to prevent, control and eliminate flooding. Pumping stations should be considered an integral part of the hurricane protection system; their design criteria should match that of levees and floodwalls."

The way to recognize this "integral" role would be to place the drainage system on the Corps' Rehabilitation & Inspection Program (unfortunate acronym: RIP), which automatically provides federal dollars for repairs to structures on the list after a disaster. Here's a primer on the RIP. The actual Federal regulations governing the program are found here; the Corps' own Engineering Regulation ER 500-1-1 also talks about the program. Currently, none of the S&WB drainage system is on the RIP list, except for the levees along the outfall canals (yes, the levees that failed).

Because of the widespread devastation of Katrina, and the S&WB's inability to pay for repairs, the Corps - under special dispensation - is now solely responsible for many repairs to the S&WB drainage pumping stations. The repairs have lagged significantly. Since the Corps (or at least their webpage designers) want to somehow take credit for the I-10 station as if it's really a part of the federal hurricane protection system, let's look at what repairs are required at that station. According to the 11/1/06 Corps schedule of pump station repairs (which notes the station as "Non-fed"), the I-10 station is in line for the following contracts:

OPS-06A: Bearings
OPS-08: Electrical-Mechanical Repairs
OPS-09: Building and Structural Repairs (including the roof)

To my knowledge, the last two contracts have yet to be issued. The bearing contract just went out about two weeks ago. Today marks 477 days since Katrina.

Just for reference, here's the detailed damage estimate from the Orleans Parish Pump Station Project Information Report, or PIR, which lays out the scope of work for all the repairs (the PIR was approved on May 1, 2006 over three months after the rest of the post-Katrina repair work was approved):

Observations, Conclusions and Recommendations

1. Inspect all gear that was exposed to rainwater and covered by tarps due to roof leakage. Replace damaged components.

1. Replace the bearings on Pumps P-1, P-2, P-3. These pumps were operated with “dirty water.” Pump P-4 was not run.
[editor's note: pumps P-1, P-2, and P-3 are the main 250 cfs pumps. P-4 is a 100 cfs constant duty pump]
2. Repair leaking expansion joint on 12 inch discharge line.
3. The control panel for the sump pumps requires replacement.
4. There was heavy damage to the waste oil system. Overhaul waste oil system.

1. The floodwater reached a level of 7’-2” above the first floor. The operating level is on the second floor.
2. The roof leaks. It is apparent that the joint sealant between the pre-cast panels had blown out; therefore, all the joints should be resealed.
3. Ceiling tiles in the control room were missing or damaged; these should be replaced.
4. Replace (2) 3’ x 7’ metal doors, which were corroded and warped.
5. About 175 lf of 12’ vinyl fence, with a 15 ft gate, along the Academy Dr. side was destroyed; this should be replaced in kind.
6. A 6’ x 8’ noise reduction panel was missing. This should be replaced.
7. Reinstall one light pole at the suction basin, next to the crane mounted on the basin wall.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Quick updates

Just a few quick updates...

Roofing repairs
The roof replacement at Station 5 in the Lower Ninth Ward has been completed. With this work finshed, Bollinger Quick Repair has resumed rewinding repairs on the pump motors in Station 5.

With the recent completion of repairs at Station 2 in Mid-City, this means that Crown Roofing has finished out their contract for roofing repairs or replacements at six pump stations: 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, and 13. They finished almost on schedule (just a couple of weeks late), and should be congratulated.

Bearing replacements
Bearing replacements on horizontal pumps have begun at Station 19 in the Upper Ninth Ward and Station 1 in Broadmoor, under this contract issued to IPS of Louisiana, which is headquartered in Kenner, LA. IPS is also going to be replacing bearings on pumps in Station 6 under this contract.

Discharge line repairs
There has been a delay in the issuance of the solicitation of this contract (assuming what is mentioned here is actually the discharge line repair contract called out as OPS-10 on the Corps' 11/1/06 schedule). The date of issuance for the solicitation has been pushed back from December 4 to December 22. The modification is here, and the original presolicitation notice is here.

Notable about this solicitation is the contact information. The people listed have email addresses in the Corps' Vicksburg office (the "mvk" in their email addresses, instead of New Orleans' "mvn"). We've seen this on the solicitation for the extra pumps out at the floodgates, on the notice for installation of those pumps on 17th Street, on the solicitation for the complete rebuilding of three St. Bernard Parish pump stations. In fact, in all three of those cases, the same person, Jack Little, has been assigned as the point of contact. Mr. Little also has an mvk email. It would appear the Hurricane Protection Office brought in outside help to expedite some of the repair work.

Winches on the floodgates
Here's a nice article from the Tulsa World about the supplier of the hydraulic control system for the winches mounted atop the London Avenue canal floodgates. It says the winches are due to be operational in January.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Orleans Parish Pump Station Repairs - latest schedule

I've mentioned this schedule a few times over the last few posts. I finally got it scanned and uploaded to my account. It's from November 1, 2006.

You can find the schedule, saved as a PDF, here. I'm afraid I had to leave the file size a little big (a little under 3 megs) in order to retain the readability. I've also gone back to older posts and linked the schedule into them.

It's really depressing seeing how much of the work is scheduled to drag into next hurricane season. Of course, all of these pumping stations are needed all the time. After all, we had a storm last December 15th that flooded the I-10 underpass.

If you have any questions about the schedule, feel free to email me at:

mcbrid35 at yahoo dot com

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Catching up

Updated 7/9/07, see below.

Here's a bunch of quick updates.

Roofing work
As of today, Crown Roofing has finished their work at Station 2 in Mid-City. There's some reallllly shiny new copper gutters on the upriver side of the building (I could see them as I came over the I-10/Broad St. overpass, which is nearly a mile away), and I saw the road barricades being picked up this afternoon. Bollinger Quick Repair has returned to Station 2 to complete the rewinding work on the last motor in that station (out of four) to require repairs.

I'd also like to issue a correction to a couple of posts about the roofing work, specifically one on October 23 and another on October 15. In both of those posts, I said that work at Station 3 had yet to commence. In fact, I now believe that by that time, work at Station 3 was already done. Station 3 did not receive a completely new roof, but rather (I think) repairs to its cupola and guttering. I regret the error.

Pump station repair contracts going out
The Corps' New Orleans District has decided to keep most of its contracting work under wraps. Of the seven Orleans Parish pump station repair contracts that remained to be issued for bid and awarded at the beginning of November, only one has been publicly advertised. That is this one (I think):

OPS-10: Discharge Line - Basin Cleanout
Advertise contract: 11/22/06 (previously 9/9/06)
Award contract: 12/22/06 (previously 10/16/06)
Construction complete: 4/6/07 (previously 2/15/07)
Duration: 4.5 months (previously 4 months)

According to the Corps' 11/1/06 schedule, this contract includes work at Stations 6, 7, and 19, and Elaine. That's a little odd, because the 6/22/06 schedule we have for the Corps has this contract taking place at stations 6, 7, 17, and Pritchard. It's strange that station 17 is not included now, because according to the Sewerage & Water Board, that's where there's a problem with a "discharge line." On their own June 22nd update, the S&WB wrote about station 17, "No drainage pumping since the discharge line is broke in the closed position." It's also in the title of the presolicitation notice. Perhaps this presolicitation notice doesn't relate to contract OPS-10? Obviously, this is something that I'll have to look into a little further.

Other contracts have been issued recently, which is a good thing. As I mentioned in my last post, the two remaining bearing repair contracts have been issued, though we don't know to whom, or how, or for how much.

As I reported recently, both frequency changer contracts (actually subcontracts to Reeves Electrical Services) have gone to Bollinger Quick Repair.

As noted in the December 1st Corps newsletter, installation of permanent 60 cycle generators at Station 6 has also been issued to Reeves Electrical Services (RES) of Pierre Part, LA. I previously reported extensively on RES's connections with Cajun Constructors of Baton Rouge, a plugged-in firm if there ever was one. Is it possible the generators and frequency changer repairs are all part of the same contract? Who knows? the Corps doesn't bother to make this stuff public.

Still remaining (I think) are contracts for Electrical-Mechanical Repairs at 20 stations and Building & Structural Repairs at every station. I imagine these will be very big contracts, which means we won't find out about them until well after they're issued.

[Update, 7/9/07: See this post, now updated, for the latest on the Electrical-Mechanical repairs, the discharge line/basin cleanout, and Structural Repair contracts.]

Urgency, schmurgency
The New York Times noticed the lack of urgency and wrote about it extensively in their December 4th edition. The article's loaded with a ton of self-serving quotes from local Corps personnel. I'll be blogging about the article soon, but you can read it for yourself here (until it goes behind the stupid TimesSelect firewall next week).

June 1? REALLY not so much

Colonel Jeff Bedey, head of the Hurricane Protection Office, appeared on WLAE's "Road to Recovery" last night and dropped the following bombshell:

The extra pumps at the 17th Street and London Avenue canals will be ready sometime between "late July and mid-August."

Reading the tea leaves (why can't these people ever just give a straight answer?), that means somewhere between July 20 and August 15. Of course, that is smack in the middle of hurricane season.

Interestingly, he had the gall to say during the same interview that the Corps had not lost its sense of urgency. He used the same "running a marathon, not a 10k" line that he used last week on WIST-690 (sounds like a talking point to me). I think it's just that the Corps thinks its a better long distance runner than a sprinter, and has decided to only do long distance. When I ran track in high school, I would have loved to have run the 800 or the 1600 instead of the 400. It was way easier. Apologies to any runners in the audience, but I never fell down gasping for breath either of the times I ran the 800 like I did many times at the end of running the 400.

He also mentioned that the Corps had awarded the remaining two bearing repair contracts for the Orleans Parish pump station repairs (he announced this unsolicited, except for a little prompting from the host in the form of, "We've got thirty seconds left, is there anything else you want to say?"). According to the latest Corps schedule for Orleans pump station repairs, those contracts are:

OPS-06A: Bearings - PS 1, 14, 14, 16, I-10
Advertise contract: 11/1/06 (previously 9/13/06)
Award contract: 11/22/06 (previously 10/21/06)
Construction complete: 7/23/07 (previously 7/23/07)
Duration: 8 months (previously 9 months)

OPS-06B: Bearings - PS 4, 6, 10, 12, 19
Advertise contract: 11/1/06 (previously 9/13/06)
Award contract: 11/22/06 (previously 10/21/06)
Construction complete: 7/23/07 (previously 7/23/07)
Duration: 8 months (previously 9 months)

This is a good thing, though the completion dates are - like the floodgate extra pumps - smack in the middle of hurricane season. I wonder if some sense of urgency might have avoided that situation?

And there was no actual advertisement, as has become the pattern on these contracts. The Corps seems determined to keep the public out of the business of knowing what's going on with the public's own assets.

Hey Corps (I know you're reading this, if the 25 or so hits from last Wednesday are any indication), would it hurt that much to put this stuff up your public website? Because there not on the Awarded Contracts page now, and they certainly weren't ever on the Advertised Solicitations page. What are you trying to hide?

Finally, Bedey said there were still six pump station repair contracts in the design phase, though that number might include non-pump station repair contracts (he was throwing out a bunch of numbers without specifics, trying the wow the audience with statistics). We're 15 months out, and they're still designing?

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