Yesterday, the Corps flew Colonel Bedey, the head of the Hurricane Protection Office, back from Washington so he could be there when two local TV affiliates (Fox 8 and ABC 26) filmed four of the 17th Street pumps being run. The Corps pointed to this demonstration as proof that everything's just A-OK.
1) The Corps already ran these pumps last Saturday. The Times-Picayune buried a tiny article about it on page B-3 in Sunday's local section. Here's the article:
Corps pump tests get thumbs up
This article (and possibly the Corps' alerting the media about the test) was also a bid by the Corps to get out ahead of the news that broke yesterday. They obviously failed in that bid.
2) Those four pumps were ordered long after Ms. Garzino's memo and after the other 34 pumps started failing last summer. They were part of an order of six extra pumps to MWI (total charge, about $4 million for all six). These four were actually the last pumps installed - they went just a couple of months ago (they weren't fully hooked up as of January 26, 2007) and are not the subject of Ms. Garzino's memo. That is, they were not in the original order of 34. Using these pumps as a demonstration to show that the other 34 are working is pure lying. The Corps is probably going to turn on those pumps again tomorrow for the Mayor. They represent about 800 cubic feet per second of capacity (theoretically). Pre-Katrina, over 10,000 cfs flowed down the 17th Street canal.
3) The test last Saturday, like the one last night, only went for about an hour. That was not mentioned in the Times-Picayune article. But ALL the floodgate pumps (there are no spares in case one or more fails during a storm) will have to run for 12 or maybe 24 hours during a tropical storm or hurricane. Why isn't the Corps running tests for the media that last that long? Because they know the pumps and their drive units probably can't hold out for that long.
Don't buy what the Corps is selling.
Finally, I have one other hunk of information to add.
As a result of another FOIA request I made in May of last year, the Corps uploaded a number of documents to the IPET website this past February (the site that was set up to allow the public to understand the Corps' investigation into Katrina). I just found out about this two days ago when they responded to my FOIA lawsuit. You can find them by going to the IPET website, clicking on "Post-Katrina" on the left, and then "Project Informations Reports." You'll see the files listed there.
The documents are all of the revisions of the Project Information Report ("PIR" in Corps-speak) that authorized the floodgates and the pumps. PIR's are detailed scopes of work and budgets written by the Corps to detail ther projects. They are not generally released. I had previously obtained Revisions 0 and 1 of this document, despite the Corps ignoring my FOIA request for them. I did not know that Revisions 2, 3, and 4 existed until a few days ago.
Revision 0 (Oct., 2005)
Revision 1 (Jan., 2006)
Revision 2 (May, 2006)
Revision 3 (Jul., 2006)
Revision 4 (Oct., 2006)
In Revision 1, which came out in January of 2006, the Corps set up their entire strategy for protecting the three outfall canals. It was to be a two pronged strategy. There would be floodgates to protect against storm surge, and there would also be repairs to the walls along the canals. They set aside $29 million to do this at all three canals. I've blogged repeatedly about these bank stabilization contracts before, wondering what happened to the money and the plans. Well, now that I've seen Revisions 2, 3, and 4, I know part of the answer: the plans simply disappeared.
Revision 2, issued May 17, 2006, makes absolutely no mention of the status of the bank stabilization contracts (other than mentioning them in the budgetary chart - so apparently they still existed as ideas in May, 2006), or any plans for implementing them. Revisions 3 and 4 are similarly silent on those repair efforts - again, other than calling them out as line items in the budgetary chart (Note: at some point bank stabilization for Orleans Avenue canal was eliminated, since it disappears entirely between January and May, 2006). But since the walls weren't fixed (and still aren't), New Orleans now has problems with drainage even when there isn't a tropical storm. That is because the walls are so weak along the outfal canals (most severely along the London Avenue canal), the Corps has forbidden the local drainage authority from filling the canals above a level at which they deem a breach is imminent, called the Safe Water Level. At London Avenue, this level is four feet, which is the height of the base of the wall atop the levee. If that level is exceeded by the interior drainage pumps, some of those pumps must be turned off. This has already happened once, on December 30th. I blogged about this a few weeks back, and the Times-Picayune finally caught up to the story a few days later. The Corps, specifically Acting Branch Chief (Existing Pump Stations Branch) Jim St. Germain, was present in Pump Station 3 for that shutdown. In fact, it was Mr. St. Germain who recommended that shutdown.
That is the same Jim St. Germain around whom many of the events of the past few days are swirling. He's one of the Corps' New Orleans District's pumping guys, along with Dan Bradley and Dennis Strecker. All three play prominent roles in Ms. Garzino's memo, specifically in the downgrading and elimination of testing requirements without the prior knowledge of the Corps Contracting Officer, Cynthia Nicholas. Ms. Nicholas was the only person legally authorized to make such changes. You can see a picture of Messrs. St. Germain and Bradley in the Corps' February 6, 2006 newsletter. A picture of Mr. Strecker at his retirement in December, 2005 can be seen here. Mr. Strecker was evidently brought back from retirement, possibly as a contractor, just to deal with the pumps. He was at an April 18, 2006 meeting at MWI's Florida facility, representing the Corps.
Frankly, if the Corps had simply spent the money fixing the walls, which are part of the federally authorized hurricane protection system, there would have been no need for the floodgates at all.
The reason for Revision 2 was to propose a plan for expanding pumping capacity at the floodgates, specifically at 17th Street and London Ave. The initial order of MWI pumps did not give New Orleans nearly enough pumping capacity to pump out rainwater during a storm (I know, I know...). What is also really interesting about Revision 2 of the PIR is its ... surprising ... recommendation to perform that expansion by buying 32 more hydraulic pumps just like the 34 they'd already bought from MWI. 16 would be installed at 17th Street and 16 would be installed at London Avenue. This particular expansion never did take place, thank goodness.
But notice the dates of what was happening. The Corps upper-ups at New Orleans got Ms. Garzino's memo on May 4, 2006. Just 13 days later, they were recommending buying 32 more of the exact same pumps that they had been told wouldn't work! That's crazy talk! They pooh-poohed another idea to install much more robust, direct-drive, non-hydraulically-powered pumps that would have cost more (maybe) and been delivered perhaps a month later. Considering the original MWI pumps weren't working anyway, would a month have really mattered? Besides, they ended up buying the direct drive pumps anyway this past January, as I've also written about January 12, January 18, and February 11. The Corps finally reported the news in their February 21st newsletter, along with some admittedly snazzy graphics.
So to make this as clear as possible... Not only did the Corps install pumps they knew wouldn't work, not only did they simply give up throughout the entire year of 2006 on repairing the canal walls, they also recommended doubling the order of the known-to-them-to-be-defective pumps and drive units, assumedly with the same manufacturer - MWI.