Fix the pumps

Thursday, May 31, 2007

How about briefing the citizens and taxpayers?

[Updated July 11, 2007. See below]
[Updated June 9, 2007. See below]
[Updated June 1, 2007. See below.]

From the May 31, 2007 Times-Picayune, in an article regarding General Van Antwerp's visit to New Orleans:

"...The general will be briefed on the problems the corps experienced installing pumps at three temporary gates built at the ends of the 17th Street, Orleans and London avenue canals."

I assume this is in conjunction with the internal review of the pumps, which has been proceeding for nine months. Do we seriously think the general is going to receive the same patronizing BS that the public gets, like this May 24, 2007 gem from Colonel Bedey (talking about a pump going down during Orleans Avenue pump testing)?

"I equate it to an alternator going out on a car. You don't replace the car, you replace the alternator"

Thanks for fully explaining the problem to us. It's really inspiring that you think that none of the citizens are intelligent enough to absorb a complete explanation. You couldn't put out a press release the next day, or even in the week since then? Do we even know if the pump has been fixed? Do we know what the problem was? Do we know if the same problem can be found on the other 39 pumps? "No" to all four questions. It's typical of Colonel Bedey and his band of Merry Mendacity-Makers to not level with the public. Happy talk and collegial back-slapping has grown very tiresome. We deserve unvarnished, unspun facts. Apparently, Van Antwerp is far more likely to receive them than the people who actually need them. This is not openness.

Update, 6/9/07:
By the way, the Times-Picayune found out it wasn't a matter of a simple "alternator." Buried at the very end of their article about the release of the Corps internal investigation was this howler:

"During a news conference on the report Friday, Bedey also confirmed that one of the new pumps was replaced May 17 after a chunk of concrete was sucked into it, causing severe damage. He said the replacement took two days."

A chunk of concrete!

This also brings up the interesting question: where did they get a 60" pump in just two days? They didn't buy any spares.
[end update]

The citizens of New Orleans, who have to live with this stuff, should get the exact same briefing that a general who has been on the job for less than two weeks - and who does not have to live behind those gates - should get. Frankly, New Orleans should get that briefing before the general, even if it might embarrass the general. And local and national reporters should be crawling all over every office of the Corps (New Orleans, Vicksburg, or HQ in Washington) that might have access to the briefing and the internal review report in order to get them to the public. We deserve it.

General Van Antwerp's predecessor, General Strock, told Senator Vitter the Corps internal panel would get their work done by the end of May. Well, today's May 31. If there are recommendations and action items in there, wouldn't it be important to the citizens to know them, so they can make informed decisions about the risk they face this hurricane season? That season starts tomorrow.

By the way, it is very likely that there are recommendations and action items in the Corps internal report. The Corps doesn't investigate for the sake of investigating. They are a militarily-goverened organization, and as such, are action-oriented (at least in theory). They would not spend nine months on an investigation, and then say "Everything's fine!" At least I hope not. My instinct is that there are things in the internal report that show there is still work to be done on the MWI pumps, despite all the puffery from Col. Bedey on the local news.

Update, 6/1/07:
At the very end of the Times-Pic's coverage of Van Antwerp's 17th Street canal press conference is a tiny mention of the internal report:

"Van Antwerp also said an independent report on the problems experienced by the corps in installing pumps at the ends of the drainage canals should be released next week. The report was requested by [Corps Mississippi Valley Division Commander Brigadier General Robert] Crear after inspectors raised questions about the ability of the pumps to operate."

Separately, I have heard that Crear is writing/editing his preface to the report, and that is part of the holdup.

I did notice that Van Antwerp came out smelling like roses (mostly) in the TV coverage yesterday and in the print coverage today, so I guess that was "mission accomplished" for the Corps' Public Affairs operation. Though I must give the T-P props for calling him to task for a bit of cluelessness:

"Van Antwerp admitted he knew nothing about the long-delayed Hurricane Protection Decision Chronology being conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Defense Department.

The study was designed 'to enable the corps and the nation to fully understand the long history of federal, state and local decisions that led to the design and construction of the New Orleans-area flood and storm damage reduction system,' Maj. Gen. Don Riley, corps director of civil works, said when the study was announced in June 2006 as a companion to the nine-volume forensic report on the levee failures during Hurricane Katrina.

Corps officials and members of the independent team preparing the report have refused to say when it will be released to the public. The lack of such a report on the breaches -- detailing policy and political failures that accompanied engineering and scientific failures -- prompted criticism last year from the American Society of Civil Engineers."

In order to promote accountability later on (in case stuff goes to hell), here's a wrapup of Van Antwerp's comments during his visit:

Times Picayune: June 1
AP: New corps chief says he's personally committed to rebuilding New Orleans
WWL-TV (video only, report from 5 PM news): New head of Corps of Engineers in town
ABC-26: New Corps chief tours area
WDSU-6 (video only, report from 5 PM news): Corps Chief Promises to Tell Truth, Good or Bad
Baton Rouge Advocate: Storm risk report to be very detailed

[Update, July 11, 2007]
The Corps released the Katrina decision chronology today. The Times-Picayune did a big article that carried the Corps water quite adequately. Despite actually naming names within the article, the headline and the lede still say that blame can't be assigned to individuals within the New Orleans District. This is crap. Real people signed those drawings and wrote those reports and advocated those positions that led to Katrina. Some of those people are still working in the New Orleans District. So much for accountability.

Hopefully, all of that will come out in the civil suits.


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