Fix the pumps

Friday, June 29, 2007

Cover up, Part 2

In Part 1 of this report, we detailed Colonel Bedey's lie on national television about full performance testing of the pumps and drives. Bedey claimed the Corps had "decided" in the spring of 2006 to move that testing from the Florida factory of MWI to the worksites in New Orleans.

We demonstrated the transparent falsity of that lie by looking at actual contract documents, emails, and analysis within the internal Corps floodgate pumps report. All of those sources show that Corps had no intention of conducting full performance testing at the worksites. They also show that there has not been any full performance testing at the sites for over a year, a clear violation of the contract. Colonel Bedey made up out of whole cloth the fiction that full performance testing would be conducted in New Orleans. The lack of such testing is a serious shortfall in the performance of the contract.

In this part, we'll look at the implications of the lack of full performance testing, as well as the Corps' actions in trying to avoid doing such testing.

What does the lack of full performance testing mean?

For one thing, it completely undercuts all of the Corps New Orleans District's reassurances about how great the pumps are working. The fact is they have no way to determine whether all of the pumps are working up to spec, because through their inaction they have illegally de facto eliminated that part of the contract.

Remember what the internal investigation says about full performance testing of all the pumps:
"This testing was not performed in accordance with the contract requirements and a significant credit is due to the Government for the nonperformance of it"

This is in the present tense, i.e. the full performance testing was not performed as of June, 2007. Perhaps that's why Bedey said earlier in the interview (see my June 13th post) that the internal report was a snapshot of September, 2006 conditions: he was clumsily trying to undercut the fact that for over a year, he and the people under his command and their supplier have likely colluded to avoid enforcement of a vital aspect of the pump supply contract. Enforcement of that provision - and its probable results that the pumps don't meet the spec (see below for backup on that) - would likely land the Corps and MWI in court, and due to the New Orleans District's cruddy recordkeeping, MWI might win.

But what about all the testing the Corps says they've run? They say the pumps are ready

All those dog and pony shows the Corps has run for the local media, which the media then turns into b-roll footage for the nightly news... none of them were actual performance tests over the entire range of the pumps' required flows and heads. Bedey admitted in the press briefing when the internal report was released that none of the latest round of "tests" went longer than 45 minutes. There's no way one could run a satisfactory flow test in such a brief time.

The Corps' own press release from May 31, 2007 (just a few weeks ago) refers to them as "demonstrations." That's also a term that appears in the very vague section on field testing in the original contract (a section that was taken straight from MWI's own specifications). It's probably a key semantic difference in Corps-speak which is conveniently left unexplained to the layman. Dollars to doughnuts, a "demonstration" does not qualify as a full performance test. But the Corps is perfectly happy muddying the waters for the unitiated.

In running all these "demonstrations," and in not performing the contract as it is written, the New Orleans District has decided not to determine if what the taxpayers have spent millions of dollars on actually meets the specification! It also appears that in portraying the demonstrations as legitimate performance tests (schizophrenic, or maybe duplicitous, quote from Corps May 31 press release: "they've been successfully tested"), there has been a coordinated effort to cover up the lack of full performance testing.

Why not run the full performace tests?

Why wouldn't the New Orleans District and MWI want to know for sure if the pumps meet the spec? Why not yank every one of the pumps out one at a time, along with their twinned drive unit, mount them on a barge in the lake, and run 'em like they're supposed to be run under Hydraulic Institute testing standards? That is, why not test the pumps through their entire range of performance as they were specified?

The internal investigation also provides that answer: the pumps don't meet the specification. According to previously unreported limited, but pretty rigorous, pump testing performed late last year (internal report Attachment #3) and earlier this year (Attachment #13) by Corps hydraulic scientists, all the pumps fall below the requirements for flow. In factory testing last fall, when a new pump curve was generated (where was the certified version from MWI?), the shortfall was in some cases over 5%.

In field tests just two months ago at London Avenue, the numbers were much worse, with capacity shortfalls of over 50%. The Corps researcher guessed that the April, 2007 London Avenue results were due to poorly calibrated flowmeters or perhaps bad placement of the flowmeters, and used the pump curve generated in the fall testing to determine flow (using the pump curve, the Corps researcher again called out about a 5% flow shortfall for the April test). But that pump curve itself has errors and scatter, meaning the error in the April test was compounded.

[Special aside on flowmeters:

The London Avenue tests used acoustic flowmeters placed on the 9'-0" manifolds, just as I had suggested was the best place for them in my May 1 post. Even so, the Corps researcher got pretty cruddy results.

It is instructive that the Corps researcher in April, 2007 (just two months ago) did not depend upon the readouts from the individual flowmeters already installed on 5'-0" discharges of the pumps, but instead installed new flowmeters just for the test. That says to me that the meters on the 5'-0" discharges are - as I suspected - worthless. Keep in mind those are the meters whose results give Bedey the Wheaties to make his pronouncements that everything's shipshape. Thus, Bedey's full of it.

The poor showing of the meters on the 9'-0" tubes also reinforces the notion that the ones on the 5'-0" discharges aren't giving good data. If the Corps researcher couldn't get good results with 4 diameters of runup to the meters (the approximate amount at London's 9'-0" manifold pipes), how in the world could meters with just 1 diameter of runup (those that are installed on the individual 5'-0" pump discharges) be expected to give anything but garbage?

Besides all that, though, there remains the question of whether the meters in the April test were way off - and their results can be dismissed - or whether the Corps researcher was just engaged in guesswork as to the results of a 50% capacity decrease. He refused to express confidence in any flowmeter readings at the floodgates when I spoke with him recently, and said it was still a subject of much debate. He also said he didn't want to seem like he was "covering anything up," but that he needed to go through channels before he discussed anything further. I told him that we already deep into hurricane season, and the time for "channels" was long past.]

Frankly, the Corps has no real idea how much water is flowing through the pumps (because they don't trust the flowmeters that are in place now - where have I heard that before?), but they are sure it's less than what it's supposed to be. In any case, there's no real basis for Colonel Bedey to pronounce that the pumps are working as designed.

Spread over the 18 units at 17th Street, a 5% capacity decrease means there's effectively only 17 pumps there. A 50% capacity decrease ... well I think you can figure out how bad that is. That's hardly good value, and is indicative of very poor engineering and even worse stewardship over the funds of the taxpayers.

Any other reasons the Corps wouldn't want full testing?

There's the obvious one: when subjected to similar testing for a week in Florida, the pumps failed at a spectacularly high rate.

They also failed to meet the specification for flow and head in that testing.

All of that is laid out in Ms. Garzino's memo, the shop inspection records, and in the internal report. All of them describe numerous failures throughout use of the pumps over a long timespan. Again, that's hardly good value.

Pulling the threads together

Colonel Bedey lied repeatedly in his interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on June 11th. His biggest whopper - that the pumps would be performance tested in New Orleans instead of Florida - is undercut by a mountain of direct and indirect evidence. In fact, not only was the performance testing not moved, it has never been performed at all.

Bedey's lie also unspools - and perhaps help explain - a disturbing series of events.

1) After just one week of full performance testing, that testing was stopped on the authority of individuals who were not allowed to make such a change.

2) Then, for the last year, the Corps New Orleans District (NOD) has decided not to enforce the provision of the contract requiring full performance testing of all pumps, and they have not documented such a substantial change in the normal Corps way - i.e. they are operating outside of normal Corps channels without authorization to do so.

3) Instead, the Corps NOD is holding public "demonstrations" of the pump systems which are portrayed to the public (through the media and the New Orleans District Public Affairs office) as adequate performace tests in conformance with the contract.

4) The few semi-rigorous, non-"demonstration" tests done on the pumps since their installation show them falling below the required head and flow as called out in the contract. The first testing that showed the shortfall happened April, 2006. And then there was testing in November, 2006, and then more testing in April, 2007. Shouldn't they be following up on this?

6) The New Orleans District is making millions of dollars in poorly documented payments to a supplier that - according to the Corps' own hydraulic scientists and engineers - did not deliver what was specified.

7) The New Orleans District contracting office is acting as extremely poor stewards of public funds, leaving out - or perhaps not even creating - the required justifications for many of the over 30 modifications to the pump supply contract. They then refused to turn over a complete accounting of the project to the internal investigators:
"The Contracting Officer was requested on 11 April 2007 to provide a total dispursement screen from CEFMS to verify the actual expenditures to date on this contract. This was not provided to the Artman Team by the Contracting Officer." [Adobe pages 21-22, internal report]

Does any of this sound like the normal way to run a project? No, of course not.

But it does sound like the way potential indictees act when they are trying to hide their actions.

All of this - the cruddy accounting, the poor recordkeeping, the willingness to turn a blind eye to supplier inadequecies, the lies to the public - it all points to a cover-up of likely motivations - people in the Corps (Bedey, St. Germain, Bradley) were so interested in getting MWI's equipment on site and portraying it as non-defective that they would do anything for over a year to dupe the public into believing they were protected. Surely they should lose their jobs for this.

How in the world can the people of New Orleans, the federal government, those within the Corps, and anyone else trust these folks to build a functioning flood protection system when they engage in unethical behavior and skirt the law and their own regulations?

In light of the lives and property at stake in New Orleans, what could possibly motivate a person so strongly to do such things? I'm pretty sure only subpoenas are going to let us know the complete truth. I hope the Justice Department is paying attention.

If the Corps wishes to dispute this, then they need to make the involved persons (specifically Maria Garzino, Jim St. Germain, and Dan Bradley) available to do so. Anything else is just bloviation and spin.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Cover up, Part 1


Today I'm starting a multipart series of reporting and analysis of the facts revealed in the Corps' internal report on the floodgate pumps and drives. Today's part focuses on what I believe is the latch to Pandora's box: a lie by Colonel Bedey on national television.

That lie on CNN leads to a horrible conclusion: the Corps has deliberately avoided enforcing its own contract to keep egg off its face and to protect its supplier. Doing so is, well, crazy, and possibly illegal. One would think this is enough for people to lose their jobs.

The Quote

On the June 11th edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 (transcript here) there was the following exchange between Cooper and Colonel Bedey:

"COOPER: There was a report last year by an Army Corps of Engineers engineer who said it's not working. The pumps won't work. And just this past Friday three engineers backed up that report. So do the pumps work?

[...lots of other stuff about how much Bedey loved and appreciated being investigated...]

BEDEY: "...And in doing so [putting in the floodgates and pumps], we had to make some hard decisions. Some of those decisions were to forego all of the factory testing and get the pumps in the water, knowing that we would have to do all the testing and commissioning here on site.

"We've done that. We've been successful."

I've added the emphasis, because it opens up a can of worms. It is a slight variation on the standard line the Corps New Orleans District has used to explain away the installation of defective pumps last year, events revealed by the release of Ms. Maria Garzino's memo this past March 13th. Usually they say they wanted to get pumps in the water, and then "troubleshoot" them later. However, this time Bedey switched it up a bit and mentioned the testing that was so thoroughly eviscerated during the pumps' and drive units' time in Florida.

Bedey's used this line before, though not in such a prominent forum. In a piece of Corps propaganda from April of this year, he said, "We decided we would work out the final testing on the pumps in place."

The language for that testing in the contract calls for full performance testing of every pump system in accordance with Hydraulic Institute standards. This would mean running the pumps through their entire range of flows and pressures under as close to "real world" conditions as possible. This was the segment of the testing which was unofficially "eliminated" by unauthorized Corps personnel and MWI in Florida after just a week of running the pumps last April. The exact day of the decision was April 18, 2006. The modification to the contract dealing with changes in the testing did not come until two weeks later, on May 2, 2006. As we will see below, the official modification did not eliminate the contractual requirement for full performance testing.

Bedey is saying the Corps had/has every intention of still doing that contractually obligated full performance testing; they would just do it on site in New Orleans.

What's interesting is that, unlike many of the other standard excuses the Corps uses, this one can be truth-squaded with documentation now available courtesy of the internal investigation. So in this part of the report, we'll examine the truthfulness of Colonel Bedey's statement. In the next part of the report, we'll take a look at its implications and consequences...

We'll look at three sources, all from the Corps themselves: 1) the text of the internal report, 2) the relevant contract modification, and 3) contemporaneous internal emails.

Exhibit 1: The internal report

The report has extensive passages on the elimination of contract-required full performance testing. It has this to say about the current state of affairs:

"Modification P00004 revised the static test procedures by clarifying the actual steps to follow but no where did it delete the requirements of the full size water testing for each pump. This testing was not performed in accordance with the contract requirements and a significant credit is due to the Government for the nonperformance of it."

So the requirement for full size testing has yet to be fulfilled. That's odd, because Bedey said on CNN they've done that testing and it's been "successful." Hmmm...

Exhibit 2: P00004

As the quote above from the internal report shows, Bedey was talking about a May, 2006 modification to the floodgate pump contract called P00004, which dealt with testing of the pumps and drives. The entire text of P00004 is included as Attachment #11 to the internal report. It is the only modification given such treatment, which attests to its importance.

For your convenience, I've broken it out as its own file. We know that P00004 is the only modification relating to changes in testing because the internal report acerbically notes, "Modification P00004 (See Attachment #11) was the alleged modification that revised the testing requirements of the contract."

Let me cut to the chase on this one - there's no mention in P00004 of eliminating the complete factory testing and replacing it with complete field testing in accordance with HI standards.

Assumedly, if Bedey were telling the truth, some mention of changing the testing from the factory to the site would have been included P00004.

So the only relevant modification to the contract does not mention what Bedey said it mentions. Hmm...

Exhibit 3: The emails

The internal report also contains contemporaneous internal emails among Corps personnel assigned to the Pump Team. Were Colonel Bedey telling the truth, the movement of the full performance testing of all pumps from Florida to New Orleans would surely show up in these emails.

Instead, three critical emails from late May, 2006 (when these pumps were supposedly - according to Bedey - to be fully tested) show no evidence of a testing plan for the site. They also show no evidence of a paperwork trail to back up Bedey's assertion.

The emails are on Adobe pages 122, 123, and 124. I have broken them out as their own link here.

First is a May 17, 2006 email from Joe Thomas to Maria Garzino and Dan Bradley. It states:

"Would like to establish a QC/QA program for field testing of the engines and pumps. Need some help to determine what testing is needed; parameters of the field test and what should be recorded for these tests and what is deemed an acceptable field trail [sic] run. What field tests will be run? How long? Acceptance criteria? Flow measurements? Can anyone develop a document so that we may record pertinent data and information. Such items as pressure; temperatures of system ??? Any help would be great."

Mr. Thomas appears unaware of Colonel Bedey's supposed (read: fictional) plans for full performance testing of all pumps.

Next is a May 17, 2006 response email from Maria Garzino, the Pump Team Leader who was then on site in New Orleans, and would obviously be the person best qualified to know if there had been any plans to move the factory testing to the field. It is sent to a bunch of people, including Jim St. Germain's cohort, Dan Bradley. The tone of the email is almost pleading.

"I do not have any information on how we are to proceed with field testing – I am unaware of any direction given by MWI as to what they envision for field testing (I have asked on many occasions for this info and have not to date received it – if it has been sent, possibly Dan [Bradley] has it then?) – I am also unaware of any direction that Task Force Guardian has given on how we are to proceed on our own as far as field testing of the Pumps and Drive Units – I have heard there is discussion in this area, but I am unaware of any direction given."

The person who would be responsible for overseeing field testing that should mimic the factory testing (which she herself witnessed) had no information about field testing.

There still remains the remote possibility that Ms. Garzino just didn't have the right memo in her inbox. That possibility is foreclosed by the email to which her email is attached. That email, dated May 31, 2007, is from Jim Bartek to Steve Farkas and Bob Hoffman (why in the world is Ms. Garzino not included?). It states,

"I have not received a memo from Jim [St. Germain] regarding testing. All I have received is the email below that I think you sent out [Ms. Garzino's May 17th email]: I would agree with the recommendations except to add monitor vibration. Keep in mind this was a supply contract and the spec is very vague regarding field testing. It just says 'The pump manufacturer shall provide for final inspection and testing of the system and shall make necessary adjustments to the control system prior to actual start-up tests. Start-up tests and demonstration shall be performed by the pump manufacturer’s representative and the Contractor, and witnessed by the Government…'"

Notice what Mr. Bartek is citing when referring to field testing: the original contract! He's not referring to this phantom modification that Bedey is making up that somehow justified speeding up and eviscerating the factory testing. Bartek's citing the original contract.

So the contemporaneous emails show no evidence of what Bedey asserts.

The exhibits lead to one conclusion

Thus, we have the internal investigation, the relevant contract modification, and internal emails all saying the same thing: the Corps New Orleans District willfully ignored a vital part of its own contract; after P00004, there was no plan for full performance testing of the pumps, and there still isn't a plan for full pump-and-drive performance testing to this day.

Put another way, Colonel Bedey has made up a fairy tale to cover up something far more disturbing. The Corps was flying (is flying?) by the seat of their pants when it came (comes?) to the on-site testing, working without the paperwork to back themselves up and safeguard the government's (and the taxpayers') interests. Bedey, St. Germain, and Bradley know this. This is a major, major violation of construction contract administration. But it gets worse.

In the next part we'll look at why they're doing this and the consequences of not conducting full performance tests.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Colonel Bedey popped up on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 Monday night. You can find the transcript here. It was his first interview after the release of the Corps internal investigation into the floodgate pumps. Cooper interviewed him while standing on the deck of the 17th Street gates (talk about home field advantage).

He put out more than a few falsehoods in the interview.

Lie #1: [speaking about the internal investigation] "BEDEY: That report -- that report that was just published last week was actually a snapshot in time of September of last year."

What? Um, the date on the front of the report is May 11, 2007. There are pieces of correspondence attached to the report which are as recent as May 7, 2007. There are ten technical recommendations for work which (according to the report) have not been completed, including raising the hydraulic reservoirs - which was supposed to be done over a year ago.

My guess at what Bedey meant? I'm not really sure. Frankly, it sounds like something a crazy person would say, like pointing at the sky and saying, "What a lovely shade of green!" Maybe he slipped and let out an old talking point that referred to a previous draft of the report which only examined September conditions (the report shows a flurry of work last September, including site visits and document collections). But the report now is most definitely written in the present tense, not the past.

Lie #2: "Well, we're absolutely stronger today than we were pre-Katrina. This pump, this interim closure structure is an example of that."

Again I say, huh? While the gates themselves might be stronger than the outfall canal walls (emphasis on might, since the system has yet to be battle tested), everyone locally knows there's less pumping capacity at the gates than at the Sewerage & Water Board pumping stations. That's why there's more pumps being put in at 17th Street and London Avenue, and even then there won't be enough pumps to match the interior stations' outputs. So in a fundamental way, we're weaker today than we were pre-Katrina. We can't evacuate rainwater during a hurricane as fast as we could pre-Katrina.

It's easy to slip stuff like this past reporters that are only in New Orleans for the day.

By the way, what's this "we?" Bedey lives on the North Shore. He should really refer to "New Orleans" rather than grouping himself in with the city.

Lie #3: "The commitment of the administration of the United States and the Congress of the United States was to provide the 100-year level of protection for the people of this great community and of the nation."

I really don't like straying into political territory, but I have to just put a toe in here.

This is what President Bush said in Jackson Square on September 15, 2005:"City and parish officials in New Orleans, and state officials in Louisiana will have a large part in the engineering decisions to come. And the Army Corps of Engineers will work at their side to make the flood protection system stronger than it has ever been."

Now, if the flood protection system was supposed to be able to handle a 100 year storm (the basis for the FEMA flood maps), then wouldn't "stronger than it has ever been" refer to greater protection than a 100-year storm?

I know I'm being a little obtuse here. I recognize the realities of Congress, the Administration, budgeting, and politics have whittled the stated goals of improving New Orleans' flood protection down to, "We're going to give you what we said you had for 40 years." But it's still wrong.

There's more to come from this interview...

Monday, June 11, 2007


The Corps internal investigation is the gift that keeps on giving. And, as with any government report, the tasty tidbits are in the appendices. Here's three that I've found so far.

Note that I refer to page numbers by "Adobe page so-and-so" That's the page number in the box at the bottom of Adobe Reader.

1) The hydraulic oil is not environmentally friendly.

Back on September 16, 2006, when there was hydraulic oil spilling everywhere, Colonel Bedey was quoted in the Times-Picayune as saying, "We're using environmentally friendly hydraulic oil."

That may have been true back then. The National Response Center spill report for the September 14, 2006 spill shows the material spilled as "MOBIL 67 BIODEGRADABLE HYDRAULIC OIL." (the 67 is probably a typo; the next nearest ISO grade is 68). Possibly, it was one of the lubricants on this Mobil page, all of which are advertised as environmentally friendly. But with such a paucity of information, I could never narrow it down, or even verify the claim.

Since that time, I've been curious to find out exactly what kind of hydraulic oil is being used, in order to find out if it really is "environmentally friendly." Thanks to the internal report we now know. On Adobe page 100 is a May 7, 2007 memo from Denison to the Corps' Dan Bradley. It calls out the specific brand and type of hydraulic oil. According to the memo, the hydraulic oil is Exxon-Mobil Nuto H 68.

Taking a look at the product information page for Exxon Mobil Nuto H, I can't see anything in there that mentions "environmental friendliness." In fact, it appears on a webpage with a family of products that is notable for its lack of "environmental friendliness." Such a quality is a big marketing tool, and if it were part of the makeup of the oil, Exxon Mobil would definitely mention it. It appears the Corps and MWI are no longer using environmentally friendly oil. Someone should tell Colonel Bedey.

2) Water in the hydraulic oil

Buried inside a field report by a contractor about a visit this past February to the hydraulic motor manufacturer, Rineer, is a yummy morsel about the hydraulic oil having water in it.

On Adobe page 88, Corps contractor John Ehlers describes the teardown of three Rineer hydraulic motors. These are three of the motors which were vibrating severely, and which have had stronger springs installed in them since then. This was, for months, the only problem to which the Corps would admit when it came to the floodgate pumps. What we have been told publicly was that springs in the motors were replaced with stronger ones at MWI's rep, Associated Pump & Supply in Houma, LA.

What has not been publicized until now is that the motors were not in as-new condition when they were reinstalled at Associated. Specifically, Mr. Ehlers writes this:

"The writer notes that the coil spring material is 'piano wire', which is a high carbon alloy. Any high carbon alloy is a candidate for rust when exposed to water and warm temperature and other contamination. The rust evidence on the timing plates suggests that there was some water contamination within the motor. Since the motor seals were all good, it is probable that the water was introduced by hydraulic fluid which had been exposed to water or moisture."

He also wrote in his conclusions section:

"All 3 motors had slight signs of rust on the timing plates. There was evidence that the hydraulic oil was less than perfect, in that a contaminant, most likely water, was present in the hydraulic oil."

So the hydraulic motors were put back together with rusty parts inside them.

But what's more interesting is the fact that at some point between installation of the pumps in the May-June-July timeframe and their initial startup testing during the same period, the hydraulic pipes were contaminated with water.

This has large consequences. The following is just theory, but it's what I think would normally happen in the case of contamination of the hydraulic fluid. There's only one source for water to get into the hydraulic lines. It was there to start with.

You might say, "What if the system had leaks?" A system running at any appreciable internal pressure is not going to allow water in while it's running. And while it's conceivable that water leaked into the system, it seems unlikely to have done so in three separate pump systems in exactly the same concentration (Mr. Ehlers writes of similar "slight" amounts of rust in each motor). So I'm going with the theory that the water was in the pipes to begin with.

As everyone knows, water and oil don't mix. When the pipes arrived on site they were supposed to have been pickled and oiled, according to the specification. The pickling process involves dipping the pipe in vats of acid and other chemicals to passivate it (I think - I'm a little hazy on pickling). Then I believe the pipes are supposed to be coated in oil and then capped and shipped. Theoretically (I think), the lines should be flushed completely before startup to ensure there was no debris or other crap in there before the final charging of hydraulic oil was placed. Feel free to correct me on this.

I'm betting that the lines were either not pickled and oiled properly or not flushed properly. What would this lead to? Once it was determined there was water in the oil (it would have showed itself in other ways during startup operations), all of the pipes would have had to have been completely flushed and refilled with new hydraulic oil. The change in oil described above - from the "environmentally friendly" grade to the Nuto H grade - could be explained by this. This work would have been at great expense and would have been backcharged to MWI if they didn't do it themselves.

All of the above is theory, but I like to think of it as deductive reasoning based on the available facts. Anyone who has evidence to back up or dispute my theory about flushing of the lines is encouraged to contact me.

3) When was it decided to raise the hydraulic reservoirs, the so-called "critical fix?"

The critical fix that remains undone is the raising of the hydraulic reservoirs. With that modification, hydraulic oil would flow downward from reservoirs into the Denison hydraulic pumps, instead of having to be sucked out the top of the reservoirs. Pulling the oil out the top of the tanks guaranteed entrainment of air in the lines. Denison pumps do not tolerate air very well. They were failing like crazy in the factory with the lines coming out of the tops of the reservoirs. And apparently, they continued to fail after they arrived on the sites (from Adobe page 24):

"The hydraulic oil pumps, since the delivery to the site [emphasis mine] have been removed and inspected by the manufacturer to determine premature failures, similar to the ones that were happening at factory testing of the pumping units."

This single sentence is huge in its implications. It totally rebuts the Corps' entire defense that they were installing "some capacity instead of none." Colonel Bedey and others have repeatedly used this line with the press, with the public, with policymakers in Congress, and even got the GAO to buy it.

That defense is BS. How could you have any capacity if the most critical part of your system was continuing to fail even after you installed it? It is very important that we find out the extent of the damage to these Denison pumps after their arrival on site. 74 (two on each of the 34 skids) were installed across the three canal sites. How many were determined to have failed after they were installed in New Orleans? 3? 30? 60? Knowing that would blow a giant hole in the Corps' credibility, because it would mean that there really wasn't any capacity to begin with - and there probably still isn't any, because the reservoirs haven't been raised in order to put the kibosh on the air-induced failures.

Yes they can turn them on for a little while, but how about for six, or eight, or 12, or 24 hours? What happens when air gets in the lines and the Denison pumps fail and send their bits and pieces down the line to the Rineer motors to gobble up? What then?

Anyway, as far as the time that the real solution (raising the reservoirs) was reached, it appears to be in an email found on Adobe page 114. It was from Jim St. Germain and addressed to nearly everyone on the project. It is dated June 18, 2006 and says,

"A meeting was held with MWI to discuss weld repairs and the Denison hydraulic motor. MWI has proposed to redesign the hydraulic tank and hoses to form a flooded suction for the two Denison hydraulic pumps. MWI will raise the hydraulic fluid tank and reposition the hoses to the Denison pump. This fix should prevent air from entering the motor and eleminate [sic] the need for the priming valve. MWI will also remove the suction strainer.

The proposal says that MWI will perform the work at no cost to the Government provided Government onsite contracts load and inload the skids. They propose to take the engines skids at 17th that are not installed and the spares first and then swap engins [sic] at other sites to try to avoid pump outages. They estimate a week to do a set (6 to 10) units.

This presents some problems. First, the preliminary time frame is not going to allow completion without impacts on scheduled pump completion dates. Second, once the fencing on the engine deck and building is installed it may be difficult to remove the engines. We should immediate[ly] have MWI retrofit the engines at 17th that are not installed. Coordinate with the three contractors on swap outs to minimize impacts to buildings. Avoid any impacts to pumping capacity. Have MWI develop a plan to retrofit in place."

Well, that work never took place, at least on the original 34 pumps. The roofs were put on the buildings and the fences were erected. Somehow, the reservoirs were raised on the extra six pumps puchased long after the original 34.

This June 18, 2006 email shows that Jim St. Germain - the guy responsible for driving the project - and the manufacturer - MWI, who apparently proposed the idea - had a clear appreciation of what needed to be done. Heck, St. Germain's the author of the email. Yet it took over a year to get this work going (we're still not sure what its status is), never mind how the public was in the dark about it. Why didn't it get done? Unfortunately, the report is silent on the why's of many things, including this mystery.

And it's not like they were pulling this solution (raising the reservoirs) out of the air. Two weeks earlier, the New Orleans Corps had discussed how they didn't like the quick fix of evacuating the hydraulic lines during startup. This comes from a May 31 email from Jim Bartek to Jim St. Germain, Dan Bradley, and Steve Farkas (but oddly, not Maria Garzino, the Pump Team leader on site):

"Just a few thoughts...It appears to me that MWI is just trying to 'make it work' to get by. Everyone agrees that the Denison pumps are operating in a dry run condition. While the priming procedure described below may work as a one time or short term fix. I feel, and I think Steve agrees, it will not hold up over the long term. There will be entrained air that will percolate out and also air leaking in through the tank etc that will get trapped. They need to look more at root causes than quick fixes of the problems. This could be pump sizing or relocating the suction intake to a more suitable location. Why has this design successfully worked on other pumps but not these units?"

The priming procedure referred to by Mr. Bartek over a year ago is the same procedure under which the Corps is now operating the pumps.

Mr Bartek goes on to presciently rebut Colonel Bedey's current assertions that the field testing the Corps is doing today (turning the pumps on and then turning them off in less than hour with low water in the canals) is adequate:

"These pumps must be field tested with design water levels to ensure acceptable operation."

Like I said, this report is the gift that keeps giving. I'll be back with more analysis in future posts.

Testing, Testing

Updated 6/22/0, 7/28/07, and 8/13/07. See below.

The Times-Picayune actually managed to put together a sensible article on the upcoming London Avenue canal tests this past Saturday, June 9. I say that, because it's the first time that anyone in the media or at the Corps New Orleans District has admitted the following obviousness:

"Corps officials say they don't know if the load test will provide enough information to change the safe water level and, if it doesn't, what they might suggest doing next.

[Geotechnical engineer for the Corps' St. Louis District Pat] Conroy won't even guess at the outcome.

'We reserve the right to make no prediction at all,' he said. 'We may recommend raising the water level or not changing it or even lowering it.'"

Finally! Someone at the Corps actually admitted they don't know the results of the test two months ahead of time. It's better than the near constant pablum from Bedey, Wagenaar and others that implies that the test is a formality and that the Safe Water Level will be raised to 5 feet.

The article mentions that a contract has been issued for the test. You can find the official notification of the contract award buried on page 5 of this notification.

The article didn't really have anything to say about further testing after the localized test. However, a June 2, 2007 article in Engineering News-Record about General Van Antwerp's "truth and victory" tour through New Orleans at the end of the month provides the necesary information:

"The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, one of the consolidated levee boards formed in January, has been very vocal in questioning the safety and validity of the London Avenue load test. Antwerp gave assurances that the Corps will have ample personnel on the ground to monitor the test. If the test doesn't provide enough evidence to support increasing the SWE, 'any additional testing will not be performed this hurricane season,' Bedey says."

Considering that the testing won't occur until well into hurricane season, and also considering that it took the Corps over six months just to get to the point of contract issuance, it's a guarantee there won't be any further testing.

[The link inside the quote comes from ENR's webpage. Unfortunately, one must be a subscriber to get access to most of their articles. That's too bad, because they've done a ton of coverage on the London Avenue canal testing. Update, 7/28/07: All the ENR articles are linked below.]

One other note: this article says that the four foot safe water level has led to shutdowns of PS#3 pumps "at least once in recent months." This is just the T-P getting snotty over my breaking news that they missed. Of course, we all know that pumps at PS#3 on the London Avenue canal have been shut down twice because of exceeding the Safe Water Level, once on December 30, 2006 (that's the one I broke, and which the T-P took days to catch up to), and once on May 4, 2007.

[Update: 6/22/07]
Today the T-P ran an article about the East Bank Levee Board (officially known as the SLFPA-E) meeting yesterday (see 8/13/07 Update below for minutes of meeting), at which the independent experts brought in the review the Corps' plans for the London Avenue canal testing presented their findings.

While the experts gave a thumbs up to the existing plans to examine the canal walls' susceptibility to gap formation, they also strongly recommended expanding the testing to look for problems with seepage:
"...Specialists brought in at the behest of levee authority members for a second opinion reported Thursday that they are even more concerned about a second potential mechanism for failure, one in which water would seep through sandy soils in the bottom of the London Avenue Canal, causing heaves or blowouts in the earthen levees on the land side of the floodwalls.

The pair told authority members on Thursday that both failure mechanisms should be examined during the same test period. "

This is smart. Seepage - contrary to the article author's totally incorrect assertion that gap formation led to both London Avenue canal breaches in Katrina - is what caused the blow out at the London Avenue South breach just north of Mirabeau Avenue. It is also suspected as a contributing failure mechanism in the London Avenue North breach. It is wise to look at seepage in this test.

However, one has to wonder why the testing plan didn't call for seepage testing to begin with, since top engineers in the Corps' New Orleans District were already citing seepage last year as a problem on London Avenue. Here's a quote from a September 12, 2006 Times-Picayune article (by the same author as the others - one has to wonder if she even reads her own clip file):

"Although most public attention since Katrina has focused on the 17th Street Canal, [Corps chief engineer Walter] Baumy said protecting the London [Avenue] canal from surge is more problematic because sand layers are closer to the surface there and seepage -- with potentially catastrophic results -- is a threat."

Also, that Corps guy Pat Conroy from St. Louis was quoted extensively in a Corps article just last June (yes, that's post-Katrina, post-IPET report release) about ... wait for it ... seepage! Here's one of those quotes:
"In fact, investigations into the occurrence and control of underseepage are a major consideration of the geotechnical design of a flood protection system"

Why wasn't control of underseepage even a factor in the Corps' testing of the London Avenue canal until outside, non-Corps experts brought it up?

I get the idea that these guys at the Corps really don't know what the hell they're doing.

Anyway, the Corps said they would incorporate the additions to the testing plan, and the SLFPA-E (that's tough to type!) approved the testing plan.
[end 6/22/07 update]

[Updated 7/28/07]
Engineering News-Record did a fabulous job in April and May covering this and other canal wall-related issues with a series of articles. They did much better than the Times-Picayune. Here they are:

Corps Wants Coffer Dam Test Nola Flood Board Wants Action - 4-12-07
Levee Board Gives Corps Conditional Permission for Levee Load Test - 4-20-07
Levee Board Holds Corps To Peer-Review Standards - 5-2-07
17th St. Canal OK Corps Says But Not So for London Ave - 5-25-07
Load Ratings of Drainage Canals Become Sore Point in New Orleans - 5-30-07

My favorite quote from these articles comes courtesy of Tom Jackson, then-president of the SLFPA-E. In the May 25th article, he says,
"'London is a problem,' says Tom Jackson, SLFPA-east president. 'Taxpayers paid for +12ft of protection and we got four,' he says. 'The whole thing about this exercise is the calculations for safety are 1.3, and they want to perform more tests to raise levels on levees that are absolute junk at best. The problem with this is this is not a storm-event-situation but every-time-it-rains situation. That’s why I keep telling them to fix the damn levees. If the peer reviewers are worth their salt, they will have the same reaction we do. Fix the damn levees.'"

Hmmm... where have I heard something like that before?

Previous posts that I've written about the London Avenue canal testing:
London Avenue canal tests, originally posted March 27, 2007
It's May in New Orleans - that means rain , originally posted May 7, 2007
Prepare for more PS#3 pump shutdowns, originally posted June 1, 2007
[end 7/28/07 update]

[Updated 8/13/07]
Here's more information about the London Avenue load test.

First, here's the minutes from the June 21, 2007 SLFPA-E meeting. That's the meeting at which official approval of the test was granted. The minutes contain all the nitty-gritty technical details of the testing plan. Since they are a primary document, they are far more informative than media reports.

Second, the Washington Post wrote about the test in its August 11, 2007 editions. The article treads much of the territory I've covered here, but it's still good for those folks in the rest of the country to get an introduction to real-time oversight of the Corps. The article by Peter Whoriskey, titled "Engineers to Test Flood Defenses In New Orleans," is here.

Finally, the Corps Hurricane Protection Office put up a "fact sheet" on its website this past Friday, August 10, 2007 (they always sneak this stuff out on Fridays). It too includes much previously reported information, with one important difference. It gives the start date of the test as Friday, August 17, 2007. It also reports the test's duration to be two weeks. The Corps fact sheet is here. Of course, in the section on "Why Test?" they don't mention that they don't have the money to actually fix the canal the way it's supposed to be.
[end 8/13/07 update]

Friday, June 08, 2007


Updated 6/8/07 and 6/9/07, see bottom of post

The Corps internal investigation into the floodgate pumps is out. Big surprise, it comes on a Friday afternoon. But let's move past that bit of PR manipulation... The report is stunning in its breadth and depth. Things are way worse than I knew.

First off, I have to applaud General Crear (of the Corps Mississippi Valley District) for convening this team and allowing them to go as far as they did. The amount of crap this investigation uncovered is breathtaking. I know a lot of people don't like the Corps investigating themselves, but when put up against the GAO report, there's no comparison. It appears the GAO report was a total waste of time, and is pretty much useless in the scheme of things. Were I in Landrieu's office, I'd be calling on the GAO Inspector General to look into how an investigation that had to have looked at the same information the Corps did could have come up with such radically different (and obviously wrong) conclusions. We can only hope they now go back and expand their investigation, or maybe the FBI will look into things...

I never would have guessed that of the two investigations, the Corps internal one would be the one with the most shocking dirt. But that's simply the truth. The Corps independent investigative team - as well as Ms. Garzino and some of the Jacksonville District QA's and probably some others for who we'll never know names - have really tried to do the right thing here, and I salute all of them for it. This can't have been easy.

Frankly, it's easy for me to sit back and lob rhetorical bombs at the Corps and pat myself on the back (even if my neighborhood would suffer some of the worst consequences when the pumps fail). It's a lot harder to uncover this stuff from the inside, and to have to confront the fact that people to whom so much has been entrusted appear to be massively incompetent and corrupt. I've been on a few internal forensic investigations in my time. It's gut-wrenching stuff, but it is necessary, especially in this case. In fact, this case screamed for it. The folks involved in this effort deserve a ton of credit.

However, I must also take General Crear to task, because his cover letter doesn't really match the actual words in the report. He downplays the deeply, deeply serious findings on both the technical and commercial side of things. Honestly, one must look at his cover letter with a jaundiced eye, because the text of the report is very critical, but his cover memo is not. It reads more like a press release, and it even seems to contradict the report in one key respect. More about that below.

So on to my initial impressions...

1) Colonel Bedey, Jim St. Germain, and Dan Bradley have been lying to us in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, all of the media (local and national), and the entire nation for a year, right up to and including Bedey's assurances during General Van Antwerp's "Truth & Honesty" tour last Thursday. There is a critical fix (as in, the pumps could fail without it) that needs to be applied to the drive units. The New Orleans Corps has known about it and has not performed that fix since June of 2006! I don't see how these men can keep their jobs.

2) That critical fix involves raising the hydraulic reservoirs on all 34 drive skids so that hydraulic fluid flows into the Denison hydraulic pumps without introducing air. Air is deadly to these pumps (a ton of pages in Denison's troubleshooting manual is devoted to just such problems). As a reminder, the Denison hydraulic pumps - which are supposed to raise the pressure of the hydraulic fluid to 3000 psi or more - were one of the centers of gravity that Ms. Maria Garzino was identifying as seriously flawed in her memo from May, 2006. They make numerous appearances throughout the shop inspection records as well. They were failing left and right during the factory testing.

What this report shows is that the Corps (specifically Jim St. Germain and Dan Bradley) were keenly aware of the fix as early as May, 2006, and have done nothing to implement it. There's actually a change order to do the work that's been in place since July, and it remains unfulfilled! It is a strong possibility that those Denison pumps remain at risk for failure, since the flooded suction fix has not been implemented. A temporary fix is in place (which I'm sure Colonel Bedey will try to hang his hat on), but the internal investigators eviscerate its effectiveness:

"The flooded suction intakes have only been accomplished on the new additional contracted 6 pumps, the original contracted 34 pumps have not been revised to add the flooded suction intake as was agreed upon to be revised in June 2006. MWI has only provided a vacuum type check valve for priming the suction to the Denison Hydraulic Pumps. This is only a façade in addressing the real issue and requires the operation of vacuum equipment to prime the hydraulic pumps. If the vacuum is not drawn properly, then the pumps will aerate and create irreversible damage to the components of the pumps. The bilateral contract modification to change the intakes to a flooded suction at no cost to the Government has been in place since 12 July 2006 and has not been accomplished as of this date on any of the original 34 pumps."

Yeah, that's right. MWI and the Corps were so aware of the problem that they implemented it on the six extra pumps at 17th Street, but never bothered to retrofit the other 34, leaving them in the same danger of failure that they've been in since they left the factory.

So according to the report (dated May 11, 2007), this flooded suction inlet work has yet to happen. Oddly, General Crear's cover letter (dated June 4, 2007, or four days ago) says the following:

"...Work is currently underway to modify the plumbing so that the hydraulic pumps can never experience a 'dry start up condition'"

Either way, the work has waited for over a year. Why should we trust them? They lied to us for a year by not even mentioning a critical flaw in the pumping systems, let along not mentioning they weren't implementing their own agreed-upon fix.

I'd like to mention a couple of other things about Crear's cover letter. The report itself mentions the following ten problems on the technical side of things:

1) Lack of flooded suction inlet on Denison pumps

2) Unreliable hydraulic piping

3) Lack of automatic clutch on drive units (a clutch would allow for true unloaded starting)

4) There are still welds that need to be checked (only critical ones have been fixed, and it was at government expense)

5) Lack of confidence in flange bolts (the flanges might not be able to hold the weight of the pumps)

6) Inlet strainers should be removed on drive units

7) Installation of hydraulic cones at London Avenue & Orleans Avenue

8) Lack of hydraulic monitoring device on drive units

9) The flowmeters are unreliable

10) MWI still hasn't supplied certified information, over a year after the scheduled end of their contract.

General Crear, in his cover letter, only mentions TWO of these ten items (flooded suction inlets and welds), and even then in a tangential fashion. He gives absolutely no indication that the remaining eight recommendations will be implemented, or even if they will be acknowledged as problems.

In fact, other than his cryptic mention of work on the drive unit "plumbing," the only action he says he will implement is formation of a team to bring the contract file up to date (as if the contracting improprieties enumerated in the report are simple clerical errors, not misappropriation of millions of dollars). No other actual actions are mentioned in his letter. He even has the gall to say the pumps "are working well." I doubt it.

Let me put my doubt about that this way: if you were in the Tour de France, a grueling 21 day, 2000 mile race, would you consider a brief toodle around the Champs Elysses the day before the race enough of a test for your body and your bike? No. You'd train over the actual course for months beforehand, maybe even climb L'Alpe D'huez a couple of times. Well, the 45 minute pump tests the New Orleans District has run are the equivalent of that toodle around the Champs Elysses. We still have no idea how they will perform in Hurricane L'Alpe D'Huez. If the investigative report is any indication, I'd say the answer is "not good."

By the way, the rusty pipes come in for it too in this report. The report basically says they can't be trusted and need to be seriously examined from stem to stern. That's 17,000 feet of pipe they're talking about.

3) The Corps' New Orleans District's contract administration has been a travesty - perhaps even criminal - and there appears to have been an active effort to cover that up. MWI was writing change orders - including prices - and the Corps was sending them back to MWI with a bow on them. Duplicate payments have been made to MWI. There appears to be no written justification for most of the payments. There appear to be millions of dollars unaccounted for. Cynthia Nicholas, the Contract Officer on this job, has to be squirming today. One has to wonder about the 50 or so other Task Force Guardian contracts administered by the New Orleans District, some of which were much bigger than this one, and how much "impropriety" there was in them. Where have our tax dollars gone?

4) Curiously, there are no names named in the body of the report. But it is obvious who is on the hook, from the emails that are attached: Corps New Orleans District engineers Jim St. Germain (mechanical) and Dan Bradley (electrical). They need to be hung out to dry, as well as their boss, Col. Bedey. After reading this report, there is absolutly no way these folks should be trusted with fixing a bicycle pump, let alone pumps upon which tens of thousands of people are depending for protection of life and property. When it comes to the New Orleans District and the Hurricane Protection Office, houses need to be cleaned, grand juries empaneled, and perp walks televised.

5) A cursory investigation was performed last May in the immediate aftermath of Ms. Garzino's memo. It was called the "Farkas" investigation, after the guy who led it. It apparently didn't even involve Ms. Garzino, it took MWI's answers to its questions on faith and hardly anything came of it. There is an extensive section in the new report which rebuts most of MWI's responses and (implicitly) calls the Farkas investigation and those that received it (who were also in on the investigation) to task for not following up strongly enough. The Farkas investigation appears to have been a sham from the start, and its lack of enthusiastic follow-up from those most closely involved (Messrs. St. Germain, Bradley, & Bedey) points to a cover-up. At the very least, there was a shocking lack of honesty with the public.

6) Colonel Bedey has been tasked with implementing the recommendations of the report. But he's the guy under which all this crap happened, so why in the world should he be trusted? It's nuts. Through his inaction, he has shattered the relationship between the region and the Corps, a relationship which was already severely damaged. One has to be wondering what his, St. Germain's and Bradley's motivations have been for the last year in not performing the critical fix which would actually make the pumps run properly for the amount of time they need to run (12 to 24 hours in hurricane conditions).

7) Finally, one of the most important things on this report is its date. Why in the world are we only hearing about these problems now, over a year after they were initially identified? Does anyone really understand the massive breach of trust this evidences? It's concrete proof that the Corps New Orleans District and the Hurricane Protection Office has withheld, dissembled, and flat out lied to almost everyone, including the Corps' independent investigators.

These issues were very clearly evinced last April and May. Confronted with them, there should be evidence of New Orleans Corps folks moving heaven and earth, but instead there appears to be mostly improprieties and squandering of opportunities. Why did it take General Crear four months to start an investigation? Why has the investigation - by an agency which knows itself better than any outside body - taken over nine months to finally wend its way out to the public? And most importantly, how in the world could there still be critical work to be done, this long after the problems were identified?

Obviously, I'll be writing a lot more about this in the coming days, but let me leave you with this. It appears there have been a few guardian angels inside the Corps watching over New Orleans. Ironically, it appears none of them actually work in New Orleans. The Corps is not some massively evil monolith. It is made up of thousands of people trying to do their jobs. But there are also some bad apples. And it appears we've got them running our work. How this situation has festered for so long, I'll never understand.

Update: Senator Mary Landrieu has called for further investigation. She's asked the Justice Department to look into the contracting administration irregularities, and she's told the GAO to go beyond what they put out a couple of weeks ago.

News coverage of the report release:
WWL-TV (video from 6 PM news): Report says flaws still exist in outfall pumps
Times-Picayune (inexplicably not on the front page, instead buried on the front of the Metro section): Landrieu asks Feds to probe pumps
Engineering News-Record: Internal Corps Report Cites Procurement Flaws
Baton Rouge Advocate: Landrieu calls for review of contract
AP: Corps report casts new doubt on reliability of New Orleans pumps
Fox 8 has not put up a print version of their story

I feel I need to write a little bit about how the Corps played possum with the release of this report. The chronology is important, in order to gain an insight into how these people think.

May 11: The report itself was done.

May 24: The report was "released," according to the cover page, but one has to wonder what that really means, since the public didn't see it until June 8, 2007.

May 25: The national media started arriving in New Orleans to start putting together stories for the start of hurricane season.

May 29-31: General Van Antwerp visited New Orleans and had a big, whoop-te-doo, "We're going to tell the truth, no matter what" press conference at the 17th Street floodgates on May 31. Every news organization in town was there. Joining Van Antwerp at that press conference were (from the Times-Picayune's coverage of the press conference):

"Brig. Gen. Robert Crear, who directs the corps' Mississippi Valley Division in Vicksburg, Miss.; Col. Richard Wagenaar, outgoing commander of the New Orleans District office; and Col. Jeff Bedey, commander of the Hurricane Protection Office in New Orleans."

The Corps actually inconvenienced its own contractors that day by forbidding them from parking their cars all day on the section of the Old Hammond Highway bridge where the presser took place. The press conference took place at 4 PM, but no one could park there all day long.

Also notable about the May 31 press conference: there were a lot of other Corps folks there besides the brass described above. Those were just the ones arrayed behind Van Antwerp during his comments. In the substantial crowd of Corps folks was Jim St. Germain, as seen below.

According to reporters at the press conference, Van Antwerp actually singled St. Germain out as a guy he'd be talking to a lot because he's responsible for the pumps. Oddly, St. Germain didn't show up for the press availability yesterday that bears directly upon that responsibility. That matters.

June 1: Hurricane season started. National media starts heading home.

Monday, June 4: General Crear (or more likely one of his staff, possibly in coordination with Public Affairs) finished his cover letter (it is stamped June 4, 2007)

Thursday, June 7: After repeated inquiries all week, only local reporters are emailed the report. Many public officials are not given a copy. The reporters are told not to report on it until after 2 PM Friday - a so-called "embargo."

Friday, June 8: Early in the morning, public officials at all levels of government receive the report, but not from the Corps.

Friday, June 8: Early in the afternoon, far from the 17th Street canal and its photogenic backgrounds (where TV stations could actually point their cameras at the hydraulic reservoirs that have yet to be raised and easily compare them to the ones that were) - in a conference room at the Corps' building on Leake Avenue, the Corps holds an invitation-only round table to release the report. Colonel Bedey and Task Force Hope head Karen Durham-Aguilera are in the room, while General Crear joins by phone. Walter Baumy, a top engineer for the Corps and former Wheeler Medal winnner, is in the room, but sits to the side.

Six reporters are in the room. They represent the AP, the Baton Rouge Advocate, WWL-TV, Fox 8 (TV), the Times-Picayune, and Engineer News-Record (an industry organ, which has turned up some good reporting, but is still mainly funded through advertisements from the construction & engineering industry). No reporters, other than from the AP, represent national organizations. Two of the local TV stations - WDSU and WGNO - are not in the room. None of the investigators on the report are made available to the press. Ms. Garzino, the one responsible for kicking all this off, is not made available. None of the Corps New Orleans District prime actors (Jim St. Germain, Dan Bradley, or Cynthia Nicholas) are in the room. Notably - in what can only be expressed as a sign of no confidence - no one from MWI is made available to defend their product.

By the way, its very notable that the report does not appear on any Corps websites. Not New Orleans District, not Hurricane Protection Office, not Mississippi Valley Division, not Corps Headquarters, not the Army. These cowards are afraid to post their own report. That hardly seems like the soldierly, honorable, truthful way to do things.

Let's also take a look at the Corps' efforts at stagecraft, because the visuals are just as important as what they say. Here's General Van Antwerp's very public (cars were driving by the whole time on the bridge behind the media) little victory dance on May 31 (courtesy the Times-Picayune):

And here's the Corps literally in their bunker on June 8 (from WWL's report):

That's Col. Bedey on the left and Task Force Hope head Durham-Aguilera on the right. Baumy's in the white shirt on the extreme right. The other folks are the reporters.

These things matter. The Corps New Orleans District (and apparently Task Force Hope, since Durham-Aguilera is right there next to Bedey propping up his dissembling) is desperate to control this story by minimizing the number of folks who are allowed to speak about it, as well as minimizing the number of reporters who could ask questions. They want to put their best face forward and avoid letting the truth out. If they were so concerned about truth and integrity and leveling with the people, why all the manipulation of the media? The answer is they are not concerned with any of the above. They are concerned with saving their own skin. That's going to be a lot harder with the Justice Department breathing down their necks.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


A little election-driven spat has been going between Orleans and Jefferson Parishes for the last few weeks. Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, the man who sent JP's pump operators 100 miles away during Katrina - causing millions of dollars of damages when those pumps didn't run (there was no provision for remote operation) - wants the Corps to run PS#6 on the 17th Street canal if the gates drop. Orleans Parish's Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB), which has owned and operated PS#6 since it was built over 100 years ago, is obviously opposed.

Broussard's made a lot of noise and even complained to the governor. He's up for reelection this fall. As a result of his complaint to the governor, a meeting was held yesterday. The Times-Picayune reports on it today.

But first, let me remind you of part of my May 11 post, in which I was writing about the Corps communication plan (and the Times-Picayune's coverage thereof):
"Also missed in all the glorification of the Corps' communications plan is this actual quote from the Manual:

'One Corps of Engineers radio will be furnished to the S&WB for communications in addition to having the Canal Captains stationed at their respective S&WB pump stations.'

Yep, that's right: the agency in charge of pumping gets all the benefits of a single radio to communicate with the Corps."

Thankfully, this has now been rectified. According to today's Times-Picayune (in an article with no attribution other than "East Jefferson Bureau"):
"The Army Corps of Engineers agreed Wednesday to place two-way radios in pump stations along the 17th Street Canal to coordinate drainage into the waterway when the corps closes its floodgate for a hurricane, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard said.

The radios, Broussard said, will allow corps officials at the gate to instruct pump operators at three stations on shutting down their pumps. The goal is to keep water in the canal from overflowing into nearby neighborhoods.

The move came as a small compromise to Broussard's request that the corps take formal control of the pumping stations -- one owned by Jefferson and two by the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board -- during a gate closure."

This was a massive hole in the communications plan that everyone (including the Times-Picayune) had ignored until now. I'm glad to see it plugged. It's too bad it took over a year, but I guess you take successes where you can get them.

The legal agreement which governs who operates PS#6 (as well as a bunch of other things about the floodgates) is called Supplemental Agreement 2A. It was signed by the Corps, the Orleans Levee District, the East Jefferson Levee District, Jefferson Parish, and the City of New Orleans in late December. It lays out responsibility for operation of PS#6 (which is owned by Orleans), giving it (of course) to the S&WB in paragraph VI:
"The Sewerage and Water Board shall ... operate and maintain approach channels, drainage structures, drainage ditches, or canals under the control or within the geographical jurisdiction of the Parish of Orleans"

Supplemental Agreement 2A was part of the third revision of the legal framework delineating the responsibilities of each governmental body involved with the floodgates. That framework is called a Cooperative Agreement (or "CA"). Thanks to a FOIA request, I got the original and the two subsequent Supplemental Agreements ("SA") posted to the IPET website:

Original CA (October, 2005, covers all three canals)
SA 1 (January, 2006, covers only London Ave. & Orleans Ave. canals)
SA 1A (December, 2006, covers only London Ave. & Orleans Ave. canals)
SA 2 (January, 2006, covers only 17th Street canal)
SA 2A (December, 2006, covers only 17th Street canal)

The agreement was split up in order to recognize that Jefferson Parish only has an interest in the 17th Street canal, not London or Orleans.

SA 1A and SA 2A both make revisions in the language to the January agreements which reflect all the changes to the PIR's during 2006. SA 2A also clarifies the language regarding operation of the drainage pumping stations. There are other changes that I don't quite understand because I'm not a lawyer.

Should Pres. Broussard continue to attempt to get the Corps into PS#6 (an extremely unlikely event), it is SA 2A which will have to be renegotiated. Given Orleans Parish's (which includes the S&WB) status as a co-equal party to the agreement, as well as the S&WB's strongly stated opposition to any relinquishment of control of PS#6 (and the I-10 station), this renegotiation has a possibility of success that can be termed beyond remote.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Internal investigation release delayed further?

I recently spoke with a very well placed Corps of Engineers official in Vicksburg. The official told me the following:

- the release of the report on the internal investigation into the floodgate pumps may be delayed into next week, due partially to the fact that General Crear is out of the office all this week. However, it might also make it out this week.

- when it is released, it will be released in its entirety and to the public.

- the exact form of the release is has not yet been decided (i.e. will it go out on the internet, or will folks have to put in requests for it through Public Affairs, or what?). My personal feeling is they should just upload the entire thing to and just let it go at that.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Fun with FOIA

In advance of this week's release of the Corps' internal investigation into the problems with the floodgate pumps, I thought it would be helpful for the public to have as much information as possible.

Therefore, below you will find every shop inspection record I have received through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The shop inspection records were created by members of the Corps' Jacksonville District during their Quality Assurance (QA) efforts at MWI's facilities in Deerfield Beach, FL and Vero Beach, FL between March and May of 2006. They are the most comprehensive record we have of what happened as the pumps and drive units were assembled and tested in MWI's facility.

Some of these records were appended by Maria Garzino to her May 4, 2006 memo. However, the rest of them have not been publicly released before now. I obtained them through a FOIA request of every Shop Inspection made by Jacksonville personnel during their time at MWI's facilities.

They are a treasure trove of information, especially the pictures, none of which have been seen publicly before now. For anyone who wishes to understand the pumps, these records are required reading.

My personal favorite page comes from the April 25, 2006 report:

The top picture shows the testing warehouse in Deerfield Beach, about a month after the fire. As you can see, there was hardly any building left (no roof!). MWI attached the bridge crane to the fire-damaged steel of the building.

The bottom picture shows what is supposed to be clear water. Its actually the oatmeal-like goop that resulted from the numerous hydraulic fluid leaks during testing that are documented in the reports. The fluid and the water emulsified into something that just looks gross, never mind that it makes one wonder about how effective it was to test the pumps putting that stuff through them.

By the way, the Corps "released" the April 25th report previously in draft form. It was attached to Ms. Garzino's memo. Here's how the picture of the oatmeal looked in that release:

This is why it's important to get everything possible, and to keep asking for it. Otherwise, the Corps New Orleans District just releases the bare minimum, and hopes people are satisfied. It's always a game with these folks.

The reports are below.

(New) March 8, 2006
(New) March 17, 2006
(New) March 21, 2006
(New) April 3, 2006
(New) April 8, 2006
(Previously released as draft, final version withheld by Corps) April 10, 2006
(Previously released as draft, final version withheld by Corps) April 11, 2006
(Previously released as draft, final version withheld by Corps) April 12, 2006
(Previously released as draft, final version withheld by Corps) April 13, 2006
(Previously released as draft, final version withheld by Corps) April 14, 2006
(Previously released as draft, final version withheld by Corps) April 15 & 17, 2006
(Previously released as draft, final version withheld by Corps) April 18, 2006
(Previously released as draft, final version withheld by Corps) April 19 & 20, 2006
(Previously released as draft, final version withheld by Corps) April 21, 2006
(Previously released as draft, final version withheld by Corps) April 22, 2006
(New) April 23, 2006
(New) April 24, 2006
(New, because it is the final version, with color pictures) April 25, 2006
(New, because it is the final version, with color pictures) April 26, 2006
(New, because it is the final version) April 27, 2006
(New) April 28, 2006
(New) April 29, 2006
(New) April 30, 2006
(New) May 1, 2006
(New) May 2, 2006
(New) May 3, 2006
(New) May 4, 2006
(New) May 5, 2006
(New) May 6, 2006
(New) May 8, 2006
(New) May 10, 2006
(New) May 11, 2006
(New) May 12, 2006
(New) May 13 through 17, 2006

Friday, June 01, 2007

Prepare for more PS#3 pump shutdowns

[Updated 7/28/07, see below]

[For the latest on London Avenue canal testing, see my June 11, 2007 post, "Testing, testing." It has been updated quite often.]

I like when reporters take advantage of opportunities. It looks like the Times-Picayune's Mark Schleifstein did so by chatting up Colonel Bedey at yesterday's press conference for General Van Antwerp. To the Corps' disappointment, he apparently didn't ask, "Isn't General Van Antwerp the dreamiest?" It looks like what he did ask was, "What's the latest on the London Avenue canal testing?" Here's what he wrote:

"Bedey said the corps will delay until August a planned test of a 150-foot section of the London Avenue Canal wall to determine whether the water level there can be raised 1 foot. Another corps official said the delay resulted from high bids received for the testing contract."

Notice that it seems Schleifstein had to go to someone other than Bedey to find out the reason the testing is further delayed. Further, that other person seemingly didn't want their name used in print. It's a tiny but telling example of how the Corps struggles on a daily basis to keep the message upbeat and suppress bad or embarrassing news. It's ironic this appears in an article about General Van Antwerp's press conference, at which he hammered home his commitment to telling the truth to New Orleans no matter what.

Anyway, the New Orleans District blew their budget and their schedule (remember that this testing was supposed to be complete by now). And the testing and analysis will not be complete this hurricane season. I say that because even if they finish the testing on August 1, there's no way they and their contractors could get reliable results out of the field testing in a matter of days - it would likely take weeks of number-crunching.

So the upshot is that the London Avenue canal Safe Water Level will very likely stay at 4 feet through this hurricane season. That's just great. Whenever it comes up again, watch for the Corps to kind of toss it off like it's just a fact of life they can't do a thing about. In fact, if heaven and earth needed to be moved, they could drive sheet piles around the weak section(s) to seal it (them) off.

The quote above was follow-up to Schleifstein's article in the May 31st paper, which said,

"The corps also has struggled to strengthen walls along the London Avenue Canal enough to test whether higher water levels can be allowed in that canal during hurricane season. Delays in completion of that work could delay tests of the walls until late July, just before the height of hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico.

If successful, the safe water level in the canal could be raised to 5 feet, which means more storage of rainfall if the gate at the end of the canal must be closed during a tropical storm or hurricane."

I do have one complaint about the standard Corps line on this testing. They say they are doing it to determine if the safe water level can go up. It bothers me that they never mention the possibility that it could go down. It further bothers me that the local media doesn't call them on it, enabling the Corps to bamboozle the public.

Statements like that introduce legitimate worries of bias into how the Corps is doing things. Are they pre-judging the results of the testing before they're complete? Fortunately, the East Bank superlevee board is looking over the Corps' shoulders in an independent fashion on this one.

Finally, I have to issue a correction on this matter. On May 11th I took WWL-TV to task over a May 10th report that Lee Zurik filed about the London Avenue canal testing. At that time, I said WWL showed the wrong location for the testing. I was wrong. The testing is planned for an area on the east side of the canal just south of Robert E. Lee, not south of Mirabeau. I had been proceeding on a false assumption - based on conversations with Corps and other officials - that the weak section at Mirabeau would be the testing location. That was a mistake that I should have caught even earlier than now, because the location had already been mentioned twice, once on March 24, 2007 and again on April 20, 2007 by the Times-Picayune. The April 20th article gave the location as,

"The test calls for slowly increasing the level of water against a 150-foot-wide section of the floodwall on the canal's eastern bank, just south of Burbank Street on Warrington Drive."

Burbank Drive is just south of Robert E. Lee, not Mirabeau. You can see the approximate location here.

I regret the error.

[Update 7/28/07]
See my June 11, 2007 post, "Testing, testing," for the most up to date information on the London Avenue canal testing. The Engineering News-Record articles linked there are far better than the Times-Picayune's coverage.
[end update]

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