Fix the pumps

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The latest on lakefront pump repairs

This entry was updated July 13, 2011 to bring it in line with revisions made elsewhere on this blog. These revisions came about due to a large pump repair document release in June and July, 2011 in response to FOIA requests. As such, the tense is an odd mix of tone, mixing voices from both the original date of composition on March 23, 2011 and the later revision date of July 13, 2011.

The last portion of story of the repairs to the rusty 60" hydraulic pumps at the three New Orleans lakefront gate complexes left off in June of 2010. The Corps continued to pull pumps since then. A brief overview of the rusty pump story can be found at this earlier post. One of the more detailed posts, "Worse than previously known," traces the first few task orders of the contract described below, which is the second of three repair contracts given to small business Healtheon, with pump rebuild shop Conhagen doing the actual repairs.

It took over a year of badgering the Corps of Engineers to release contract documents and reports on these repairs, but they finally did so July 8, 2011. Thankfully, we didn't have to wait all that time, because there was plentiful evidence on the ground of what was happening.

In sum, there were six more pump pulls between June, 2010 and March, 2011 involving 7 pumps across all three lakefront sites. Two of those pumps - E1 and E5 on the east side of the London Avenue canal site - came out the week of March 23, 2011.

However, that still leaves about 18 pumps remaining totally untouched, with another 5 incompletely repaired in 2009 and requiring the full overhaul treatment. The lack of urgency continues unabated. Meanwhile, pumps continue to rust in the brackish waters of Lake Pontchartrain.

June 14, 2010
Healtheon contract W912P8-10-D-0054, Task Order #4, $186,793.42

The FPDS-NG description on this task order reads, "Removal, reconditioning, and reinstallation of Pumps at London Avenue Canal, 17th Street Canal Interim Closure Structures per scope of work dtd 09 June 2010."

The dollar amount of this task order indicated the repair of a single pump, but that appeared to be contradicted by the plain text of the description, which mentions two sites. Upon receipt of the contract documentation, the confusion was cleared up.

There was a spill of oil from 17th Street pump W1 on June 2, 2010. A Corps contracting officer contacted QRI that day and told them to clean it up. Remarkably, the Corps also reported the spill to the National Response Center, as required under federal law.

A task order covering the cleanup work - task order #9 - was drafted the next day. The text of the task reads:
"Clean up of hydraulic oil spill at Pump #12 at 17th Street Canal. The spill is estimated at 15 gallons and is within scope of a small spill on water. Verbal authorization to begin work was given on 6/2/2010 by a Contracting Officer."

The description of "Pump #12" in the QRI cleanup task order - which got propagated to FPDS-NG - is a typo. The normal nomenclature used by the Corps to label the pumps is [Number][Direction]. The number - "1" - was correct, but someone's finger slipped and typed "2" instead of "W" for the direction. We know this from subsequent documentation described below.

As with so many of the other pump repairs, the Corps was reactive rather than proactive, and only pulled this pump out after it sprung an oil leak. They issued task order #4 on the second Healtheon contract officially on June 15, 2010, though the enclosed scope of work in the task order is dated June 9, 2010.

The pump was pulled out sometime in the first half of June and sent to Conhagen's shop. Courtesy of the Conhagen repair report for the 17th Street pump W1 work, we have pictures of the pump in the shop.

The leak could have come from anywhere that was corroded. Maybe it was at this nearly unrecognizable corroded pipe fitting at the discharge of one of the oil coolers:

or the Rineer motor, or through the steel seal flanges:

or anywhere else, because the single pair of zinc anodes originally installed on the pump to prevent corrosion certainly hadn't been doing its job for a very long time:

Wherever the leak occurred, it doesn't really matter, because this pump got nearly the full rebuilding treatment. All the internal and external carbon steel pipes, including the oil coolers, were changed out for stainless steel. All the seals, bearings, and associated hardware were completely replaced. The pump housing was hydroblasted, and any chunks missing from corrosion were weld repaired. Effectively, the pump was completely rebuilt, except perhaps for the Rineer hydraulic motor, which isn't mentioned as getting replaced.

Based on the dates on the Conhagen report, this pump probably went back in the water around July 10, 2010. A reconciling of of the rebuild costs was recorded as modification 1 to task order #4, issued on April 6, 2011. $2,619.84 was subtracted, bringing the final cost of the 17th Street pump W1 rebuild to $184,173.58.

July 14, 2010
Healtheon contract W912P8-10-D-0054, Task Order #5, $153,560.66

The FPDS-NG description of this task order reads, "Remove, recondition & reinstall Pump #1W at London Ave. Canal."

It is unclear why pump W1 at the London Avenue site was pulled. There's no record of an oil spill preceding its removal, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything, since the Corps is absolutley awful about following the federal law requiring immediate reporting of all oil spills. It is unusual for the Corps to pull single pumps instead of pairs, as noted in the scope of work below, so it seems likely there was an unreported spill.

Anyhow, this pump got the expanded rebuild treatment that the previous few pumps got, including new bearings and seals, except for one aspect: like 17th Street pump W1, apparently its Rineer motor was not replaced. Here's the scope of work from the task order:
"The Scope of Work for this task order is for a single pump in lieu of a pair of pumps as noted in Schedule B of the contract.
The Scope of Work for this task order shall also include the following additional work:

Repair Mechanical Seals at subcontractor shop 1 Each
Remove Pump Shaft Bearings
Replace Radial bearings Impeller End (1 Each)
Replace Radial Bearings Motor End (1 Each)
Replace Thrust Bearings (1 Set)
Replace bearing Spacers (1 Each)
Inspect Shaft And Housing
Mount New Bearings
Clean All Parts For Assembly
Reinstall Pump Shafts"

It's unclear why the Corps wouldn't have the Rineer motor replaced on this unit and 17th Street pump W1.

The pictures in the Conhagen repair report for London Avenue pump W1 don't show as much as in other reports. But they do show one part that got pretty beat up:

The seal flange is a piece of metal meant to help keep oil from leaking out and water from leaking in to the enclosed section of the pump which contains the shaft bearings. Looking at these pictures, it seems unlikely it was performing its task. So, as with all the other pumps, a new seal flange was remanufactured by Conhagen.

Based on the dates on the Conhagen report, this pump probably went back in the water around August 15, 2010.

October 8, 2010
Healtheon contract W912P8-10-D-0054, Task Order #6, $169,746.50

The task order description in FPDS-NG reads, "Removal, Reconditioning, and Reinstallation of Pump 4W at Orleans Avenue Canal, Interim Closure Structure."

Again, like the last pump, we don't know exactly why this pump was pulled out. There's no spill report, and it remains unusual for the Corps to pull a single pump rather than a pair (a fact again noted within the scope of work in the task order for repair of this pump). Like pump W1 at the London Avenue site, this is probably also a case of an unreported oil spill.

Steve Beatty of The Lens got a number of photos of this pump removal on the day it happened, October 12, 2010. This is my personal favorite:

This is a Corps employee making sure to document who's taking pictures. That's pretty chilling. I wonder what a FOIA request for the picture this guy took - along with all other pictures taken by Corps employees and contractors on the pump repair job - would turn up?

Here's some more shots. The pump was already pulled out of the water when Mr. Beatty arrived. However, there was plenty of other work caught on camera

Here the elbow from atop the pump is replaced above the now empty pump slot:

The inspection hatch is what the Corps opens up to see if there's oil leaking, which is a primary criterion for pump removal. Whether such a spill gets properly reported or not is a separate question (answer: mostly "not").

Here's a nice clear shot of the elbow without the pump while the pump was in Conhagen's shop:

I believe pump elbows are now being replaced when pumps are removed for only one reason: to camoflauge pump removals from the prying eyes of the public, especially after I noted the easy way to determine if pumps were out. That is, the Corps used to leave the elbows on the levee next to the gates:

Now they put the elbows back after they pull pumps. It is money being spent for no good reason other than effectively stifling public information.

The next step after the elbow was replaced was to prepare to lift the pump from the deck...

[The pump is still connected to its suction bell and vortex suppressor here. They would be transported to Conhagen's shop separately.]

...And place it on temporary braces for transport:

Then it is lifted to a flatbed truck from the prime repair contractor, Conhagen:

The rusting and buildup of marine growth is obvious in these photos.

The scope of work for this pump, like the prior two, included the extended rebuild package (new bearings and seals, in addition to new stainless piping and stainless oil coolers and weld repairs). And also like the prior two, seemingly did not include work on the Rineer motor. Here's the scope of work from the Orleans Ave pump W4 rebuild task order:
"1. Line Item 1001CC (Revised - See Note): Removal, reconditioning and reinstallation of pump #4W at Orleans Ave. Canal Interim Closure Structure according to the Scope of Work in Section C-1-Summary of Work in the subject contract.

Note: This scope is for a single pump in lieu of the scope for a quantity of two pumps in line item 1001CC, schedule B of the contract. The scope of work for the single pump shall be revised to include the following additional work:

Repair Mechanical Seals at subcontractor shop 1 Each
Remove Pump Shaft Bearings
Replace Radial bearings Impeller End (1 Each)
Replace Radial Bearings Motor End (1 Each)
Replace Thrust Bearings (1 Set)
Replace bearing Spacers (1 Each)
Inspect Shaft and Housing
Mount New Bearings
Clean All Parts For Assembly
Reinstall Pump Shafts"

There's no mention of the Rineer motor, which is strange, especially in light of modification #2 to task order 3 on this contract, which called for the rebuilding of 12 Rineer motors, 8 which were to be kept as spares. That modificiation was issued in July, 2010, and was scheduled to be completed in August, two months before this pump was pulled out.

Anyhow, the Conhagen report of the rebuilding of Orleans Ave. pump W4 includes pictures of its particularly rusty innards. Here's the Rineer motor and all the pipes leading into and out of it, with a considerable coating of rust:

And here is the suction bell of the pump (the suction bell is the flared section at the bottom of the pump where the water enters):

Note the substantial chunks missing due to corrosion.

After rebuilding, this pump was placed back in service November 20, 2010.

Upon review of the contractors' invoices, this task order was closed out with modification no. 1 on June 15, 2011. $4,150.46 was subtracted, bringing the final cost for the Orleans Avenue pump W4 rebuild to $165,596.04.

October 15, 2010
Solicitation W912P8-10-R-0066 issued

The Corps opened the pump repairs up for public bid on this day, with a solicitation for "Removal, Reconditioning, and Reinsitallation" of the pumps at all three canal sites. The solicitation has since disappeared from the FedBizOpps site, but it and all five of its amendments can be found here.

The solicitation follows the same general scope as the repairs to date. That is, pumps are to be pulled, they're to be hosed down, all their carbon steel guts are to be replaced with stainless steel, zinc anodes are to be added, and any other bits and pieces that are messed up are to be repaired before they're put back in.

The difference on this solicitation from the second Healtheon contract, issued in March, 2010, is that the Rineer hydraulic motors at the heart of each pump unit are paid more attention. In the scope of work, this paragraph has been added:
"Remove the Rineer hydraulic motors from the pump housing and transport to a hydraulic facility approved by the [Contracting Officer's Representative (COR)]. Disassemble, clean and inspect. Provide written report of conditions found to the COR. Provide a written recommendation for any necessary repairs to be performed under the “Reimbursable Expenses” contract line item."

This likely ties in to the purchase of 12 Rineer motors in September from a Rineer distributor in San Antonio. There's much more detail about those Rineers in an update I embedded in this earlier post. More than likely, the Rineer purchases were in anticipation of replacement in case repairs didn't work out. That's probably wise, considering the Corps had already replaced a bunch earlier in the repair effort (also noted in that earlier post).

This solicitation led a later contract, number W912P8-11-D-0015 issued February 7, 2011, again to Healtheon. Details on that contract can be found below in the section titled "March 22, 2011."

December 9, 2010
Healtheon contract W912P8-10-D-0054, Task Order #7, $282,709.39

The FPDS-NG description reads "ITEM 1001BC - Pumps 2E and 6E - Remove, Recondition, and Reinstall Pumps at London Avenue Canal."

Unlike the earlier 2010 removals and repairs of London Avenue pump W1 and Orleans Avenue pump W4, this pair of pump pulls was accompanied by sudden uptick in oil spill cleanup operations. There was a flurry of task orders and modifications to QRI in December, 2010 in conjunction with this Healtheon task order. The first was issuance of a task order for a large oil spill on December, 8, 2010. It was task order #10 on the QRI oil spill response contract, with a value of $944.06. The description within the task order reads:
"Clean up of hydraulic oil spill at London Avenue Canal. The spill was from pump #2E and #6E, spread from pump booms over within the south and north booms of the canal due to the high water level. The spill is estimated at 100 gallons."

"Verbal authorization was given by the Contracting Officer on 12/08/2010 at 1:50 p.m."

The jumbled verbiage ("spread from pump booms over within the south and north booms of the canal due to the high water level") refers to the fact that the oil spread from the primary containment which immediately surrounds the pumps, and was out in the canal, between the booms to the south and the north of the site.

A few days later, the Corps added more funds:

December 15, 2010
QRI contract W912P8-09-D-0022, Task Order #10, modification 1, added $3,439.64

The FPDS-NG description reads, "Mod to Adjust Funds." The description on the task order is more detailed:
"The work under this task order w as completed on 8 December 2010. Actual totals were recieved and funding for this task order is increased by $3,439.64. Total task order amount is now $4,383.70. Task order completion date has been changed to 14 December 2010 so that the modification could be processed."

This makes sense. If the spill was 100 gallons, it would cost a lot more than $944 to clean it up, based on previous QRI task orders for spills of similar magnitude.

A couple of days later, they added even more funds, seemingly in response to a second spill:

December 21, 2010
QRI contract W912P8-09-D-0022, Task Order #10, modification 2, added $3,979.89

The FPDS-NG description reads, "Mod for an addition oil spill of approximately 25 gallons."

The task order reads,
"The above numbered task order for a hydraulic oil spill at London Avenue Canal is hereby modified to provide for additional oil clean up at pump 2E. The oil spill is approximately 25 gallons and will use contract CLIN 1002AA. The modification will increase funds in the amount of $3,979.89. Total task order amount is now $8,363.59. The completion date has been extended until 21 December 2010 as a result of this modification."

The effective date of the task order is December 17th. I'm not sure what to make of this mention of a second spill when I would think the pump would be in the shop.

Making it difficult to suss out is the fact none of this oil spill activity appears at the website of the National Response Center. These apparent multiple Clean Water Act violations are of a pattern with the Corps' activity around these pump repairs, as documented above and in Corps of Oil, Part 3.

The task order for the repair of these pumps was issued on December 9, 2010, the day after the oil spill. At first blush, this would appear to be typical of the Corps' reactive - rather than proactive - approach to maintenance. However, there's something hinky about the dates of work on these pumps.

The Conhagen report on the rebuild of London Ave. pumps E2 and E6 provides the oddity. Its cover page mentions that their work on these two pumps began November 29, 2010, over a week before the issuance of the task order for that work:

That's somewhat unusual for these types of task orders.

In addition, the date of completion on the task order is December, 24, 2010. That would theoretically give only 16 days for Conhagen to rebuild two pumps, when they've averaged 4 to 8 weeks on previous pairs of pumps. A December 24th completion date argues for an earlier start date, like the November 29th date shown on the front of the Conhagen report.

Putting two and two together indicates that the first 100 gallon spill occurred during the pull of these pumps, not before it. For some reason, that pull - along with the issuance of the task order to Healtheon for it - had been delayed from the last week of November until December 8th. And then, when Conhagen went to pull the pumps, they dumped 100 gallons of hydraulic oil in the canal. If National Response Center records are to be believed, the Corps didn't bother to report that spill, or another spill that occurred a few days later. If it is true that oil was spilled during the pumps being pulled (as we know it has in many, many other instances), it will be quite important, as I'll describe in a future entry.

But enough about the oil spills. As to the rebuild work on the pumps themselves, they got what had become - at that point - a standard scope of work for rebuilding. See the above entries on repairs to other pumps over the summer and fall of 2010 for details on that scope. The salient part is that neither the scope of work in task order #7, nor that in the Conhagen repair report, mentions rebuilding or repalcement of the Rineer motor. This makes five pumps in 2010 where the repair of the Rineer motor was not explicitly addressed, which is troubling, because the motor is the very heart of the pump unit. If all the other parts of the pumps were rusted to bits and required replacement, it's very likely the Rineers required it as well.

The Conhagen report on the rebuilding of London Avenue pumps E2 and E6 contains a number of pictures of the pumps. They did not look good when received at Conhagen's shop in Kenner, LA.

Here's the rusty Rineer hydraulic motor from pump E2, along with rusty pipes:

Pump E6's Rineer motor and attached pipes looked just as bad:

This is the bottom section of pump E2, which was removed for transport:

It's made up of three parts: a vortex suppressor, the suction bell, and the liner.

The vortex suppressors were added to the pumps at London and Orleans Avenues after installation. They are supposed to cut down on the formation of small whirlpools called vortexes (or vortices), brought on by what boils down to poor design of the pumps and their facilities. In essence, the pumps don't see enough water when the lake is at elevation 0. This is part of the reason the Corps only operates the pumps for extended periods when the canal elevation at the closure structures is above 2 feet.

The suction bells and liners are original parts of the pumps. They guide the incoming water to the impeller.

As one can see from the photo above, there was significant corrosion happening on this pump, as evidenced by the severe depletion of the single pair of zinc anodes, as well as the considerable marine growth.

That marine growth appears to have caused the paint on the liner to delaminate, leading to corrosion of the base carbon steel underneath:

The carbon steel piping of the oil coolers and pipe extensions on E2 never stood a chance in Lake Pontchartrain's brackish water:

Conhagen replaced the piping above, and repainted and weld repaired the suction bell, vortex suppressor, liner, and whatever else was missing metal due to rust and marine growth. They also put in new bearings, seals, gland plates, and other stuff to completely rebuild the pumps.

Since the start of the work appears to have been delayed, it was no surprise that modification 1 to the task order for this work extended the delivery date to January 10, 2011. Even so, the work took the usual six weeks for a pair of pumps, and they went back in on January 24, 2011.

However, the story was not complete with these pumps. You can read the unsurprising surprise conclusion in a subsequent post.

March 22, 2011
In the first spill report to the National Response Center since 17th Street pump W1 leaked oil on June 2, 2010 (despite the copious pump removal work in the interim documented above), the Corps reported this:

Regulations stipulate that these spills are supposed to be reported when they happen, not two days later. Also, the quantity released is unbelievable in the extreme, especially given the well documented history of tens of gallons per spill when pumps are pulled. In fact one only has to go back to the above section on the repairs last December to find spills (unreported of course) of "Over 50 to 100 Gallons" and "approximately 25 gallons."

The London Avenue pumps removed during this activity were E1 and E5, the last two hydraulic pumps on the east side of the site not to be repaired. They went back in sometime around the third or fourth week of April, as seen in this subsequent post.

This work is part of a third contract to Healtheon for pump repairs. On February 7, 2011, Healtheon was awarded contract W912P8-11-D-0015, in response to solicitation W912P8-10-R-0066 (original FBO page, complete solicitation), which was circulated in late 2010. It is a four year contract (a base year and three option years) which has a maximum value of $6.75 million.

That third option year is interesting, because that places the possible work for this contract in 2015. Yet the Corps has said in its recent announcement of an award for the permanent pump stations that the new stations are due to be finished in 2014. Could this be a hint that the schedule is actually slipping once again?

[Note: The schedule for the permanent pumps did slip, as a result of multiple bid protests after the contract award in April, 2011. Details are available at the subsequent post, "Permanent pumps slip to Katrina 10th anniversary."]

Anyhow, on March 14, 2011, the new Healtheon contract had task order #1 issued on it for a value of $598,101.68, calling for pulling of four pumps: E1 and E5 at London Avenue and W4 and W7 at 17th Street. We'll concentrate on the London Avenue pumps for now.

I have pictures of the empty slots where London's E1 and E5 usually reside. First, E1 (with the elbow back in, as noted above):

I know this picture's a little busy. You can tell that E1 is out because you can't see its piping extensions, like you can on E2:

Noteworthy is the yellow boom near the E1 slot. It's been left there by oil spill contractor QRI after the pump removal, and got tossed onto the supporting steel by the tides or bad weather:

Here's a picture showing E5 out of its slot:

And again, more yellow temporary boom placed by QRI when the pump was removed:

The rest of the work on London pumps E1 and E5, as well as other work under the the third Healtheon/Conhagen contract, is covered in subsequent posts, starting with "The 2011 pump rebuild scramble." There you can find links to more contract documents and Conhagen repair reports, as well as Conhagen pictures of the pumps pulled out under that new contract.

At the time of this post, details on many 17th Street pumps were unknown. All that was known for certain for certain was that pump W1 came out for repairs between June, 2010 and late March, 2011. So the 17th Street pump status looked like this:

while the Orleans and London statuses were:

Since E1 and E5 were still out at London Avenue, they were not counted as "repaired" in the tallies. See this subsequent post for confirmation of their replacement, and further details on their repair.

Karen Gadbois and Steve Beatty of The Lens contributed to this report.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Public Comment

[Updated 3/22/11, see below]

The Corps is working on "remediation" projects along all three outfall canals, with projected finish dates of June, 2011. We know why they're in such a hurry (after five years), at least along the London Avenue canal - the insanely low Safe Water Elevations found in the October, 2010 London Avenue canal SWE report.

That hurry to finish has manifested itself in a little bureaucratic hiccup too. Before the projects were authorized by the Corps, they went through a public approval process under the National Environental Policy Act, or NEPA. That process, which is accelerated for the hurricane protection work due to the outstanding need for that work, involves publication of an Individual Environmental Report (IER) and invitation of a month's worth of public comment before the official okay is given on any given project or collection of projects.

Sometimes, after that approval is given, supplements to IER's are issued to accomodate problems that may have cropped up. Those supplements also have 30 day comment periods attached to them, and - theoretically - the work in those supplements is supposed to wait for the comment period to close and a second approval signature.

In the case of the outfall canal work, IER #27 was issued on September 3, 2010 and was open for comments through October 1, 2010. A public meeting was held on September 16, 2010. The commander of the New Orleans District signed the IER on October 2, 2010, contracts were bid out in November and were awarded in December. The work has been proceeding since then, including the work along the London Avenue canal. That's the way the process should go.

Part of that London Avenue canal work involves putting stuff like barges and such in the canal. The best way to do this was from the many bridges over the canal. However, there are many road repairs happening around the Gentilly neighborhood in which the canal sits, and the City of New Orleans apparently said "no" to the Corps' requests to close bridges.

So the Corps has proposed using empty lots lining the canal to perform many of the same functions they would have from the bridges. 13 of these lots are owned by the Louisiana Land Trust as a result of homeowner sales to the Road Home Program after Katrina. The 14th lot is owned by the city and is used by the Parks & Parkways department.

The way the Corps made this announcement was through the NEPA process. Specifically, they issued a supplement to IER 27, called IERS 27.a. It was issued March 14th and is open for public comment through April 14th.

Previously, as published in the original IER 27, this was the map of lots the Corps planned to use for equipment staging and access:

The red areas in the inset maps were the planned staging areas.

And here are the revised maps from the new supplemental, showing the original staging locations in yellow and the new ones in blue:

According to the supplemental, the Corps plans to use the empty lots as follows:
"(1) 5020 Warrington Drive: A concrete truck would be driven across the empty lot on mats to the canal floodwall, from which concrete would be pumped to the construction locations along the canal.
(2) 5268 Warrington Drive: same use as 5020 Warrington Drive.
(3) 5332 Warrington Drive: same use as 5020 Warrington Drive.
(4) 5736, 5760, 5764, 5788 and 5784 Warrington Drive: Concrete trucks would be driven across these empty lots on mats to the canal floodwall, from which the concrete would be pumped to the construction locations along the wall. These lots would also be used for the stockpiling of approximately 150 cubic yards of borrow material.
(5) 5245 Pratt Drive: same as 5020 Warrington Drive.
(6) 5525, 5519, 5511, and 5501 Pratt Drive: These lots would be used in lieu of the bridges to deliver barges and sheetpile to the inside of the canal.
(7) City of New Orleans Park and Parkways lot (end of Steven Girard Avenue): this lot would be used for stockpiling of materials. Some vegetation would be cleared between the road and the floodwall to provide access."

Anyhow here's the hiccup: the Corps is already using these empty lots, and has been for weeks.

Here's pictures of construction equipment on the empty lot at 5332 Warrington from February and from earlier this month:

I don't have a problem with the Corps using these lots, and hopefully the neighbors aren't being inconvenienced while this work proceeds this spring. What I have a problem with is the Corps going through the NEPA process seeking public comment on work that is already underway, and not mentioning that in their documentation.

This is what tight deadlines do - stuff slips through the cracks. Probably someone at the Corps or their contractor didn't get with the city, or vice versa, and they ended up at an impasse over the use of the bridges after the original IER was approved last October. So this idea was crafted (and one has to wonder why they didn't do this in the first place, aside from the extreme irony of the Corps using empty lots which were made that way due to their earlier incompetence). Only, they decided it was better to seek forgiveness rather than permission, and issued the IER supplemental after they'd already started using the empty lots.

It's admittedly minor, but it speaks to a consistent Corps pattern of leaving the public out of decisions, or - as in this case - giving the public the illusion of input when the decision was made long before. That's not fair.

[Update, 3/22/11]

After repeated inquiries, the Corps' Joan Exnicios wrote back about this matter. I've highlighted the relevant portions:
"Thank you for your interest in the outfall canal remediation project and IER Supplemental 27.a. We have held numerous public meetings informing the public on Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction projects in the area and held a specific meeting about the remediation work that is occurring along the 17th Street, Orleans Avenue, and London Avenue outfall canals on September 16, 2010. Public meetings are not normally held for minor changes to projects disclosed in IER supplements. The photos you sent are of remediation work within ROW which is estimated to be complete in June 2011. The contractor removed the crane from the 5332 Warrington on March 10, 2011 and will not use it again until the public review and comment period for the supplement is complete. Public notification for the project followed the standard procedures including posting notices in the Times Picayune, USA Today, and press releases, and individual mail outs. In addition, the Filmore Gardens, Burbank Gardens, and Vista Park neighborhood associations, representatives from the City of New Orleans, and neighbors in the project area were contacted in regards to this project, this was how the vacant lots were identified for use to minimize traffic impacts by closing bridges crossing the London Avenue Canal."

What if there hadn't been pictures? Also, who authorized the work to proceed in the first place? Why can't they just admit they were wrong?

Also, would it really be that hard to have a public meeting for the dozens of residents who will be directly impacted by heavy equipment moving through their neighborhood when they weren't expecting it before?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Almost a year

That's how long I've been waiting for the Corps to fulfill some of my Freedom of Information Act requests. It's ridiculous.

None of them are particularly detailed or complicated. They are all very specific and don't delve into personnel issues. I should have had all of them by now.

So here's the biggies:

FOIA request "F"
Originally filed 3/16/2010, updated often since then
Remains partially unfulfilled
Main text of remaining request:
a) All reports of Conhagen's (or any other subcontractor's) repair work on the lakefront pumps under contracts W912P8-10-D-0054 and W912P8-08-D-0090.
b) All contract task orders, modifications, drawings, and other addenda to QRI contract W912P8-09-D-0022 subsequent to (and including) task order #9
c) All contract task orders, modifications, drawings, and other addenda to Healtheon contract W912P8-10-D-0054 subsequent to (and including) task order #3, rev 1. This will also include task order #4 and everything after it.
d) All contract task orders, modifications, drawings, and other addenda to Healtheon contract W912P8-08-D-0090 subsequent to (and including) task order #4, rev 1.

[This request covers contracts and reports on the repairs to the rusty hydraulic pumps at the three lakefront gate sites performed by Conhagen on behalf of the prime contractor, Healtheon. The QRI contract is for cleanup of oil spills at the three sites. Considering how bad the pumps looked in the 2009 Conhagen report I got a year ago...'s little wonder they're holding this information back. I've written about what little information I've been able to gather from secondary sources in a subsequent entry.]

FOIA request "G"
Originally filed 3/17/2010
Main text of request:
"1) Any and all emails, memoranda, and other documents related to the operation, maintenance, design, or any other matter relating to the pumps, gates, and all other associated equipment at the interim closure structures (17th Street, Orleans Avenue, London Avenue) sent or received by the following individuals between 12:01 AM November 5, 2009 and 11:59 PM November 14, 2009, as well as between 12:01 AM, December 6, 2009 and 11:59 PM December 16, 2009:

a) Colonel Alvin B Lee
b) Karen Durham-Aguilera
c) Christopher Accardo
d) Carl Robinson
e) Michael Stack Jr
f) Nancy Powell
g) Raymond Newman
h) Donald Constantine
i) Dan Bradley

Responsive documents should include all attachments to the emails, as well as the emails themselves.

2) After action reports for Corps New Orleans District activities undertaken in preparation for and during Hurricane Ida and the December 11-13 rainstorms."

[These are emails and reports which would explain what exactly happened during the London Avenue gate closure during Ida in November, 2009, as well emails and reports explaining what happened in December, 2009 when the London Avenue and 17th Street gates didn't close despite high water in both canals which exceeded the Corps' closure criteria. The Corps' SCADA data from the December, 2009 event indicate a nearly week-long outage of the SCADA system at that time.]

FOIA Request "5A"
Originally filed 4/24/2010
"1) The Comparative Cost Analysis generated by Black & Veatch under task order CZ05 of contract W912BV-07-D-1002 (original and modification attached). This report is described as a deliverable on page 7 of the original task order and is described on on page 4:

"Cost Differential Analysis. Review and analyze the cost differential and methodology between the 2006 Conceptual Design Report and the 2008 90-day study and report to congress."

2) The Basis of Cost Estimates generated by Black & Veatch under task order CZ05 of contract W912BV-07-D-1002 (original and modification attached). This report is described as a deliverable on page 7 of the original task order.

PLEASE NOTE: As regards redactions from these reports, please do not redact information regarding "Option 2" costs. I am aware that your office has redacted cost estimate information on previous reports for the permanent pumping project under the justification that a full bid process had not run its course, and that a Project Partnership Agreement explicitly calling for Option 1 had not been signed.. Since that time, a Project Parnership Agreement has been signed between the State of Louisiana and the Corps of Engineers which explicitly excludes construction of Option 2 in favor of Option 1. Therefore, while Option 1 is still playing out, there is no justification to withhold cost information regarding Option 2."

[These are reports which would presumably lay out the exact, detailed cost differential between the Option 1 and Option 2 plans for the outfall canals. These reports have been sitting in the Corps' building for years, and I DARE the Corps to release them, especially with the selection of an Option 1 contractor next month.]

Thursday, March 03, 2011

London Avenue safe water level = 1.5 feet

I have obtained Version 5 of the London Avenue canal Safe Water Elevation report. It is a shocker.

Previously, the Corps has told the public the London Avenue canal Safe Water Elevation (SWE) is 5 feet. That was based on a load test they did in 2007. What that means is the water shouldn't get above 5 feet in any circumstance, or a failure could occur, due to any one of a number of mechanisms. Most of the failure mechanisms trace back to the totally permeable sand in and above which the walls sit and through which Katrina's surge swept in 2005, taking out two sections of the canal walls and nearly destroying a third. Those failures happened with water far below the tops of the walls.

So with a five foot limitation if water starts getting high from surge, stormwater pumping, or a combination, there are two options to keep the water below 5 feet:
a) the Corps has to close the gates at the lakefront (to shut off water from the lake) or
b) the Sewerage & Water Board pumps have to cut back on pumping.

Both have happened repeatedly in the past.

The new stuff
What the Corps hasn't told the public since they announced the 5 foot SWE in September 2007 is that they have continued studying the canal, paying for tons of soil sampling and geotechnical analyses of the canal. Report after report has piled up. I have what I believe to be a near-complete collection of these reports.

But this latest version of the SWE report - Version 5 - is the one that counts, and is the scariest yet.

It reveals that the Safe Water Elevation of the canal is actually 1.5 feet, not 5 feet.

In fact, there are 7 sections of walls along both sides of the canal with SWE's below 5 feet, ranging from a high of 4 feet all the way down to 1.5 feet. The reason given in the report is that the silty layer at the bottom of the canal is so thin - less than 2 feet - that it provides no defense from water travelling through it. That's a problem, because below that silt is the sandy soil that also underlies the levees and walls. So water just goes through the silt, into the sand, and spreads under the walls, eventually pushing up the soil on the "dry," protected side of the walls. This is known as "seepage."

The report also reveals that apart from a few select areas, the Corps did not conduct a comprehensive survey of the thickness of the canal bottom until February and March of 2010, despite evidence dating back years of water penetrating directly through silt to the sand below and seeping past the walls to the neighborhoods beyond. That's troubling.

The Corps has included a considerable "pay no attention to this report" section at the end of the report, written with a future press release in mind. This is weird beyond belief, because it basically says the report and all its work isn't really right, the walls won't fail because they haven't failed yet, and that the Corps will keep New Orleans safe, blah, blah. They even crazily suggest a breach wouldn't be so bad, because it could only happen if the lakefront gates were closed, and then only the water trapped in the canal would pour out. It's garbage. Just ignore it.

The numbers are there in black and white starting on PDF page 193. And to make it simpler, they included a picture, which I have annotated:

The 1.5' SWE section - aka "Reach 13"
Burrowing into the appendices to find the precise analysis that led to the 1.5 foot number (note that it is just one of seven sub-5-foot SWE's along the canal), I discovered that along this section of the canal, a depth of 1.5 feet doesn't even put water against the wall:

[Note: this graphic is taken from a seepage analysis, but it may not be the seepage analysis that generated the 1.5 foot number. Nevertheless, that doesn't change the height of the 3.4 foot embankment relative to the 1.5 foot SWE.]

So just normal operation of the canal would likely cause seepage.

This unsafe section of wall - termed "Reach 13" by the Corps - is on the west side of the canal in the 5500 block of Pratt Drive, just north of Filmore Ave. It is about 300 feet long:

The map above is from Appendix A to the report. It is taken from images shot in late 2005 or early 2006. Of the five houses behind Reach 13 shown in that photo, all have been torn down since the photo was taken. Two - 5543 and 5551 - have been replaced.

Here's the Reach 13 neighborhood in late 2009, courtesy of Google:

The large amount of sand on the lot at 5525 Pratt was placed there by a Louisiana Land Trust demolition contractor after the October 26, 2009 knockdown of a shed on the lot. The home at 5535 Pratt was demolished December 19, 2009, placing this photo sometime between those two dates.

What is notable about this 1.5' SWE finding is that in previous London Avenue canal analyses, including one published in June, 2009, the calculated Safe Water Elevation for this same stretch of wall and levee (then known as Reach 14) was 10 feet. Now, with the improved data showing the extreme permeability of the canal bottom (the Corps' contractors actually call it an "open canal"), the idea of protection has been turned on its head. Now, it's not the walls and levees that matter, it's the bottom of the canal.

Summing up
I'm kind of in disbelief at these developments. How many chances has the Corps had to tell the truth to the public since last October, or even since they got this result (likely months before that)? They announced a contract to remediate the canal in December, 2010, but they had nearly complete designs for that remediation way back in June, 2010. The remediation started in January, 2011 and piles are being driven today. Reach 13 is getting piles driven to -56 feet, well below the sand. But the reaches north and south aren't getting anything. Such is the patchwork pattern of the remediation, following the same pattern as the analysis effort over the last five years. We can only hope the data on the canal bottom outside those sections getting sheetpile cutoffs is correct, now and forever.

And what about those last five years, when they were doing nothing on the canal while people have rebuilt? They can try to spin this however they like, but it just plain looks like suppressing bad news to me. Do you know how often the water in the canal gets above 1.5 feet? All the damn time, including every time there's a rainstorm and the city pumps turn on. How much risk has the city unknowningly accepted since Katrina? How many times have the walls been in danger of failing? How can the Sewerage & Water Board now send water down the canal from their pump stations knowing that many sections of the walls (or just the embankments below the walls, like in Reach 13) cannot have water put against them? Whoever decided to withold this from the public needs to get up and publicly apologize.

Here's the report, including nearly all the appendices.

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