Fix the pumps

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Here we go again

The last time we took a look at the pumps at the new West Closure Complex (WCC) on the west bank, across from New Orleans, we found that only 8 of the 11 pumps would be ready for June 1. No reason was given for the shortfall. In addition, we found there were very loose terms on the testing of the pumps. That testing was due to start in April.

We know the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - West (SLFPA-W) has inspectors watching all the Corps' jobs on the West Bank. From their inspection reports, we were able to learn about systemwide problems with excessive debris being placed in the levees all over the west bank (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). SLFPA-W's reports on the West Closure Complex have been similarly detailed, including descriptions of the first pump testing, which did occur last month. It did not go well.

The May 3, 2011 SLFPA-W report on their April 29, 2011 inspection visit tells the tale (note, while the report indicates an inspection on April 29th, it actually recounts events that happened over a multi-day span dating back to mid-April):
"During this reporting period the dry testing of pump no. 13’s engine, gear and pump began. There were several issues regarding gear oil pressure alarms and engine fuel delivery, but once those items were corrected the engine was started and the pump rotated with a dry impeller."

[Note: while there are currently 11 pumps at the WCC, the original design called for 13. It appears the original numbering has survived into the final design, thus the descriptions of pumps 12 and 13 in a station with only 11 pumps.]

So a few hiccups, but they got it going for the dry test. The terms of that test are laid out in the WCC specifications. Here's an excerpt:
"After pumping unit has been completely assembled, including all rotating elements and lubrication system, operate at full rated speed for a period of 4 hours or until the bearing temperatures have stabilized, whichever is longer, to assure proper alignment and satisfactory operation."

The dry test specs also call for monitoring of vibration in horizontal and vertical axes. They then describe exactly what is meant by stabilization of the bearing temperatures:
"Pumping unit shall be operated at rated speed and the bearing temperatures recorded at 5 minute intervals until the temperature rate of rise has stabilized for all bearings. Bearings' temperature shall be considered stabilized when the rate of rise does not exceed 1 degree Fahrenheit in five minutes."

If that doesn't happen?
"Dry test run shall be repeated if it is necessary to interrupt the test before all bearing temperatures have become stable. If after a run of reasonable duration the temperature rate of rise for any bearing has not stabilized, test shall be terminated until the cause of overheating is determined and corrections made. Then dry test run shall be repeated."

This is all pretty reasonable. And if they have problems that are the fault of the manufacturer or the pump assembler?
"Should tests reveal that there is a design deficiency or a manufacturing error in pumping unit components, the problem shall be promptly corrected by and at the expense of Contractor."

Good. The public shouldn't be on the hook for a manufacturer not meeting the specs. By the way, the manufacturer of these pumps is Fairbanks-Morse. They were assembled by local company Bollinger Quick Repair.

So how did all this work in practice? Back to the SLFPA-W report:
"The engine was brought up to operating speed and the test concluded with a failure of the upper bearing in the pump."

That's not good.
"Upon observation it was determined that the bronze sleeve type bearing had cracked and was seized to the shaft sleeve. Further analysis indicated that the bearing was installed such that it was not plumb with the shaft and the shaft loading on the bearing caused the failure."

SLFPA-W included pictures of the cracked upper bearing on pump 13:

Date stamps on these and other pictures of pump 13 in the report indicate the bearing failure probably occurred between April 17th and April 19th.

After a failure like that, the prudent thing to do would be to check the other pumps for similar defects. That's what was done, according to the SLFPA-W inspection:
"The remaining aligned pumps were checked and minor adjustments were made."

With the lack of detail on this checking procedure, it's difficult to ascertain how comprehensive the procedure was.

The next step was to try another pump:
"Next pump no. 12 was prepared for a dry pump test and the operation of that unit was discontinued when the lower pump bearing temperatures became elevated above the safe operating range."

Again, not good.
"The decision to test pump no. 11 under wet conditions was made and the pump produced flow for approximately five (5) minutes before the lower pump bearing RTD indicated excessive bearing temperatures."

This decision certainly raised my eyebrows. It's not told how the Corps jumped from dry testing to wet testing, which is a big leap. While the specifications do not explicitly call for the wet test to follow the dry test, it would certainly seem prudent to do so.

Anyhow, at this point it was clear to them there was a systemic problem with the bearings:
"With that issue it was concluded that the bearing clearance tolerances were too tight and that all bearings in each pump would be removed and re-bored to achieve a total bearing clearance of 0.025 inches."

Whoa! After spending months installing all these pumps (and showing them off "victory lap"-style to various groups, multiple bunches of fellow Corps employees, and assorted Pentagon bigwigs before anything had even run), they now had to yank all 11 of them out and completely disassemble them. Maybe the tours should have waited until they had a functioning facility?

So they started pulling them apart:
"The removal of the three (3) bearings in each pump began with pulling of pump no. 3. Once the bearings were removed from pump no. 3, they were delivered to Bollinger Marine for boring. While boring operations were ongoing, pump no. 12 was removed from its intake bay setting and the pump was disassembled."

A passage later in the report gives an idea of what was involved:
"The majority of the mechanical work performed for this period revolved around the testing and ultimate disassembly of pumps 3, 12 & 13. That work included removal of the intake air and exhaust piping, disconnecting the gear oil and coolant piping from the right angle gear, disconnecting engine to gear drive shafts, disconnecting gear to pump shaft couplings, removal of the right angle gear, removal of the right angle gear pedestal and pulling of the three pumps that had stop-logs already installed in the intake bays."

Here's pump 3 after it was lifted out but before it was taken apart:

And here it is after disassembly:

That is a ton of work, and they're going to do this on ten more pumps (all eleven pumps were already installed, as noted in the previous SLFPA-W report). I assume the Corps is having the contractors segregate the expenses associated with this work so the taxpayer doesn't end up on the hook.

The pump removal didn't exactly go as smoothly as the above paragraph would indicate. Returning to the earlier passage in the report:
"At the time of this report, pump no. 13 was being prepared for removal but there was some difficulty in removing the lower half of the pump to gear coupling. Nitrogen was being used to cool the upper pump shaft and the pump coupling was being heated with rose bud torches to provide the expansion needed to release the coupling from its interference fit."

Nitrogen! They had to bring in nitrogen to decouple the pump shaft!

So how did all this wind up? From the SLFPA-W report:
"Currently the bearings from pump no. 3 are being installed in pump no. 12 and the current scheduling indicates a possible test of that pump by 07 May 2011."

Presumably, the next SLFPA-W report will detail what happened during that test.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The 2011 pump rebuild scramble

This entry was updated July 14, 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 May 9, 2011 and the later revision date of July 14, 2011.

Last spring, we looked at a flurry of hydraulic pump repair activity at the New Orleans lakefront gates. This spring, there seems to be another such push.

Third Healtheon contract, task order #1

At the end of the last update, we noted that two pumps at the London Avenue site - E1 and E5 - had been removed and taken to Conhagen's shop for rebuilding around March 22, 2011, based on an oil spill report from that day. Here's pictures of the empty E1 and E5 slots in early April:

As of late April, E1 and E5 were back in at London Avenue:

This work was performed under $598,101.68 task order #1 to Healtheon contract W912P8-11-D-0015, the third pump repair contract. As described in the previous post, that task order also called for the repair of 17th Street pumps W4 and W7:
CLIN 1001A - Remove, recondition and reinstall pump #4W and #7W at 17th Street Canal @ $262,376.76.
CLIN1001BC - Remove, recondition and reinstall pump #1E and #5E at London Avenue Canal @ $334,724.92. Contractor may opt to use 240-ton crane at this site in lieu of 500-tonn crane as stated in contract."

Modification 1 to task order #1, issued for $12,433.26 on June 8, 2010 - after the work had been completed - accounted for the bearing and seal work that has become standard on all these repairs:
"Add the following additional work for all four (4) pumps:

Repair Mechanical Seals at subcontractor shop (4 Each)
Remove Pump Shaft Bearings
Replace Radial bearings Impeller End (4 Each)
Replace Radial Bearings Motor End (4 Each)
Replace Thrust Bearings (4 Sets)
Replace bearing Spacers (4 Each)
Inspect Shafts and Housing
Mount New Bearings
Clean All Parts for Assembly
Reinstall Pump Shafts"

It also allowed for a smaller crane at the London Avenue site.

The Conhagen repair reports for these four pumps (London Avenue E1 and E5 report, 17th Street W4 and W7 report) include the now-usual photos of very, very, very rusty pumps. And they also help solve a mystery.

The pictures of London Avenue pump E1 include this shot:

Notice the multiple zinc anodes, and how they are fastened to the pump's suction bell. The original pump order included only a single pair of anodes for each pump, and they were fastened in a different manner. Here's pictures of the pumps in 2006, with their original anodes:

And here's one of the 2009 Conhagen-repaired pumps going back in the water:

All this indicates this pump had previously been removed and partially repaired. This helps explain the May 22, 2009 spill report I noted over a year ago in Corps of oil, Part 3:

May 22, 2009 at London Avenue
Quantity released: 40 gallons (from QRI task order)
NRC report: No
LDEQ report: No
Description: From $5399.16 task order #4 to the second QRI contract: "Provide labor, material, and use of eqipment [sic] to clean up about 40 gallons of hydraulic fluid that spilled from pump 1E at London Avenue Canal."

At that time, I noted that E1 was not among the four pumps that had been pulled out at the London Avenue site before June, 2010. Indeed, I don't know of any contractual evidence of the repair of London pump E1, but it obviously happened.

It was probably repaired by the Corps themselves, before they started sending pumps to Conhagen through the first Healtheon contract. And since this happened so early on in the repairs (May, 2009), it also likely had the very limited scope of work involving just replacement of the carbon steel pipes inside the pump bore with stainless steel, and simple cleaning of the external piping and coolers followed by a new coat of paint.

Indeed, other pictures of E1 from the 2011 repair report back this up. The interior pipes are not rusted at all, indicating they're stainless:

While the external piping and coolers look like they've taken some serious corrosion damage since the first round of repairs in June, 2009:

Five other 60" pumps - all at 17th Street - also received this misguidedly small set of repairs before the Corps realized they needed to do more.

This makes London Avenue pump E1 the first 60" pump to be pulled out twice, doubly compounding the errors in corrosion judgement made in 2006 and 2007. This is a massive waste of money. It is extremely likely this pattern will be repeated on the 17th Street pumps repaired in 2009 as well.

Anyhow, the other three pumps rebuilt under this task order had all the normal rust damage to their Rineer motors and attached piping:

And to their oil coolers and external piping:

Conhagen completed all the repairs (it's unclear whether they got new or refitted Rineer motors) in April, 2011. London Avenue pumps E1 and E5 went back in the water April 27, 2011. 17th Street pumps W4 and W7 were reinstalled three days later, on April 30, 2011.

Third Healtheon contract, task order #2

Work continued this spring at London Avenue, with pumps W5 and W6 coming out:

We can tell they're out because we can see the bottom flanges of the elbows unattached to any pumps below them. We also don't see the distinctive piping extensions added to the pumps in 2007, as we can on the adjacent pump W4.

This work likely took place on April 26th, since there was a spill report from London Avenue that day:

The Corps claimed 3 gallons for this spill. Again, like the last spill report in March, I find this implausibly tiny, and a likely underreporting. However, at least it was reported, unlike dozens of others over the last five years.

There is another possibility for the source of this spill. It could have resulted from the reinstallation of London Avenue pumps E1 and E5. The acceptance testing for those pumps occurred on April 27th, the day after this spill, but they could have been getting put back in on the 26th. Without more detail, it's unfortunately impossible to know.

Meanwhile, there was also work at 17th Street, with E4 coming out on May 2nd:

The corrosion on the outer pump housing and the oil coolers is obvious:

The corrosion damage to the innards of the pump, including the Rineer motor, is likely similarly severe.

E3 was also due to come out that day, as evidenced by the missing flange bolts on its elbow:

E3 and E4 were untouched before this latest activity.

All four of these pumps came out under $523,862.74 task order #2 to the third Healtheon/Conhagen contract, issued April 25, 2011. The text of that task order reads,
"CLIIN 1001A: Removal, reconditioning and reinstallation of pump #3E and #4E at 17th St. Canal Interim Closure Structure.

CLIN 1001BD: Removal, reconditioning and reinstallation of pump #5W and #6W at London Ave. Canal Interim Closure Structure.

All work shall be completed by 17 June 2011."

However, as the Corps' self-imposed June 1st deadline for the completion of the 100 year protection system around the New Orleans area approached, apparently someone wanted results faster. Modification 1 to task order #2, issued after the fact on June 8, 2011 did two things:

1) It moved the deadline for the work on these four pumps up to May 31, 2011.

2) It added the now standard suite of repairs to bearings and seals:
"The Scope of Work is also modified to add the following additional work for all four (4) pumps:

Repair Mechanical Seals at subcontractor shop (4 Each)
Remove Pump Shaft Bearings
Replace Radial bearings Impeller End (4 Each)
Replace Radial Bearings Motor End (4 Each)
Replace Thrust Bearings (4 Sets)
Replace bearing Spacers (4 Each)
Inspect Shafts and Housing
Mount New Bearings
Clean All Parts for Assembly
Reinstall Pump Shafts"

It didn't do these things cheap. It cost $139,913.16, bringing the total value of this task order to $663,775.90.

My FOIA request also produced the Conhagen repair reports for both pairs of pumps (repair report for 17th Street pumps E3 and E4 and repair report for London Avenue pumps W5 and W6)

As usual, these reports are full of troubling photos. Here's a before and after of the seal flange on London Avenue pump W6:

Here's the seal flange on 17th Street pump E3:

I'm assuming this photo was taken to show the oil that had gotten past the seal and had spread. When they removed some of the outer housing, presumably this is what they found. This is bad, because big oil leaks like this mean lubrication for the bearings is gone, potentially causing pump failure.

Anyhow, Conhagen accelerated the repairs (hopefully completing them properly in the process). The London Avenue pumps went back in the water May 21, 2011. Here they are in place on June 1, 2011:

The 17th Street pumps were back in May 24, 2011, beating the Corps' artificial deadline.

[I realize this information and the charts below include information that occurred after the date of this post, but that's because I'm writing it after I got information that was missing at the time I originally composed it. It's timey-wimey.]

Stepping back a bit, this means the Corps has pulled ten pumps in five pairs for planned repairs (the planned repairs always occur in pairs) since the 2010 hurricane season:

London Avenue pumps E2 and E6
London Avenue pumps E1 and E5 (second round of repairs for E1)
London Avenue pumps W5 and W6
17th Street pumps W4 and W7
17th Street pumps E3 and E4

With the receipt of all the documentation on these pumps, we can update the pump status for the London Avenue site:

We can also update the 17th Street site. It is important to realize that the five 60" pumps reworked in 2009 with an incomplete set of repairs are extremely liable to oil spills.

The Orleans Avenue site has had nearly zero attention paid to it, with only a single pump pulled out in the last two years, and even that was only in response to an oil spill, not as a planned repair:

So, even after all the pumps we believe have gone for repairs, there will still be twelve 60" pumps still untouched - including 9 of the 10 at the Orleans Avenue site:

17th Street: W2, W3
London Avenue: W2
Orleans Avenue: E1, E2, E3, E4, E5, W1, W2, W3, W5

and another five with incomplete repairs:

17th Street: E5, E7, W8, W9, W10

which are likely to break again very soon.

And it's taken two years to get to this point. Since the Corps only pulls pumps out during hurricane season if they break, it's either unlikely (in the Corps' view) or likely (in view of all the photos of broken pumps I've published over the last year) we'll see more activity before the end of the 2011 hurricane season.

Matt Davis and Steve Beatty of The Lens contributed to this report.


Thursday, May 05, 2011

Debris, Part 3

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14

In the previous two entries (Part 1, Part 2), we've been looking at the problem of debris within the levees the Corps of Engineers is building around New Orleans. If there's too much debris, organic or otherwise, within a levee, its integrity could be undermined over time, reducing the level of protection for the people behind it.

We've looked at one project where debris was a problem for 3 months before a plan was put in place. At another project, debris has been a continuing issue for over six months, but the Corps refuses to shut the job down to fix the problem. The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - West (SLFPA-W) has said in its inspection reports that these debris problems could lead to them not accepting the projects from the Corps upon completion.

But that's just two projects out of dozens. How widespread is the debris problem?

Let's look at three more levee projects where the SLFPA-W has reported debris concerns, WBV-17b.2, WBV-18.2, and WBV-12:


WBV-17b.2 is a relatively short stretch (just 1 mile) of levee on the Jefferson side of the Jefferson-St Charles Parish line. The project was awarded last November. There are only five SLFPA-W inspection reports thus far. The first, an early report from December, 2010, notes the contractor - Healtheon - hadn't yet mobilized. But the four more recent inspections show SLFPA-W ramping up inspections because of debris concerns.

From the March 21, 2011 report of a March 17, 2011 inspection:
"Debriefing was held on site with USACE inspector; surface debris was not abundant but the current 1' lift being placed contained debris. Due to the current spreading operation burying debris; SLFPA-W request a work plan on removing the current debris and controlling future debris hauled to site in fill material. Spoke with USACE representative, John Yanguba; he assured that the debris issue would be taken care of and requested another site visit later this week."

Of course, there's pictures:

The next inspection took place five days later on the 22nd. It's recounted in the March 28th report, with a healthy dose of skepticism by the SLFPA-W:
"An email was received for previously requested work plan on debris issue stated; 'We will reinforce and follow up with Ktor ["Ktor" = contractor] to have people spotting and removing debris as well as continue our inspection regimen which assures debris like this does not end up in final product." Some debris was found today of a considerable size, SLFPA-W expressed that debris of this size should not be found after contractor has worked area. USACE will meet with contractor again on debris issue."

So more promises. How did that pan out?

The SLFPA-W came out about a two weeks later, on April 4th to find out. The SLFPA-W didn't like what they found, as they wrote in their April 11, 2011 report:
"Contractor currently placing lift along protected side and top of levee between approximate station 157+00 and 155+00. Some debris was noted in current dumping and spreading operation; contractor personnel spotting trucks but not reviewing material for debris. No contractor personnel noted removing debris during today's visit. SLFPA-W and USACE reviewed remaining project along the protected side berm; debris was still found and some removed by USACE personnel."


And in the debriefing meeting at the end of the inspection, it's clear they feel things are getting worse, not better:
"Contractor currently dumping approximately 38 trucks per hour with no full time crew removing debris. The USACE inspector expressed that the contractor has three personnel assigned to picking up debris once in the morning and again in the afternoon. Several small piles of debris were noted during but no personnel picking up debris with the exception of the USACE inspector. SLFPA-W has concerns that some debris may not have been removed due to the rate of 38 trucks per hour dumping material and no personnel was noted picking up debris during today's visit. The debris issue has not improved since the last visit noting the size of debris found in the berm area."

38 trucks an hour, and no one spotting debris. For weeks at a stretch.

Most recently, though, things may have improved. From the April 25, 2011 report of the April 20th inspection:
"Reviewed material currently being placed at approximate station 132+50 (protected side) and at approximate station 130+00 (flood side); found no debris. Contractor is very cautious about not hauling in material full of debris to site. Material is processed and debris removed at the pit before hauling to site.
Levee between stations 160+00 to 133+00 is within the final lift or grading of final grade. The protected side berm between the above stations is to final grade.
SLFPA-W and the USACE inspector reviewed the levee and the protected side berm between stations 160+00 and 130+00; very little debris was found during todays visit.
The USACE inspector removed the debris that was found.
The degraded flood side of the existing levee was reviewed; a minimal amount of debris was found and removed by the USACE inspector."

However, that only accounts for what has happened recently. What about those days and weeks when the SLFPA-W wasn't there? And what exactly are the Corps folks doing that problems like this are even appearing, let alone alone appearing so often?


At WBV-18.2 (contractor: Circle Construction), a 2.65 mile long levee project underway for nearly two years, debris problems cropped up in March of this year. WBV-18.2 is located adjacent to WBV-17b.2 and is a much longer stretch of levee. From the March 28th report on an inspection on March 23, 2011:
"SLFPA-W reviewed embankment placement along the protected side berm. Current placement was noted in two areas; the first between approximate stations 236+00 and 230+00 along the protected side of the levee and the second area between approximate stations 225+00 and 222+00. SLFPA-W found debris in fill that appeared to be placed for processing between approximate stations 245+00 and 244+00. Various areas between approximate stations 224+50 and 219+00. Debris appeared to be in embankment fill currently being placed. Areas of previously place embankment appeared clean. Called the USACE inspector at 11:58am to inform about debris found. USACE inspector called back for specific areas that the debris was found, he and the contractor went out to areas to review debris. Also spoke with contractor on the location of the debris and was informed that some of the fill material was coming from the pit which may have had debris. SLFPA-W did not see any personnel picking up debris during today's visit."

By now you know what the pictures of debris look like, so I will dispense with them.


Meanwhile, over at the 2.2 mile-long levee project WBV-12 (a project titularly awarded as part of the West Closure Complex contract to Gulf Intracoastal Constructors, which is actually Traylor Brothers and Kiewit. However, it was actually subcontracted to Phylway, who we will find out is behind many of the debris-laden projects.), the April 4th report on March 28, 2011 inspection had this to say:
"Debris was noted in several areas between the sheet pile driving operation and the first location of embankment work. As debris was found the USACE inspector placed debris in the back of his pickup truck. Between approximate stations 170+00 and 175+00 SLFPA-W noted debris in surface being covered by current lift and in material being placed, no personnel was monitoring area for debris. SLFPA-W continued to approximate station 138+00 were the second location of embankment work is ongoing. Debris was noted in the surface being covered by current lift as at the previous area of embankment work. The truck spotter did remove debris as SLFPA-W began taking pictures.
Overall I believe that since the current lifts are being placed on a surface containing debris, then how much debris was not removed?"

Again, I'll dispense with examples from the 8 pages of debris photos, and simply say that this passage from the debriefing summary says it all:
"At the second location the truck spotter began picking up debris when SLFPA-W was photographing debris."

Debris problems at WBV-12 appear to go back right to the beginning of the project. Before construction had started, when the only activity happening on site was the processing of dirt, the October 6, 2010 inspection report, reporting on the September 29, 2010 visit, noted:
"Unsuitable material found in dirt. [SLFPA-W inspector] Chris [Muscarello] talked to Corps inspector Mr. [Julian] Hayman and he said they were picking out unsuitables as they see them."

Here's the pictures:

The following month, when clay started getting placed, SLFPA-W inspectors started getting very concerned about the debris at WBV-12. In the October 13, 2010 report on their October 12, 2010 visit, they found material along the entire length of the project. 11 of the 13 pages of the report are pictures of the debris:

The next time out, on October 26, 2010, SLFPA-W inspectors noted there was coodinated debris removal happening:
"Met with Corp inspector (Julian Hayman) on site. Reviewed embankment placement and debris pick up operations. Overall embankment clean of debris. Both embankment operations have personnel picking up debris as embankment is being placed. Debris is piled along work in progress area and then picked up."

However, debris - including steel - was still seeping into the project:

Inspections were less frequent over the following months. The report of a December 8, 2010 inspection didn't mention any debris. And while the material being trucked in during the February 14, 2011 inspection seemed to be clean on first blush...
"During dumping operation several trucks were watched while dumping and very little debris was noticed. The truck spotter was removing the debris as the trucks were dumping and during the spreading of the material."

in fact there was stuff in there - concrete:
"Further reviewed of the placement area revealed several pieces of concrete debris which the contractor failed to remove this was brought to the inspectors’ attention."

Which brings us back to the March inspection we started with.


That's five projects with miles of levees that have who knows what in them besides dirt:

This is a systemwide problem that continues to be addressed in a half-hearted way by the Corps and their contractors. Right now, it looks like the SLFPA-W are the only folks that care. That makes sense, since they're the ones who will be stuck with these things after the Corps finshes with them.

This must be addressed, and if it takes the Corps missing their precious June 1st deadline, then so be it. They were never going to make it in the first place anyway.

Unfortunately, as the next two parts reveal, the Corps did practitcally nothing to fix this problem in May. It just kept getting worse and more widespread, and the SLFPA-W got more and more alarmed.

Debris, Part 2

Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14

In "Debris, Part 1" we looked at the serious problems at West Bank levee project WBV-14c.2. For months, the Corps and its contractor and subcontractors have been placing dirt with a lot of debris in it on the levee, all while representatives from the West Bank flood protection authority (the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - West, or SLFPA-W) have been raising repeated and stern alarms.

We know about this from the voluminous and detailed reports filed by SLFPA-W inspectors. These inspectors are keeping track of dozens of projects and calling out problems when they see them. Right now, the problem of excessive debris in levee dirt is their number one concern.

Corps specifications call for no more than 1% organic debris by volume in their dirt. More than that could lead to holes in the levee forming as the organics break down over the years. SLFPA-W has already mentioned that they might not accept the Corps' work on WBV-14c.2 due to exceedance of this specification.

But the problem extends much further than this single project. In fact, it has struck at least 5 projects across the west bank, and likely more. It probably has quite a few folks freaking out. This post, like the last, will draw from the SLFPA-W inspection reports. These reports go back over two years and are meticulously detailed. They are also filled with pictures.

So let's start with WBV-72. That's a 2.8 mile long levee project on the west end of the WBV project, in St Charles Parish around Highway 90. The prime contractor is WRS Infrastructure. The official description of the project is (from the SLFPA-W inspection reports):

"Project consists of widening Highway 90, constructing two Waskey bridges, clearing and grubbing, dewatering, embankment of compacted and uncompacted fill, degrading sand cell levee embankment, Davis Pond Guide levee removal and opening, seeding and fertilizing, and all other incidental work thereto."

The exact location can be found on the Corps' April 15th construction progress map of 100 year projects:

We'll start with a passage from the December 13, 2010 WBV-72 report, documenting a visit on December 6, 2010:

"West end "Work in Progress": SFLPA-W representatives noticed several large pieces of wood at the west end of the project were the dozer was pushing fill. 12:28pm, walked to Coe [Corps of Engineers] representative (Larry Temple) sitting in truck and expressed that debris in area that dozer was pushing fill needed to be picked up before it was buried. Coe representative moved truck forward approximately 40ft, sat for a moment and drove off. SLFPA-W representatives watched, no one picked up debris and the dozer continued pushing fill."

Stay classy, Corps of Engineers!

It's too bad the inspectors didn't get pictures of this incident. However, they did get 33 pages of pictures of debris through the entire project. Here's just two of those pages:

Yes, that's a piece of pipe in the upper left of the second set of photos.

It wasn't like this problem appeared out of thin air. It had been going on for at least 3 months. The September 21, 2010 visit recapped in the September 24, 2010 WBV-72 report calls out debris:

"Issue: Unsuitbale [sic] material needs to be picked up."

And it came up again two weeks later during the October 5, 2010 inspection. From the October 8, 2010 WBV-72 report:

"Issue: Unsuitable material found in dirt. Chris tried to find CORPS inspector to tell him about this issue, but he was not found. Chris then told the contractor about this and the contractor assured us that they were going through and picking out unsuitable material in dirt."

And again on October 25th (from the 10/28/2010 WBV-72 report):

"Issue: Unsuitable material found in dirt at SM 100+00."

Once again on November 5th (from the 11/9/2010 WBV-72 report):

"Issue: Unsuitable material found in dirt at SM 100+00."

Yet again on November 8th (from 11/22/2010 WBV-72 report):

"Issue: Unsuitable material found in dirt."

And finally on November 23rd (from the November 30, 2010 report):
"Reviewed area of current material placement and noted several large pieces of debris in material, brought issues to Coe representatives attention. Coe rep expressed that material is being picked through at the borrow pit and on site. SLFPA-W noted a two man crew picking up debris as material was being dumped from trucks."

This pattern of inadequately sized crews for picking out debris, along with hollow reassurances from Corps representatives, is repeated throughout the SLFPA-W inspection reports for many, many projects. Fortunately, many of those reports include pages of debris pictures just like these:

This report includes 33 pages of debris photos. Clearly the two man crew and the debris pit folks (if they really existed) weren't doing their jobs.

Perhaps it was this November 23rd inspection that led to the Corps' Larry Temple's rudeness during the December 6, 2010 inspection described above. Let me just repeat that incident:
"West end "Work in Progress": SFLPA-W representatives noticed several large pieces of wood at the west end of the project were the dozer was pushing fill. 12:28pm, walked to Coe [Corps of Engineers] representative (Larry Temple) sitting in truck and expressed that debris in area that dozer was pushing fill needed to be picked up before it was buried. Coe representative moved truck forward approximately 40ft, sat for a moment and drove off. SLFPA-W representatives watched, no one picked up debris and the dozer continued pushing fill."

Let me also point out that after finding enough debris on November 23rd to fill 33 pages of their report with debris pictures, the SLFPA-W was able to duplicate the feat in reporting on the December 6th inspection, despite the Corps' assurances on November 23rd.

Perhaps after those embarassments, the Corps and the contractor eventually decided to do something about debris, though not for another couple of weeks after the incident with Mr. Temple.

First, though, there was the visit on December 13, 2010, documented in the December 14, 2010 WBV-72 report:

"Check-in: 9:33am, called Coe representatives, with no answer, left a message and continued with inspection. Coe representatives were then met out on jobsite at 12:08 pm. The issues of the previous reports were brought to their attention.
West end "Work in Progress": Trucks hauling in material and dozers working in material for levee lifts. Two men were on this end picking up debris but some was still found.
East end "Work in Progress": Very little debris was found in the material on this end. There was no active work going on at the time of this inspection."

They still only had two guys picking debris. So it is no surprise the SLFPA-W inspectors were able to get pictures like these:

There's 29 more pages of pictures like these.

The next week, the Corps and WRS finally seemed to have gotten the message. From the December 21, 2010 visit described in the December 28, 2010 WBV-72 report:

"Check-in: 8:48am, called Coe representative (David Trahan), met SLFPA-W onsite and was joined by second Coe representative and the contractor. Contractor expressed concern about correcting debris issue and proceeded explaining corrective messures:
1) A crew is assigned to the pit to remove debris from material before hauling to site.
2) A crew is designated to pick out debris as trucks dump material at site and dozer spreads.
3) As material is broken up and worked a crew will follow to remove any debris (everyone picked up debris yesterday till late in the afternoon).
4) Weekly a full labor crew will comb site for debris.
SLFPA-W representatives, COE representatives and WRS superindent continued on with site visit along with a crew to pick up any debris found.
Overall very little debris was found and debris found was immediately picked up, all parties assisted. Trucks were hauling in material at the west end of the project. SLFPA-W noted crew assigned to picking out debris from material being dumped and during dozer spreading operation. The main concern for this site visit was the debris issue and it appears the contractor is putting forth a plan to correct the debris issue. If this continues (according to debris found today) the debris issue should go away."

Of course, promises are easy to make. The contractor and the Corps made identical assurances back in October and November. Fortunately, at the SLFPA-W's next inspection on January 28, 2011, the stepped-up debris removal effort appeared to be working. From the January 31, 2011 WBV-72 report:
"Wet conditions has stopped hauling operations. Disking operation is ongoing trying to dry out material to allow hauling operations to resume. Contractor has two (2) crews removing debris on the west end, a total of ten (10) employees. Reviewed area that the crews are removing debris and found no significant amount or size of debris to note. Very little debris was found beyond were [sic] first crew was working (after the 3.5" of rain earlier in the week), contractor removing debris during visit. Noted to USACE and contractor that most of the debris was small, contractor stated that the employees were instructed to pick up all debris no matter what size. It appears that the contractor is still enforcing the corrective plan on the debris removal."

They had ten guys instead the meager two from before, which is interesting.

Here's further detail from the report:

"All parties agreed that the debris concerns continues to improve. During hauling operations the contractor still has a crew assigned to the pit to remove debris before loading and hauling. Once on site, during unloading and spreading operation, the contractor has a crew removing the debris. After the material has been spread it is disked and again the contractor removes any remaining debris. This operation is performed again after a rain."

There's been three more inspections since then. The SLFPA-W must feel everything is going well with this one, because they changed the frequency of inspection to monthly.

From the February 25, 2011 report on an inspection on February 22nd:

"Contractor and USCAE inspectors still enforcing debris plan set in motion. During hauling operations the contractor still has a crew assigned to the pit to remove debris before loading and hauling. During unloading and spreading operations the contractor has a crew removing the debris. After the material has been spread it is disked and again the contractor removes any remaining debris. Also, during and between the above sequences the USACE inspectors monitor the project for debris."

Yes, this is mostly copied and pasted from the January inspection report. That says the debris plan is continuing to work.

The April 4, 2011 report of the March 27, 2011 inspection said:

"Overall very little debris found. Contractor to set up labor force toward end of week (depending on weather) to concentrate on west end of project where degrading of existing levee is occurring and move eastward."

And the latest news, from the April 25, 2011 report about an inspection on April 21st:

"Overall very little debris found. Previous area of debris concern toward the west end at degrading of Dpeg levee has been cleaned of debris. The two large piles of grubbing and clearing debris at approximate station 149+50 is scheduled to be removed in May (weather will determine when in May)."

So things actually seem to be back to normal at WBV-72. However, we'll likely never know how much debris got put into the levee at times when the SLFPA-W wasn't looking over the Corps shoulder.

We'll take a look at more projects with reported debris problems in the next part.

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