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Thursday, May 05, 2011

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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