Debris, Part 3
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.