Fix the pumps

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Quick update on the pumps at the floodgates

Here's the actual dope on what's going on with pumps at the floodgates, as opposed to the disingenuous summary put out by the Corps on their "Schedule of Pump Capacity" webpage:

17th Street: One pump on the west side is pulled and is on the ground. You can see this on WWL's webcam:

The two extra pumps on the east side that were supposed to be running on September 30th are still not ready. The actual capacity is somewhere around 3700 cubic feet per second (cfs).

The Corps claims 4060 cfs. This is actually a math error when one considers the number of pumps they say should have been running on September 30th - which is 14 plus the rental pumps on the structure deck. If one does the math properly, the Corps should be claiming about 4520 cfs as of September 30th. When one considers the unreliability of the pumps due to vibrations, the actual capacity might be far lower.

Also, the schedule says that four more pumps on the west side of the canal should be running October 31st. That's untrue. The platform to hold them and their engines isn't even built yet. Those four pumps won't be ready before Christmas, if the Corps and Boh Brothers is lucky.

Oh, and by the way, they still aren't working nights. Here's October 30th's photo from WWL's webcam:

Orleans Avenue: All five pumps on the east side are still pulled out, as I mentioned in my recent post on oil spills, and as you can see below:

This has been the case for at least three weeks now. This leaves 1100 cfs of pumping capacity, not 2200 as the Corps claims.

London Avenue: The Corps has MWI (the pump manufacturer) working on the engines on two of the pumps on the east side. This probably means those pumps are out of commission, leaving approximately 2200 cfs of pumping capacity, not 2800 as the Corps claims.

The Schedule on the website says it was updated on October 23rd. It's clear the person doing the updating has never been to the floodgate work sites, or they wouldn't be putting out these obvious distortions of the truth.

And yes, I realize this is a mostly academic distinction, considering the floodgates are not going to need be closed (though I hope it never comes to that!) until next hurricane season at the earliest. But why should we trust these folks if they can't even put out the most basic of information?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Your tax dollars at work

A big aim of mine has been to get temporary rental generators placed at a number of pump stations around town. I wrote about it in a post here.

These large trailer-mounted generators are not difficult to obtain; numerous companies all over the country rent them, including Welch Generator of Larose, LA. In fact, the Corps had one of its contractors, Quality Fab of St. Rose, LA, rent two of them back in mid-July. I snapped a picture of them, along with two smaller generators, on July 31 outside the Coast Guard station next to the 17th Street canal floodgates:

Each of the big generators is rated for 1350 kilowatts (kW). Each of the smaller generators is rated for 300 kW.

One of the big ones and both of the smaller units are now up on the 17th Street deck structure. I've shown their location in this photo:

And here's a detail:

However, the fourth generator remains sitting on Old Hammond Highway, unused. It has been there for over three months now. Here's a picture of it earlier this month.

It is still there.

The Corps is paying around $100,000 each for these large, trailer-mounted generators in rental costs. Thus, the Corps has wasted over $300,000 paying for the rental of a generator which has sat on the side of the road since July. This generator could have been providing vital backup power to any of about five pump stations in New Orleans during that time.

It's rare that one gets to see government waste as it happens. So the next time you're out at the lakefront, take a look at your tax dollars going down the drain on Old Hammond Highway in front of the Coast Guard station. And if you live in a neighborhood in New Orleans with drainage pumps that don't have backup generators (hint: most neighborhoods), thank the Corps for telling you that they're "not authorized" to place rental generators at the pump stations.

Update, 7/23/07:
This generator was finally hauled away in November of 2006. It was never used. By the time it was hauled away, it is likely that $500,000 had been wasted.

Results from yesterday's post

Updated 11/2/06, see below

Yesterday afternoon, this article popped up on the New Orleans CityBusiness website. It would seem my post yesterday about fall protection certainly made an impact beyond the twenty one visits to this site by the Corps since the post went up, not to mention the six visits by Boh Brothers and the visit by OSHA as well.

Here's the relevant quotes:
"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors are violating federal law that requires workers on tall structures to be protected from falling. The unnamed contractor or contractors could be penalized, Corps officials said today"
"'Based on those photos, there is a safety violation. They should have been wearing the protective harnesses and they weren't,' said Brett Herr, a Corps senior project manager. Corps officials will meet Friday to 'resolve the problem,' Herr said. 'It will be addressed.' Herr said he did not have names of the involved workers, company or companies readily available. 'If the violation was severe enough there is a chance that they could be shut down,' he said."

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am NOT interested in shutting down the 17th Street Canal job. I am, however, very interested in having the job done safely. Nobody's life or injured body is worth any flood control structure, even one as important as the one at 17th Street.

That said, I would like to point out two additional facts:

1) The fall protection violations are not confined to 17th Street. Here's a picture of workmen at Orleans Avenue on October 11th (they are highlighted in the white box):

And the area of the box blown up:

Here's a detail from another photo at the same time:

These workers are not utilizing fall protection either.

2) When the Corps was running the pump tests on October 11th, I caught this photo of three welders without fall protection on the east side of the canal. You saw this picture in the post yesterday.

I also snapped this previously unpublished picture, which features one of the welders, as well as at least four persons who appeared to be supervisors of some sort:

Here's an enlargement of the area inside the white box:

The Corps would not test the pumps without having one of their employees there to witness the test. When I was there on the 11th, I couldn't make out who was with the Corps and who was with Boh Brothers. However, there were people crawling all over the west side of the site watching the pumps and the discharge pipe. I guarantee at least one of them was a Corps worker (probably one of the men in the above photo). Thus, it is not only the contractor, Boh Brothers, who missed the obvious safety violations, it is also the Corps. It makes one wonder how long they've been turning a blind eye to these sorts of things, because there are supposed to be Corps project managers or construction managers on site every day.

By the way, keep those thoughts in mind as you read the following email that I received this morning from Brigadier General Robert Crear, Commanding General of the Mississippi Valley Division:

Subject: RE: OSHA violations at 17th Street closure site
Date: Fri, 27 Oct 2006 10:28:53 -0500
From: "Crear, Robert BG MVD"
To: "Matt McBride",, "Starkel, Murray P LTC MVN", "Bedey, Jeffrey A COL NWO", "StGermain, James J MVN", "Gilmore, Christophor E MVN", "Breerwood, Gregory E MVN", "Baumy, Walter O MVN",, "Bleakley, Albert M COL MVD", "Sills, David W MVD", "Allen, Dianne MVN"


Thank you for bringing this to our attention, rest assured we will take corrective action. Safety of government and contractor employees is one of our top priorities.


Brigadier General Robert Crear
Commanding General, US Army Engineer Division, Mississippi Valley
President, Mississippi River Commission
PO Box 80 Vicksburg, MS 39181

Update, 11/2/06
What a shock! The Corps New Orleans District cleared Boh Brothers of any safety violations, according to this item in New Orleans CityBusiness.

So nothing bad was happening in those photos, right? That is, it's okay to not be tied off when you're over 18 feet of water or twenty feet in the air?

Well, not really...
"In light of the investigation, the Corps is making additional safety requests, [Corps safety official Sherry] Scott said. If a worker is over water, safety lines will be required, she said. Also, vertical safety lines will be required for workers on pipe bridges, she said."

Wink, wink, nod, nod...

Oddly, the CityBusiness print edition of this article didn't include the paragraph above, or mention of where the photos were published.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More follow up - oil spills at the floodgates

In part 3 of my special report, I wrote about possible environmental degredation by the Corps during their construction of the floodgates. I mentioned the oil spills during the September 14th and 15th tests of the pumps at London Ave. and Orleans Ave., which were reported in the local papers. Here's the relevant quote from the Times-Picayune article on the 16th:
"A pipe joint began leaking during the tests on Friday [at London Avenue], spilling a few gallons of hydraulic fluid into the canal, but officials said repairs would be finished within 24 hours. On Thursday, a leak in the Orleans Canal also spilled hydraulic fluid into that canal.
'We're using environmentally friendly hydraulic oil, and you don't want it to happen. But that's why we have booms set up every time to absorb (spills), just in case,' [Corps of Engineers Hurricane Protection Office Chief Colonel Jeff] Bedey said."

Curiously, only one of these two spills appears to have been reported to Federal authorities - the one on Thursday, September 14th at Orleans Avenue.

Whenever there is an oil spill of any quantity into waters in this country (technically, the definition is any spill that makes a sheen on the water, but even tiny quantities would do that), the responsible party or a witness is supposed to call the National Response Center immediately and report it to Federal authorities, who then alert the appropriate state and local authorities. Then the responsible party is supposed to clean the spill up as quickly as possible. Considering that Col. Bedey said there was enough oil at London Avenue that booms were required, it is very odd that the spill wasn't reported.

The NRC is staffed by Coast Guard personnel around the clock every day to take spill reports. The public can query the database of spill reports at the NRC website (click "Standard Report" on the query page. If you're running a firewall program, you'll have to disable it to get to the search page. I searched for all spills in Orleans Parish and scanned through them for incidents at the canals.). The September 14th spill is shown as having been reported by MWI, the pump manufacturer, not the Corps. And the September 15th spill is not reported at all.

There are also reports of two other spills: one on September 18th at Orleans Ave. (again reported by an MWI worker, not the Corps), and one on August 8th (!) at 17th Street. Neither of these has been previously reported in the press. Here are the reports of each of the three spills reported to the NRC (I have downloaded the reports and provided them as links to the dates below):

August 8th at 17th Street

"Quantity released: 50 gallons.
Description of incident: Caller states that Army Corp of Engineers ran hydraulic pumps in 17th street canal, when a coupling on a pump came loose and discharged hydraulic oil into the canal in amount of 50 gallons."

September 14th at Orleans Ave.

"Quantity released: 200 gallons
Description of incident: During a test of pumps stationed on the Orleans Avenue drainage canal in New Orleans, hydraulic oil was discovered to have leaked from a pump on the east side of the canal."

September 18th at Orleans Ave.

"Quantity released: 25 gallons
Description of incident: During a site inpection of the temporary pump station on the Orleans Avenue canal, I noticed a sheen on the water, originating from the east side of the canal, underneath the platform of hydraulic pumps. I alerted a contractor onsite, and he disconnected the source of the oil from the suspected leak, and the slick stopped growing. The contractor consulted suspects that no more than 25 gallons of hydraulic oil (Mobil 68) entered the canal from the leak. Containment and absorbent booms had been previously placed on site, and have contained the new leak."

Note the quantity on the September 14th spill. 200 gallons is not an insiginificant amount. Check out what a mere 560 gallons of oil did to the wildlife on West Breton Island here in Louisiana on June 12, 2005:
"AP, 11:02 a.m. August 7, 2005, BRETON NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, La. –After weeks of treatment, nearly 200 young brown pelicans that survived an oil spill are back in the wild. Fourteen others, too young to release, are with a wildlife rehabilitator in Baton Rouge. Nearly 700 others died, including hundreds treated by scientists and veterinarians from throughout the country, working at MASH-like veterinary hospitals set up in Venice near the mouth of the Mississippi River. "We had to build a tent city," said Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Amerada Hess Corp., which owns the well from which the oil spilled. "It was a 24-hour-a day medical mission."

And a little more about what happened to the pelican chicks:
"Of 229 birds returned to the refuge, 36 died during the first four weeks, Harris said. Most were 5- to 6-week-old chicks when the spill hit. They swallowed oil. Toxins soaked in through their skin. Their soft, downy feathers were ruined, leaving them unprotected from the sun on the treeless barrier island."

This was quickly forgotten since Katrina struck just about three weeks later.

All of this brings up the question of how many other unreported spills have occurred at these sites. The Corps has permanently placed "New Pig" brand absorbent booms around the pumps and upstream and downstream of the gates. However, just leaving the booms there all the time is not a good move. They are basically big sponges, and at some point, those sponges get saturated. Standard practice is to remove the booms as soon as possible after the spill has been cleaned.

This gets me thinking... I believe there are two possibilities as to why the Corps is leaving the booms in place all the time:

1) They don't know they have to take them out of the water after use (extremely unlikely)
2) There are persistent leaks on the pumps that have not been repaired or cannot be repaired.

When one considers that the first reported spill occurred on August 8th, but the Corps is continuing to guard against spills over 75 days later, one must conclude that the leakage of hydraulic oil is a persistent, ongoing problem which hasn't been corrected. This is pretty surprising, considering that the joints between the hoses and the pumps are fairly standard.

Going a little bit further with this line of reasoning, could this be why the five pumps on the east side of the Orleans Ave. canal have been pulled out for the last two weeks (after previously being pulled to have their motors replaced):

Perhaps the hydraulic fittings to which the hoses attach have needed to be replaced? Here's a close up of one of the pumps under repair last weekend:

Considering that the spill on September 18th was the second in less than a week at Orleans Avenue, and also considering it happened while the pumps were not running, it is a possiblity that the pumps' hydraulic fittings are being replaced. Note that this is only speculation based on the available evidence, and the real reason for the Orleans Avenue pumps being pulled for a second time could be completely different.

In any case, it seems that - at the very least - the Corps and its contractors did not report a spill at London Avenue on September 15th, for whatever reason. This is not good.

Back to the floodgates - a Fixthepumps Follow-up

Updated, see below

After my five (and then six) part series, "Problems at the floodgates," I figured there'd be some action on the items I uncovered. The record has been mixed so far. Some areas remain totally unaddressed, while others have had a little response. Overall, I'd say we're still at the same point we were when the special report was published.

Part 1 of the report was about the distinct lack of security at the three floodgate sites. I'm pleased to report that there has been some improvement at the Orleans and London Avenue sites, but 17th Street remains scarily wide open for anyone to move around and do mischief.

At Orleans and London Avenues, eight foot high chain link fences have been erected around each control/engine structure, except for the east control building at London Avenue. At that structure, half of the chain link fabric has not been attached to the poles, leaving that structure vulnerable to mischief at night (there's still no on duty security). The fences are topped with three strands of barbed wire. All the gates on these fences are kept locked. Here's a picture of the fence around the west side control building at Orleans Avenue:

If you click on the picture and blow it up a bit, you'll see the fence around the perimeter of the structure.

The contractors at this site also must access the gates structures themselves through another chain link fence-and-gate on each bank of the canal. Before my special report, these gates were routinely left wide open in the evening after the contractors left for the day. Now they are always locked. You can see the gates on this picture of the Orleans Avenue gates.

Here's an enlargement to make it clearer:

So Orleans Avenue is pretty secure now, and London Avenue is getting there. However, the 17th St. site is still swiss cheese when it comes to security. And it's not like Boh Brothers and the Corps don't know where the fences are supposed to be. The 17th Street floodgates construction specifications say the following about fencing:

i. Security Fence. The Contractor shall provide, erect, and maintain a temporary security fence around the accessible limits of the land side construction easement shown on the rights of way drawing [my emphasis]. Fencing shall consist of a 8 foot high chain link fence with three strands of barbed wire supported on angled arms at the top. To provide access, the fence shall have a minimum 16 foot wide gate with keyed lock. The Contractor shall provide and maintain on the fence "KEEP OUT" signs every 100 feet facing out from the staging area. Details of the security fence and location shall be submitted to the Contracting Officer for approval. No separate measurement will be made for this work. Payment for all work associated with the security fence shall be included in the contract lump sum price for “CHAIN LINK FENCE”.

Here's the construction easement drawing:

Here's the area that has no fence. I've highlighted the exact length that is missing in red.

And here's a picture of the same area from last weekend. I roughed in where the fence is supposed to be:

It's been this way since the beginning of the job. Boh Brothers and the Corps are ignoring their own specifications at the peril of whatever yahoo wants to wander on the site. Heaven help us if someone hurts themselves because they could just wander up on the gate structures and plunk themselves into the canal, which is 18 feet deep.

[Update, 7/9/07:
The Corps eventually got its contractor to put up the fence where it belonged. It went up in November or December, 2006. This shot of the east drive platform from June of 2007 shows the fence in the foreground:

end update]

But it's not just security that is still lax at the gates. In part 2 of the special report, I wrote about workplace safety, and how the 17th Street canal site is a huge mess of violations of OSHA and Corps of Engineers safety standards. At the time of my report, I couldn't report on the behavior of workers because Deep Flood's pictures were taken after the workers had left for the day (more about that later...).

When I went out there over the weekend, it was in the morning after the contractors had reported for work. At that time, I observed an unsafe behavior that would easily get someone fired on the spot at any private industrial facility in the country. It is a very strong indication that there is very little - if any - emphasis on working safely on the 17th Street site.

Here's the first photo. I've highlighted the area of interest. Note how high the people in the box are above the ground. It's about 20 feet.

Here's that area blown up, with notes about what's going on. The man on the right appears to be a supervisor of some sort.

For reference, here's a Deep Flood photo of the area on which these men are walking:

Here's another picture taken shortly afterward. You can see how high off the ground the highlighted worker is:

And again, here's a blowup of the highighted area showing the worker:

As I mentioned in my original report, the contractor on the job is obliged to follow all the safety regulations found in 29 CFR 1910 (OSHA's regular workplace safety regulations) and 29 CFR 1926 (OSHA's construction site safety regulations). Here's the particular regulation whose violation is captured in the above photos:

29 CFR 1926.501(b)(1)
"Unprotected sides and edges. Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems."

This is found in the section of the regulations titled "Duty To Have Fall Protection." At some private industrial facilities, the standard is actually 4 feet.

The Corps has their own safety manual, EM 385-1-1. It has this to say about the requirements for fall protection in chapter 21:

a. Employees exposed to fall hazards shall be protected by standard guardrail, catch platforms, temporary floors, safety nets, personal fall protection devices, or the equivalent, in the following situations:
(1) On accessways (excluding ladders), work platforms, or walking/working surfaces from which they may fall 6 ft (1.8m) or more;
(2) On accessways or work platforms over water, machinery, or dangerous operations;
(3) On runways from which they may fall 4 ft (1.2 m) or more; and
(4) On installing or removing sheet pile, h-piles, cofferdams, or other interlocking materials from which they may fall 6 ft (1.8 m) or more.

And this is not a one-time occurrence. Here's some welders working on modifying the discharge pipes on the east side of the canal at 17th Street on October 11th. All three of these workers are over the water:

And, as before, the highlighted area:

The lack of fall protection seems to more of a endemic pattern than a rare exception. I pity the workers whose managers and Corps overseers care so little about their safety that they refuse to enforce the rules.

There is something you can do about this. Another provision of the contract specifications relating to contractor safety talks about what happens in the event of a violation:

"Whenever the Contracting Officer becomes aware of any noncompliance with these requirements or any condition which poses a serious or imminent danger to the health or safety of the public or Government personnel, the Contracting Officer shall notify the Contractor orally, with written confirmation, and request immediate initiation of corrective action. This notice, when delivered to the Contractor or the Contractor's representative at the work site, shall be deemed sufficient notice of the noncompliance and that corrective action is required. After receiving the notice, the Contractor shall immediately take corrective action. If the Contractor fails or refuses to promptly take corrective action, the Contracting Officer may issue an order stopping all or part of the work until satisfactory corrective action has been taken. The Contractor shall not be entitled to any equitable adjustment of the contract price or extension of the performance schedule on any stop work order issued under this clause."

The provisions don't say how the Contracting Officer is to be made aware, so I suppose reading it on a website is as good a method as any. I would suggest you help me make the Corps aware of these OSHA violations. You can email the upper reaches of the Corps New Orleans District with an email such as the following:

Dear Corps personnel:

Please be aware that photos of violations of OSHA and Corps of Engineers regulations relating to the use of fall protection by contracted employees the 17th Street Canal Interim Closure Structure have recently been posted at the following website: Please pass this information along to the responsible Contracting Officer, so that he or she may notify the Contractor and corrective action may be taken.


[Your name]

Here's a list of email addresses to put in the "To:" field,,,,,,,,,,,

I already sent one. I'll let you know if I receive a response.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Pump station roofing update (with bonus rewinding update!)

This past week, I took another tour of pump stations to check on the little bit of work the Corps has deigned to put out for contract. I am pleased to report that the roofing work is proceeding swiftly. Here's the status at each of the seven pump stations with roofs being repaired by Crown Roofing Services of Kenner, LA:

Station 2: Soprema Lastobond Shield HT underlayment has been applied to three of the four sides of the roof. Once the underlayment is up, they'll be able to start placing the metal sheathing (at least I assume it will be metal, since that's what they've used at all their other sites). There's probably about two to three more weeks on this job.

Note that rewinding work of the final pump motor in station 2, pump "C," appears to be on hold while the roof is under reconstruction. Almost all of the major equipment inside the station, including the partially disassembled motor on pump "C," has been draped in plastic. Some of the rewinding work can be completed at a shop away from the station, but the rest must be completed on the motor in the station.

Station 3: Work has not started here yet, but probably will any day now.

Station 5: I was very pleased to see a great deal of work happening here. The old, shingled pump house roof has been scraped off, underlayment has been applied to all four sides of the roof, and sheathing is down on over the underlayment on two sides. Here's what station 5 looked like back in August:

And here is how it looked this past week:

I assume that rewinding work at this station is also suspended until they finish the roof, but I can't confirm that.

Only stations 2 and 5 have unfinished motor rewinding work.

Station 6: Work is complete here.

Station 10: As of Saturday, October 21, work is complete here. Here's how the station looked back in August:

And here it is this past week:

Look at that shiny new roof!

Station 11: Work here is complete. Here's how it looked before:

And this past week:

Station 13: Work here is very nearly complete.

When contractors are let loose on these jobs like roofing and rewinding, they do a good job. It is the Corps with their ridiculous lack of focus and cult of paperwork that is the problem in getting the Orleans Parish pump station repairs done.

Remember this key fact: $30 million still remains unspent on repairs to the stations, even though the funds were appropriated December 30th, 2005 and were officially transferred in February, 2006. As the Corps says, that's "phenomenal."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

What's up at the floodgates? New work underway

I have inserted the pictures that go with this post, and I have also modified some of the text. Since the changes make such a difference in the feel of the post, I am reposting the whole thing today. Enjoy.

As I've mentioned earlier, the Corps tests the floodgate pumps out of the media spotlight quite often. October 11 was one of those times.

I visited all three outfall canal sites on the 11th and found there are a significant amount of changes going on at all three canals. Remember when the Corps invited the media to witness their testing of the pumps last month at the Orleans Avenue and London Avenue canals, and they temporarily turned the discharge pipes upward? There's a picture of a September 20 London Avenue test (which was not open to the press) showing this on page 5 of this Corps update. Here's the picture:

The idea was to roughly simulate storm surge conditions on the lake side of the gates by forcing the water to push against something - the upturned discharge. Well, they are making that change permanent by actually slicing off large chunks of those pieces of the pipe and turning the pipe 180 degrees so its discharge will permanently point skyward.

For reference, here is what the pump discharges at the 17th Street canal looked like before:

On the 11th, they were testing the effectiveness of those changes by running three of the pumps on the west side of the 17th St canal after altering the pipes on that side of the canal. The pipes on the east side of the canal are in the process of being modified. Here's a couple of pictures of the testing on the west side of the canal from October 11th. I have highlighted and labeled the modified discharge pipes.

Here's a welder cutting off what is known as a "padeye" on the east side discharge, in anticipation of slicing the entire end of the pipe off:

These changes are also being implemented at the other two outfall canal gate structures. They have done two of the four discharge pipes at Orleans Ave., and two of four at London Ave. as well.

Here's Orleans Avenue:

And here's London Avenue:

In addition, five of the ten Orleans Avenue pumps have been pulled out a second time, assumedly for further repairs. This is very surprising. Supposedly, the Corps had finished messing with the pumps. Here's a quote from the Times-Picayune article that described the September 14th Orleans Ave testing:

"After the vibration problems surfaced last month, the corps and its contractors building post-Katrina floodgates and pumping systems on the Orleans Avenue, London Avenue and 17th Street canals had the motors in all 34 new
[emphasis mine] retrofitted in hopes of reducing the shaking."

But now five of them are out - again. So what is the reason for the pumps being pulled again? The pumps are currently sitting on the east side of the deck at the Orleans Ave. gates. Here's a picture with the pumps highlighted:

What does all this mean? As I see it, there are two possible explanations:

Explanation 1. The change is closely related to the vibration problems. Turning the discharge pipe outlets upward would help keep the pipes full of water during testing and operating. However, such a solution would be totally different from what the Corps said was the problem: hydraulic motors. Coupled with the fact that the pumps have been pulled at Orleans Avenue a second time, I think the pump vibration story is still going. I'm wondering if the vibration problem is permanent and this modification to the piping is the Corps' way of simply living with it.

This is a little (not a lot) worrying, because it seems that "living with it" entails a decrease in pumping capacity. According to the September 16th Times-Picayune article about the London Avenue testing, the pumps are to be run at reduced capacity:

"Two pumps that were run at almost 85 percent capacity [my emphasis] did not vibrate, and a third experienced an insignificant amount of pulsation, said Col. Jeffrey Bedey, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' Hurricane Protection Office."

So in order to keep the shaking away, they can't run the pumps full out?

Explanation 2. The Corps realized they didn't follow their own regulations for backflow prevention, as found at the bottom right of page 1 here, and are rectifying the situation. That is, the original design for the pump discharge lines only included a single method of backflow prevention (siphon breaker valves), while the regulation says, "...two means shall be provided to prevent backflow when the discharge is through the protection." I think this idea of correcting the design is a more remote possibility. However, on the good side, the change does make backflow a little less likely.

For more about backflow prevention at the gates, you can read this post.

In any case, I think the Corps needs to update the public on why they are literally slicing and dicing a design that has already been constructed. It certainly brings into question how adequate the rest of their design is and whether they'll be making other changes. However, if it is meant to improve things, they should say so. They're so reticent to announce any news, even when it's good news.

In other floodgate news, the Corps is moving toward installation of automatic hydraulic winches at all three gates. This is good. It will eventually take the cranes out of the equation. The cranes currently raising and lowering the gates cannot operate in winds over 30 mph. With the automatic winches, that problem goes away, meaning the gates can be lowered at a time much closer to landfall, which in turn means that the city can continue to pump out rainwater for much longer.

The winch installation at 17th St was finished about 2.5 weeks ago, but the winches are not operational yet. Here they are highlighted:

And here's a blowup from that picture:

Note the green straps. That's what the crane hooks on to in order to raise and lower the gates.

Since the winches are working yet, they are still using a crane to move the gate sections up and down at 17th Street. Here's a picture of the crane doing so with needle gate number two:

Here's a detail from the above photo. It shows the workers handling the crane line and the green straps just after securing needle gate number two:

At London Ave, they have actually removed four of the gate sections completely (a scary sight considering we're still in hurricane season) in anticipation of installing a framework to support the winches. The winches are on site and can be seen on the west side of the gates. Here's a closeup of them:

They have not begun winch work at Orleans Avenue yet.

You can find the exact model of winches at this link.

Finally, it is worth pointing out again that the Corps missed a deadline at the 17th Street gates at the beginning of this month. You can find the deadline at this webpage. They were supposed to have two extra pumps on line on the Orleans side of the canal on September 30th. The pumps are not ready, and won't be for a number of weeks. Here's a picture of the platform on the east side with both pumps not hooked up:

In addition, the Corps is supposed to have four more pumps ready on the Jefferson side of the canal by the end of this month. They will definitely not be ready. The pumps and their engines have not even arrived on site yet, and the Corps only started driving piles for the platform to hold those pumps within the last three weeks. The Corps will be fortunate to have those four pumps running by Thanksgiving.

And once again, here's the picture of the west side, in which I've noted the beginning of the work for the quartet of pumps:

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