Fix the pumps

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Extra floodgate pumps - more details dribble out

Updated 1/18/07, original post date 1/12/07

We've learned some more information about the extra pumps to be installed at the London Avenue and 17th St floodgates. As I've previously written, the London Avenue pumps are being supplied by Patterson Pump. Oddly, after initially putting the press release on their Corporate News webpage, where such things are normally posted, Patterson's parent company (Gorman-Rupp) buried the press release on their investor news webpage, where all the news is about quarterly returns and dividends and such. I don't know why they did that, but I do know they spent a bunch of time on this blog right before it happened.

At the time of my last post, we didn't know who the manufacturer for the 17th St pumps was. Now we do. It's Fairbanks-Morse, a unit of the giant Pentiar pumping conglomerate. Fairbanks-Morse has been in business for over 100 years, and you can find their pumps in service in many industrial facilities and commercial buildings. Fairbanks-Morse issued a press release on Tuesday, which you can find here (or here if it disappears).

Update, 1/18:
Fairbanks-Morse's parent company, Pentair, has issued a press release of its own, available here. It pegs the exact amount of the contract at $22 million. This makes my question below about the total value of the pumps contract more pertinent.
end update

According to the press release, the 11 pumps will each flow a maximum 350 cubic feet per second (cfs). These are much bigger than the MWI pumps out there now, which each flow around 200 or 225 cfs each. Theoretically, this would bring the floodgate pumping capacity up to around 7850 cfs, though the actual number will probably be lower. Remember two things: 1) PS#6 at the foot of the canal has a capacity of 10,000 cfs, 2) The permanent pump station on 17th St., according to the solicitation for the permanent pump stations, is anticipated to have a capacity of 12,500 cfs. Obviously, someone at the Corps screwed up in November/December 2005 when they didn't call for enough pumps. It's nice they're trying to make up for that ginormous blunder now, but it may be too little too late.

That's made crystal clear by this January 8, 2007 article about the extra pumps in New Orleans CityBusiness. The key quote in the article is this one:

"St. Germain said the Corps wants to bring the pumps online in July or August at the peak of hurricane season."

This is how the Corps announces critical two month delays in the deployment of pumping equipment crucial to the survival of New Orleans: By not even bringing up the fact that there is a delay. Their own webpage, last updated on November 8, still shows the pumps ready on June 1. And based on the Corps' track record, August is probably stretching it. I'd guess it'd be most of hurricane season before the extra pumps are running.

According to an email sent by Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Sneed, the Corps is telling Jefferson Parish that the pumps will be running by "mid-August." The relevant paragraph from the email is:

"At yesterday's Council Meeting, the Corps updated us on various plans that impact the Hoey's Basin. Colonel Bedey stated that as of today there is 4,000 cfs pumping capacity available at the mouth of the 17th Street Canal. The Corps is scheduled to have 5,200 cfs by June 1st. They also anticipate having roughly 7,700 cfs by mid August [my emphasis]. The Colonel explained the winches for the gate closure structure continue to be installed and are scheduled to be completed and operational by the end of January. He also said the Corps is installing a system that will allow them to remotely operate the pumps and winches."

The remote control system was suposed to be ready for the 2006 storm season.

So how did that delay come about? Well, for one thing, the Corps' "shortened" purchase of the pumps took almost two months, as one can see here. The solicitation was posted November 5th, and after four changes to the bid specifications, the contract award wasn't until December 22nd. Add in the fact that they were already a month behind when they put the solicitation out (with standard delivery times for these pumps and gearboxes, they needed to get stuff on order by the end of October to get running by June 1), and the delay is really not a surprise, and is hard evidence of the Corps' lack of urgency, no matter how much the Corps denies it.

I'm betting that the apparent movement of certain Hurricane Protection Office purchasing functions out of the New Orleans District and into the hands of Vicksburg office personnel also had something to do with it. As I've written about before, all of the most recent HPO solicitations are being handled by Vicksburg folks. Confirmation of at least their presence in New Orleans can be found in this contract award, which shows that Vicksburg is paying to put four of their employees up at a downtown New Orleans condo tower from November 1 to January 30. Interestingly, they got a really good rate, far better than they could have gotten at an extended stay hotel.

There's one small question about the overall contract, which was issued to MR Pittman. The contract is supposedly just for supply of pumps, not installation. In fact, the Citybusiness article says that a design-build contract for installation and pump support platform construction will be issued January 19.

So the MR Pittman contract is just for procurement, not installation, and it totals $52.5 million. According to the Patterson Pump press release, Patterson is being paid $15 million for their pumps. According to the Fairbanks-Morse press release, they're being paid "in excess of $20 million." Let's just assume it's $21 million (Update, 1/18: it's $22 million). That would still leave over $16 million (Update, 1/18: actually, $15 million) going to MR Pittman. That's a lot of money. What is MR Pittman supplying? They are a construction company.

Finally, I have to ask the Corps where all this extra money came from? They are always pleading that they are under very tight restrictions when it comes to transferring money. But, of course, we'll never know, because they refuse to release contracts and bid specifications to the public for "security reasons."

Update, 1/18:
Senator Vitter took note of the delay in the extra pumps and wrote the head of the Corps asking for answers, as reported in yesterday's New Orleans CityBusiness internet update. Let's see if the Corps can meet their own deadline for issuance of the installation contracts for the pumps. That's supposed to happen January 19th, according to the January 8th CityBusiness article.


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