Fix the pumps

Friday, June 01, 2007

Prepare for more PS#3 pump shutdowns

[Updated 7/28/07, see below]

[For the latest on London Avenue canal testing, see my June 11, 2007 post, "Testing, testing." It has been updated quite often.]

I like when reporters take advantage of opportunities. It looks like the Times-Picayune's Mark Schleifstein did so by chatting up Colonel Bedey at yesterday's press conference for General Van Antwerp. To the Corps' disappointment, he apparently didn't ask, "Isn't General Van Antwerp the dreamiest?" It looks like what he did ask was, "What's the latest on the London Avenue canal testing?" Here's what he wrote:

"Bedey said the corps will delay until August a planned test of a 150-foot section of the London Avenue Canal wall to determine whether the water level there can be raised 1 foot. Another corps official said the delay resulted from high bids received for the testing contract."

Notice that it seems Schleifstein had to go to someone other than Bedey to find out the reason the testing is further delayed. Further, that other person seemingly didn't want their name used in print. It's a tiny but telling example of how the Corps struggles on a daily basis to keep the message upbeat and suppress bad or embarrassing news. It's ironic this appears in an article about General Van Antwerp's press conference, at which he hammered home his commitment to telling the truth to New Orleans no matter what.

Anyway, the New Orleans District blew their budget and their schedule (remember that this testing was supposed to be complete by now). And the testing and analysis will not be complete this hurricane season. I say that because even if they finish the testing on August 1, there's no way they and their contractors could get reliable results out of the field testing in a matter of days - it would likely take weeks of number-crunching.

So the upshot is that the London Avenue canal Safe Water Level will very likely stay at 4 feet through this hurricane season. That's just great. Whenever it comes up again, watch for the Corps to kind of toss it off like it's just a fact of life they can't do a thing about. In fact, if heaven and earth needed to be moved, they could drive sheet piles around the weak section(s) to seal it (them) off.

The quote above was follow-up to Schleifstein's article in the May 31st paper, which said,

"The corps also has struggled to strengthen walls along the London Avenue Canal enough to test whether higher water levels can be allowed in that canal during hurricane season. Delays in completion of that work could delay tests of the walls until late July, just before the height of hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico.

If successful, the safe water level in the canal could be raised to 5 feet, which means more storage of rainfall if the gate at the end of the canal must be closed during a tropical storm or hurricane."

I do have one complaint about the standard Corps line on this testing. They say they are doing it to determine if the safe water level can go up. It bothers me that they never mention the possibility that it could go down. It further bothers me that the local media doesn't call them on it, enabling the Corps to bamboozle the public.

Statements like that introduce legitimate worries of bias into how the Corps is doing things. Are they pre-judging the results of the testing before they're complete? Fortunately, the East Bank superlevee board is looking over the Corps' shoulders in an independent fashion on this one.

Finally, I have to issue a correction on this matter. On May 11th I took WWL-TV to task over a May 10th report that Lee Zurik filed about the London Avenue canal testing. At that time, I said WWL showed the wrong location for the testing. I was wrong. The testing is planned for an area on the east side of the canal just south of Robert E. Lee, not south of Mirabeau. I had been proceeding on a false assumption - based on conversations with Corps and other officials - that the weak section at Mirabeau would be the testing location. That was a mistake that I should have caught even earlier than now, because the location had already been mentioned twice, once on March 24, 2007 and again on April 20, 2007 by the Times-Picayune. The April 20th article gave the location as,

"The test calls for slowly increasing the level of water against a 150-foot-wide section of the floodwall on the canal's eastern bank, just south of Burbank Street on Warrington Drive."

Burbank Drive is just south of Robert E. Lee, not Mirabeau. You can see the approximate location here.

I regret the error.

[Update 7/28/07]
See my June 11, 2007 post, "Testing, testing," for the most up to date information on the London Avenue canal testing. The Engineering News-Record articles linked there are far better than the Times-Picayune's coverage.
[end update]


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