Fix the pumps

Friday, November 20, 2009

Corps pants a raging inferno

At the November 19, 2009 Corps public meeting held to take input from the public on the shape of the bid documents for the permanent pump station project, the following mind-numbing bombshell was dropped by the Corps' Colonel Bob Sinkler, head of the Hurricane Protection Office (from coverage by the Times-Picayune):
"Col. Robert Sinkler, commander of the Hurricane Protection Office, which is overseeing the projects for the corps, said the corps is working on a study to determine which floodwalls along the canals might need to be replaced, and has $90 million set aside to pay for that work. But that work won't be complete until sometime after the June 2011 deadline for construction of the rest of the hurricane risk reduction system, he said."

This is huger than huge.

The Corps has had a program underway for months, if not longer, to band-aid the walls along the canals. We know it has been going since at least May of this year, because that is when the comprehensive resurvey of the 17th Street canal happened. The actual survey records are here and here.

The Corps has claimed for years that language from the 4th Katrina Supplemental did not give them authorization to modify the canal walls. That language - drafted by the Corps - says the Corps is to
"modify the 17th Street, Orleans Avenue, and London Avenue drainage canals and install pumps and closure structures at or near the lakefront..."

They claimed the word "modify" did not apply to the walls along the canals. I believe the head of the Corps, General Van Antwerp Brigadier General Michael Walsh, claimed this in testimony before Congress in June (obviously after the wall repair program was underway):
"Local stakeholders have sought support for Options 2 and 2a which would expand the scope of work to include significant modifications to the three main outfall canals of the City's interior drainage system in addition to the pumping stations that are being built under Option 1. Since Options 2 and 2a address interior rainwater drainage issues and not storm surge protection, both exceed our current authority and would require additional authorization and funding for construction."
It has also shown up repeatedly in Corps propaganda update newsletters and in other testimony to other public bodies, like Colonel Sinkler's presentation to the New Orleans City Council on November 5, 2009.

Now we have it straight from the Corps' mouth that they have set aside nearly $100 million dollars to not only "rehabilitate" or "physically improve" canal walls, they are actually looking at replacing some of them. Under any definition, that is "modify"ing the canals.

The public acknowledgement of this band-aid program unleashes a can of worms:

1) It means the Individual Environmental Report #5 (issued at the same time this program was doing the initial survey work) was incomplete, and must be reopened. The Corps' preferred alternative in IER#5 contains no mention of any work getting done along the canal walls. Thus, the public was not fully informed of the Corps' plans - and ONGOING WORK - on the canals and were thus deprived of their legal right to comment in full. This is not a minor problem.

2) It means the Corps has been negotiating in bad faith with the State of Louisiana on a Project Partnership Agreement (PPA) for the permanent pumps, and that any PPA should be placed on hold until the full scope of the Corps' work has been publicly vetted.

3) It means that there is no excuse - other than money - not to proceed with Option 2 at this point. And determining the amount of money clearly needs to be done by an outside party,since the Corps has wildly inflated their Option 2 estimates to attempt to force the public into Option 1.

The Corps has been trying to keep this under wraps until the PPA was signed, since that agreement is the only roadblock to them doing whatever the hell they want. The problem is now clear - they didn't ask for enough money in the 4th, 5th, and 6th Katrina Supplementals. They are short on funds for armoring, mitigation, the West Closure Complex, and Option 2.

They need to man up and go back to Congress and just ask for more cash to finish what they started. All these games meant to keep them looking good are ridiculous, and will eventually harm the public.


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