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Friday, November 06, 2009

Slippage - Part 2

As mentioned in my previous post Karen Durham-Aguilera and Col. Sinkler were scheduled to appear before the City Council on November 5th. They did so, and the video is here. And the slide presentation - with 25 slides not presented to the public - is here.

As expected, there was a lot of other "stuff" in their presentation, with the list of late projects on page 7, after all the Big Numbers.

So here's the list:

For reference, here's the list that was presented at the August 18 CRPA meeting:

From a surface perspective, things appear to have gotten better. There are now only 12 late projects on the list rather than 15. Also, many of the problem projects in St Bernard Parish and Orleans parish are apparently now on a faster track.

However, there are also some deepening problems. Moving through some of the same topics as in my last post...

West Closure Complex

The biggest problem that jumps out is the West Closure Complex (WBV-90), with its 100 year protection completion date of September 18, 2011, ten days later than the schedule from three months ago.

The Corps is pouring around a billion dollars into this project on the West Bank. On October 30, 2009, they held a big groundbreaking to-do, with invited dignitaries and media. The Times-Picayune and the Associated Press and local TV stations covered it, and the Corps got the story that they wanted out there, including a huge lie from the Corps.

From Fox 8's coverage:
"The surge gates should be complete by the 2011 hurricane season, according to Corps spokesmen."

and from the Times-Picayune, as I noted in the last post:
"The floodgates are expected to be completed by June 2011"

Finally, the Corps has repeated the same thing in their own propaganda update, published November 9th, 2009:
"The nearly $1 billion complex will provide 100-year level risk reduction by hurricane season 2011."

That is not the truth. The truth is that according to the Corps' own schedule, the West Closure Complex will not offer 100 year protection to the vast majority of the West Bank until most of the 2011 hurricane season is over.

By the way, the cost of the project appears to be ballooning also. The Times-Picayune mentioned this,
"Friday's event capped a week in which the corps held a three-day closed-door summit at a Metairie hotel to brainstorm ways to cut $200 million to $300 million from the project to keep it under budget.

Tom Podany, chief of the corps' protection and restoration office, said it's unclear whether the goal was met because the corps is still reviewing the proposals.

'This is part of the normal process of doing cost containment and trying to find the best value,' he said. 'We're looking at different construction techniques to keep the project under budget and on schedule."

St Bernard Parish projects

Another worrying development is the further latening of the completion of the storm protection around St Bernard Parish. In August, all three major projects were due to be late. While two of them (LPV-145 and LPV-146) have apparently been pulled back, the third one (LPV-148.02) has gotten radically later. LPV 148.02 is the levee and planned T-wall on the southern side of the Parish.

In August, the projected 100-year completion date was September 7, 2011, which was bad enough. Now, it has slipped another three months to December 11, 2011, or completely after the 2011 hurricane season. Two other St Bernard projects also will not be done until after the deadline.

West Return Wall

Finally, Colonel Gunter's comments at the August 6, 2009 City Council meeting about pulling the West Return Wall (which is the western flank of storm protection in Jefferson Parish) back before the deadline have proven dead wrong. Both north and south segments have slipped further since the August update, with a 100-year completion date of the fifth anniversary of Katrina.


Of course, none of this is the Corps' fault; it never is. While the slide with the late projects was up on the screen, here is what Karen Durham-Aguilera said:
"To get this amount of construction done in a relatively short amount of time is an intense amount of work. We do have several contracts that are projected beyond June 2011. These are on this slide. A year ago, there were 27. Today, there are 12. Even the ones on this list have improved considerably from where they were a few months ago. And just about everything is in the summer of 2011. So this continues to be something we work on, along with the state, the levee authorities, and the levee districts, and our construction firms to continue to see how much time we make up during construction.

A lot of the challenges with these projects before they're awarded is the real estate acquisition and the real estate needs that the state and the levee authorities have to deliver to allow us to do the construction. But once we get through that hurdle we're ready to go and we make up a lot of time then."

So the only reason that the largest civil works project underway in the entire country will be late - according to the person titularly in charge of that effort - is that the locals are slow on delivering the land.

There's one other thing about her statements above. She claims, "Even the ones on this list have improved considerably from where they were a few months ago." That's just not true. Of the 12 projects on the latest list, only four have had their 100 year completion dates improve since August. The other 8 have all slipped, some substantially. In fact, 2 of those 8 were previously projected to be completed on time, and have now slipped past June 1, 2011.

It shouldn't be this hard to parse everything the Corps says, and one shouldn't need such a tremendous amount of knowledge to interpret it. They have a long way to go in being straight with the public.


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