Fix the pumps

Thursday, November 05, 2009


On November 5, 2009, Karen Durham-Aguilera, civilian head of the Corps' Task Force Hope, and Col. Robert Sinkler, head of the Hurricane Protection Office, are due to testify before the New Orleans City Council. They should be giving an update on which projects are projected to miss the June 1, 2011 deadline for 100 year protection of the greater New Orleans area.

Most likely, their presentation will include a lot of information about stuff they've already done, with the meat of the data - which projects will be late - buried in the middle and with little context. The projects will be listed by internal Corps project codes, and they won't show exactly where they are located or what the projects actually are. How do we know? Because they've already done so twice this year in just that fashion.

The Corps gave two project updates on this topic in August 2009. Those updates were only given because of June, 2009 media reports (from WWL-TV and the Times-Picayune) which detailed exactly which projects in the 100-year effort would not meet the June 1, 2011 date. Otherwise, it is unlikely this information would have ever been revealed.

The City Council hosted the first presentation. On August 6, 2009, two Corps colonels (Sinkler and Greg Gunter) appeared at the Council. They brought a Powerpoint presentation which mostly just gave an update on current and future projects without any relevant dates. But they did deign to include one slide which actually laid out the projects projected to finish beyond June 1, 2011.

The full presentation is here, and here's the important slide (Slide #5) with the late projects:

Video of the meeting is available on the City Council's website here.

As you can see, the list is substantial. For example, the highlighted projects (LPV-106.01, -109.02a, and -111.01) represent the majority of the levees surrounding New Orleans East:

(from May 14, 2009 Corps meeting slides)

During that August 6 presentation the colonels made a promise of a biweekly update of critical path projects. That never was fulfilled.

Here's the other stuff that came out of that August 6, 2009 presentation:

Late projects in St Bernard Parish

While the meeting was held in New Orleans, there was vital information regarding St Bernard Parish that was glossed over.

Specifically, both Colonels neglected to highlight the fact that all three major levee projects in St Bernard Parish, collectively referred to as the Chalmette Loop Levee, would not be ready before June 1, 2011. This was a new, very important development since those late June media reports about the Corps missing the deadline, which was what prompted the August 6th appearance.

Here's a map of where those projects (LPV-145, -146, and -148) are. They are shown in yellow:

(from May 11, 2009 Corps meeting slides)

Here's the post-6/1/2011 completion dates of those three projects as reported on Slide #5 at the August 6th meeting, along with how their 100-year completion dates compare to the late June figures:

LPV-148, 100 year completion September 7, 2011 (Slipped 6 weeks since 6/18/09)
LPV-145, 100 year completion Aug 23, 2011 (Slipped at least 2.5 MONTHS since 6/18/09 - was not late on previous lists)
LPV-146, 100 year completion July 10, 2011 (Slipped 7 MONTHS since 6/18/09 - was not late on previous lists)

As you can tell from the amount of slippage in these projects, something serious happened with these projects. The completion date for LPV-146 went from December 14, 2010 to July 10, 2011, a loss of seven months. The others lost significant ground as well. This went completely unmentioned by Colonel Gunter while Slide #5 was on screen.

And when Colonel Sinkler got to the part of the presentation specifically on St Bernard Parish projects, this development was not mentioned at all. In fact, here's what Colonel Sinkler said on the topic of the St Bernard levees:

[Slide #17 showing map of St Bernard appears]
"And then St Bernard Parish - very similar [to New Orleans East] - we're kind of concerned about these areas right now. They're between 15 and 20 feet high right now, and we do want to put an additional 8 feet or so on those levees. And our intent is to have those done by June 1st, 2011. And we're committed to that June 1st date.

"Next slide"
[Slide #18 showing details of St Bernard levee contracts appears]

"Next slide"
[Slide #18 disappears and Slide #19 showing details of Permanent Pump Stations appears]

Given the opportunity to highlight a problem that concerns the storm protection for an entire parish, Colonel Sinkler instead said "We're kind of concerned" and "Next slide."

The video for this can be found here. Move the slider to 1:51:49 to view this section of the meeting.

More projects are geting later

Just 11 days after the August 6 City Council meeting, on August 19th, the Corps gave another update on its 100 year efforts. This time it was given to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (LA CPRA). You can find that presentation here (large file - over 30 megs).

That presentation also gives a list of projects due to be late on page 14:

Also available as a PDF here.

The list is bigger (15 projects vs the 13 at the City Council meeting) and generally has later completion dates.

The list on the CPRA presentation includes yet another St Bernard Parish project (LPV-149) in addition to the three others from the City Council presentation. It also includes the critical lynchpin project on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish, the West Closure Complex, or "WCC." The WCC is a huge storm surge barrier and pumping complex that will make over 20 miles of hurricane protection structures behind it into "secondary" protection.

On the topic of LPV-149, whose official title is "Chalmette Loop Levee, Verret to Caernarvon Structures, St. Bernard Parish," the CPRA presentation says the 100 year date is July 21, 2011. It appears this project was omitted from the list at the City Council meeting, since its late status was already reported back in June. Back then, it was anticipated to reach the 100 year level of protection on June 15th, 2011, so it slipped over a month. Clearly, taken in conjunction with the substantial delays in the other St Bernard projects, there are problems with the Corps' efforts in St Bernard that are being soft-pedalled.

On the topic of the West Closure Complex, a critical project for multiple parishes, the August CPRA presentation noted that it would not be up to the 100 year level of protection until September 8, 2011, or over three months later than what was previously promised. This means that much of the Corps' "secondary" protection on the West Bank would be "primary" protection for a large chunk of the 2011 hurricane season. This may have changed by the time of the Corps' hullabaloo about this project a few days ago, since the Times-Picayune reported "The floodgates are expected to be completed by June 2011". We'll see what's reported at the City Council meeting...

West Return Wall

At the August 6th City Council presentation, while Slide #5 (the heart of the presentation, showing 13 late projects) was visible on the big screen in the Council Chambers and on local TV, Colonel Gunter spoke about three projects he claimed had been successfully "brought back" before the June 1, 2011 deadline. From his descriptions, I believe those projects to be:

a) LPV-109.02b, which is the area where I-10 crosses the easternmost levees in New Orleans East near Irish Bayou.
b) LPV-03.2A, which is the southern section of the West Return Wall (the levee between Kenner and St Charles parish), specifically the section between I-10 and the airport
c) LPV-101.02, which is the floodwall in New Orleans running from the 17th Street canal along Lake Marina Drive to Topaz St near the Municipal Yacht Harbor.

Unfortunately, Colonel Gunter neglected to point out to the Council that one of these projects - LPV-03.2A - had actually NOT been "brought back" before June 1, 2011, as was evidenced by the very slide he was presenting:

As you can see, that slide shows the date of 100 year protection for that project as July 16th, 2011.


So, a lot of news can be produced at these types of meetings, if one knows what one is seeing. Unfortunately, the Corps takes pains not to point out this sort of information, hoping the audience is not clued in to the minutae of their projects. They cover everything up with project codes and surround the actual news with lots of other pretty slides of stuff they've already done, when they are there to tell what is coming and what will be late.

I'll post an update later with what can be gleaned from today's presentaton.


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