Fix the pumps

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

No urgency

Updated July 25, 2011. See end of post.

In the distinct absence of any meaningful response to my FOIA requests, I've been tracking activities of the Corps at the lakefront gates through secondary means.

Since the last round of repairs in May, I've been wondering if the Corps would do any work on the pumps during hurricane season. On August 10, 2010 I got my answer.

That day, WWL-TV aired a report on the future permanent pump stations. As part of the report, reporter Katie Moore did a walk and talk on the deck of the current 17th Street gate structure. And as she talked, she walked past evidence of continuing pump corrosion repair work:

That's the inlet to one of the fourteen 42" pumps mounted under the 17th Street structure deck. Except, it looks either brand new or very cleaned up. It also has new zinc anodes attached to it - conclusive evidence the anti-corrosion work is continuing in some small way.

As a reminder, the anodes are the little blocks of zinc that get attached to the outside of the pump to prevent corrosion of the pump itself. Here they are on 17th Street 60" pump W5 when it was lowered into place March 16, 2010 (detailed in an earlier post):

Just like the aluminum or magnesium anode in your water heater, the zinc anode on the pump housing corrodes preferentially instead of the pump, hopefully lengthening the pump's service life. The original anodes installed with the pumps were inadequate in the extreme, so more have been added during the pump repairs underway this year and last. You can read about those repairs to the corroding pumps in my earlier posts "Imminent," "How did the pumps get from...," "This year's scramble," and "Worse than previously known."

Now, when I say the repair work is continuing in some small way, I mean very small. On August 13, 2010 Steve Beatty of The Lens went out to all three sites to survey any work going on. None of the forty 60" pumps are currently out for repair, despite the absolute need for repairs on three quarters of them. It's conceivable a few others have gotten done since May - we just don't know, since the Corps has refused to fulfill my months-old FOIA requests for repair reports. However, it's impossible that they've all gotten repaired. If the Corps were serious about fixing these things, they would be rotating them out right now, even though it's hurricane season. They're not doing that, so as it is now, most of the 60" pumps are just slowly rotting time bombs.

While the story on the 60" pumps is depressing, albeit predictable, Steve did catch the work that's ongoing at 17th Street on the 42" pumps:

You can see that the rental crane is in place above the pumps toward the middle of the deck, and there's a contractor's truck parked up there too. Let's zoom into the middle to see what they're working on:

That's pump #7 out. But wait, haven't we seen that before?

Yes we have, on April 28th:

And going back even further, in mid-March:

So the Corps has apparently been working on this one pump for six months! Keep in mind that their contractor for the 60" pump repairs, Conhagen, was turning around four of those larger pumps in a space of six to eight weeks this spring.

There is a little good news. Apparently they finally got 42" pump #9 (which was out at the same time as #7) back in the water with new stainless steel piping. You can see the shiny piping in the picture above. And when Steve Beatty went back to the site the next day, pump #7 had been delivered for installation:

There's more on that at a future entry. In addition, I belive there's probably two other 42" pumps (which have been getting worked on since March) which are due to be repaired and reinstalled or are already back in. That's based on contract information which I have not yet received via FOIA, but know about through FPDS. More specifically, it's a good bet this work is being performed by a subcontractor to architecture and landscape architecture firm Perez APC under contract W912P8-10-P-0139, initially worth $131,880. The contract does not specify which pumps were to be repaired.

So based on the limited contract information and the photos, it looks like the other ten 42" pumps (representing 1200 cfs, or about 13% of the total site capacity) will have to wait. All of them still have carbon steel piping (it is painted black) destined to rust:

So that's the current state of pump repair work at the three sites, such as it is.

This information is based on the available information, including on-the-ground photography and Corps documents released through FOIA. The Corps has been absolutely atrocious in releasing documents to me, so if there are gaps in my knowledge, blame them. I've had requests in to them (very narrowly tailored requests, I might add) for months asking for reports and contracting information on these repairs, and the requests have gone unfulfilled. In one case, they have even ignored the law and not even sent an acknowledgement of my request within the statutory 20 day period. The Corps can afford to pay millions on public affairs contracts and keep a phalanx of Public Affairs officers on staff directly, but when it comes to actually releasing hard information under the law, they are the absolute worst I have ever dealt with, and that includes the City of New Orleans under Ray Nagin.

Update July 25, 2011

Upon the July, 2011 receipt of documents requested under FOIA, I learned the Corps deliberately did not schedule any work on the 60" pumps during hurricane season. However, when unscheduled events happened - like pumps developing leaks - they did pull them out and send them to Conhagen for repairs.

At the time this post was written (August, 2010), this had happened twice earlier in the summer. An oil spill on June 2, 2010 had led to 17th Street pump W1 getting rebuilt at Conhagen later in June. And in mid-July, pump W1 at the London Avenue site would also be sent for a rebuild at Conhagen. Details about both of these repairs, including photos from Conhagen's repair reports on each, can be found at the subequent post, "The latest on lakefront pump repairs."

So, the status diagrams at the time should have looked like:

Steve Beatty and Karen Gadbois of The Lens, and Molly Peterson of Southern California Public Radio contributed to this report.



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