Whatever happened to Whatever it takes to rebuild New Orleans
Below you will find an editorial from the Times Picayune about the Army Corps of Engineers lack of progress rebuilding the levees....
EDITORIAL: Naked levees
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The need to armor levees and floodwalls is an obvious lesson from Hurricane Katrina: every examination of the levee failures -- including the Army Corps of Engineers' -- recognized the role that scouring played in their demise.
In fact, the corps' Interagency Performance Task Force said that overtopping and erosion caused all but four of the 50 major breaches in the flood protection system.
Unfortunately, understanding doesn't guarantee action. The corps did armor some damaged areas after the storm, but it scaled back an initial request for armoring from $600 million to $170 million -- at the Bush administration's request. The larger amount would have armored most of the 360-mile levee system, but now there's only enough money to armor those areas deemed most vulnerable.
Only two levees -- a section in eastern New Orleans and the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet -- made the list. And they won't be protected anytime soon: According to the corps' schedule, armoring won't be complete until the start of hurricane season 2010.
That's too little, too late. The corps is gambling that we won't be hit by another major storm for three more years -- a reckless position to take in the midst of a more active storm cycle. This year's uneventful season was the exception, not the rule.
The corps also is making the dangerous assumption that it doesn't need to armor levees that made it through Katrina undamaged, even though their survival might have more to do with the fact that they weren't hit with Katrina's worst surge and wave action.
Louisiana State University hurricane expert Ivor van Heerden and engineering professor Robert Bea, who studied the levee failures for the University of California-Berkeley and the National Science Foundation, say that the armoring plans are inadequate and show that the corps doesn't have a sense of urgency.
That's a valid criticism. The corps sees armoring as part of work to raise and strengthen the flood protection system. "You don't want to armor now and have to rip it out when it's time to raise the levees," a corps official said, arguing that the agency is trying to make the best use of its money.
That's a horrifying argument from an agency whose lack of foresight and competence caused a deadly and costly catastrophe. Leaving people and property at risk is not good economics. Neither is rebuilding levees that could be washed away if they're overtopped.
"The bottom line is, New Orleans is unsafe, and the Mr-GO levees are unprotected, as are the Lake Pontchartrain levees," Dr. van Heerden said. He and Dr. Bea both say it would be more prudent to move quickly to armor the front and back sides of all levees that are exposed to the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain.
There are several ways to do that on a temporary basis while the corps works on its final plan, Dr. van Heerden said. For example, the corps could spray a temporary layer of blacktop on the MR-GO levee, which already has gullies worn into it from erosion.
That's what the corps needs to do, instead of falling back on the excuse that the job and the bureaucratic process are complex. Some things -- like the importance of armoring levees -- are really pretty simple.