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Fargo, Dallas, New Orleans and the Corps of Engineers

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Fargo, ND 1897 flood

Fargo, ND 1897 flood

 

 

While working on a post related to coastal economics I changed my topic this morning upon hearing Steve Inskeep’s interview with Fargo, North Dakota’s Mayor Dennis Walaker on NPR’s Morning Edition.  The mayor described an emergency effort on the part of residents and officials to shore up threatened levees on the Red River* with sand bags against rising water levels.  

This effort is being undertaken under conditions hard to relate to in Louisiana – bitter cold and snow! I noted that Mayor Walaker gave high praise for the participation of the Corps of Engineers.  

As shown by the 1897 photograph, the 2009 flood is not the first time that the Red River has overtopped its banks but in 1897 Fargo didn’t have a serious levee system.  Now they’re trying desperately to raise their levees with sandbags against a projected record stage of 41 feet on March 29.  Remember that global climate change predicts extreme regional floods and droughts, as well as net warming of the entire planet.

On a related subject, yesterday Frank Truesdale sent me three essays by Jim Schutze from the Dallas Observer, one from February 11, one from March 4 and one from March 24.  These pieces describe a very expensive and controversial public works project in Dallas called the Trinity River Project.  

I urge you to read these opinion pieces in order.  They should strongly resonate with NOLA residents because they describe eleven years of planning for a development project (toll road through the city) that involves the all-too familiar volatile mix of levees, flood risk, engineering, politics and the Corps of Engineers.

On the other hand, the portions of these op/ed pieces that compare the Dallas situation with New Orleans’ Katrina experience are sure to raise your blood pressure, especially if you believe that the corps bears full culpability with respect to the Katrina levee failures in New Orleans.  Here are two debatable quotes from Schutze’s Feb 11 piece, one implying that the NOLA politicos are responsible for Katrina disaster and the other that the corps should, can and will do its job if left alone: 

To this day, it is rare in public political discourse in this country for anybody to speak honestly about the culpability of local pols in New Orleans for the Katrina floods. The locals had pushed and pulled for a century to get the federal government to help them build cheap, badly designed levees so their real estate cousin-buddies could sell flood land to middle-class and poor people.

They’re (the corps) not politicians. Their job is to look at the dirt, look at the drawings, do the math and tell us if it will work or not work.

Whether or not you agree with these statements, Mr. Schutze makes some good points about attempts to use brute political force to roll science – and nature.  The Dallas toll road project, very popular with business interests, apparently could compromise the Trinity River levee system.  Schutze describes a classic flawed assumption on the part of development lobbyists – that technology will always out when it comes to man against nature.  

My experience with Dallas is based on regular visits to my daughter while she attended the Hockaday high school, running the Dallas White Rock Marathon in 1994 and occasional meetings over the years on coastal issues at the EPA Region 6 headquarters.  I saw an awful lot of concrete in Dallas.  

Speaking of concrete, the Trinity River, which normally “trickles” through Dallas encased in the stuff, seasonally rises over the armored portions of the levees and inundates the upper earthen portions. Failure of these levees could devastate Big D’s downtown, just as failure of the river levees would devastate New Orleans.

With the Trinity River Project, the Corps of Engineers has become caught up in a classic struggle between engineering and politics.  A critical legal issue raised in Dallas that is relevant to New Orleans’ flood protection is the question of the ownership of flood control structures.  

The corps oversaw the design and construction of the levee system to prevent the Trinity River from flooding Dallas, but the city cost-shared the project and now owns it.  So what party is responsible for long term liability in case of failure?  More muddy, who is responsible for levee failure if the city alters the flood protection system (by building the highway) aganst corps’ advice?  Such behavior on the part of an automobile owner would void his warranty.  

Schutze ultimately celebrates the likely demise of a poorly conceived and oversold concept that had for years seemed unstoppable. Apparently its rising price tag will kill it in the end.  

Len Bahr

* This is the Red River North, which flows through North Dakota and Minnesota heading north to Manitoba, not to be confused with the Red River South, which flows south from Texas and Oklahoma into Louisiana.

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  1. I simply wanted to provide feedback and also say that I seriously loved reading your blog publish here.

  2. In the above, it notes that a bigger priority of the Corps was navigation, than flood protection(in some periods).
    Could that be because one of the Chief of Engineers( 3 Star General) of the Army Corps left the Corps , and went to work as head of the Navigation trade Org.
    Just like the situation, when some of the big Corps Generals left the Corps and went to work for Halliburton.(Cheney Era of strings pulled)
    The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works(who is in the Pentagon) is a very political position.
    One name that spings to mind, who gamed that position, is William Ginaelli, who was then Governor of California Reagan’s Water Resource Director, who then hopped to the Pentagon to fill the Assistant Sec of the Army for Civil Works (POLITICAL) slot, when Reagan became President in the 1980′s. Bush( George W), fired his Assistant Sec of Army for Civil Works, for pumping pork too aggressively while not co-ordinating with OMB.
    Of course, to locals, it is not pork if it is their key politican moving some big project to lock into the appropriation process to roll out the big bucks. The Assistant Sec of the Army for Civil Works is like the Sec of Interior, except hidden away in the Pentagon. He is in charge of the Corps of Engineers, at least somewhat, among the General Pentagon mix of things.

  3. Luke Fontana, SOWL, stopped one set of floodgates.(1974)
    New O La leveee boards stopped another set in 1992.
    Shell Oil had a Fl grad, who did his “engineer in traning work for the Corps, Bea, now of U C Berkeley.
    Do the Dutch have hunderds of oil drilling rigs just off the Coast, wetlands ?
    van Hedeern is told shut up, you are not a P E, in soil mechanics, a licensed P E.
    LSU targets him.
    One does not have to be an engineer to stop floodgates from being put, in, like in La, Lawyers did that and La Levee Board lobbyists(lawyers).Can’t any in some sections figure out the history on this ?

  4. I think this site is a breadth of fresh air, it seeks to add understanding to a complex area.
    The forces of nature, and the pursuits of man to control it is a struggle that has gone on since the early days of the Corps Of Engineers.(its West Point ring knocker Club culture)
    The local sponsor, La Levee districts, were seeking to game it on the
    30 % financial responsibility, and saw levees(I- WALLS) as their solution.
    The Corps has a dual role, it is a giant earth mover on its own accounts, all over the world(Civil Works and Military accounts) and yet, in the permit 404 area, it controls the building of public works projecs by local, and State entities.(all water sheds in America…) the long tradition of the meaning of “navigable waters”.. which are whatever can float in a Supreme Court decision.
    By the way, I had to laugh on the painting(depiction) of Senator Land.. putting lip stick on porky pig..I almost broke a rib laughing, it was so hilarious.
    At the end of the day, even if porky(ACE) has the brigthest brand of semi-gloss lip stick, it is still a pig.
    I wonder—has the ACE management of projects become so inefficient, and cost over-runed, that local sponsors, just do not want cost sharing. In trying to beat it(game it if you will), in the 1990′s, that set the course for
    the rejection of floodgates( a tragic course as it turned out, even a deadly one)
    Oh, if one looked at the cost of those floodgates if they had been put in–in the 1990′s, and compared the costs(damages etc….) post 2005, in the wake of Katrina, therein lies an interesting topic, one little written on, with much light, and depth(so far).
    i have searched far and wide on the I-net, many a google.
    I find this site to be the most interesting.
    I thank you for seeking to searh for understaning and the truth, where ever that lies. Nature threw many curve balls, but it was the flaws in man’s management of matters that created Lake Orleans.
    I suppose a bit of disclosure, back in the early 1970′s, I received one of the most prestigious Fellowships to get an advanced degree, it was a water resource fellowship.
    It was somehow funded via the USACE….
    It has a giant office at its G.C’s D C Hdq, to fund so many matters.
    The fact i got federal booty on that some over 35 years, ago, does not make me a “Corps minion”, I don’t dance to its chain of commands.
    Dr Ray Seed( U C), looked at levee failures, which is a mere small slice of matters. This board is doing more to reveal light than U C Berkeley, and its Dynamic Analyis so called CLUB.
    Thank you.

  5. One more thing:
    Here is a quote from a Congressional Research Service(CRS) Report to Congress, dated in Dec 2005:

    “The Corps’ decision in the mid-1980s to recommend higher levees instead of the inlet barriers it had recommended in 1965 was shaped by multiple factors,including environmental litigation, project economics, and local preferences. The Corps preferred floodgates to floodwalls along the Orleans Avenue and LondonAvenue canals. The decision to not build floodgates, and instead build floodwalls along the canals, was made by local project sponsors. The original design and the final design were intended to provide the same level of protection, i.e., protectionfrom the rough equivalent of a Category 3 storm.

    Maybe Sandy Rosentahl will attack this(CRS) too, as she creates more myths, or bull in her crusade to distract from the La Levee boards, and their opposition to floodgates pre 2005, which has tragic, and very deadly results in August 2005. Why is she so seeking to create her own myth, she is obsessed on that, in the way she has gone on her attacks as to News ors, the public records, etc, as if she is blind, or so intent to distort things for some other agenda.
    Any who point out her odd ways is branded a “Corps Minion”.

    She now wants some Corps employees aressted who disagreed with her spin campaign, and has demanded that from Senator Land…
    doesn’t Sandy know, that a Senator can not have people arrested if they don’t swallow Sandy’s bull.
    BTW, I am not a Corps Employee, was never on any payroll of the Corps New O offices.
    I have researched the tragic situation that had many seeds leading to the tragedy, pre August 2005.
    Sandy is seeking to slant public airwaves to mislead people, and I wonder Why…?

  6. Sandy fakes it on the firing of van H, ex LSU professor, expert on Coastal matters. Makes som ewonder whether she is a front for some other agenda.
    Her shrill attacks on credible news papers, who reported on matters is a joke, if not a disgrace(See above). She is neither a reporter or an engineer.
    Her political games with Senator Land….. are most curious.
    Her big factoid Cyber slants: since the Corps is 98 % civilians, she feels that is some license to attack some G S 12s. She rants about felonies(in some detachments from reality) of the Corps, until she has busted a gasket(her Follies of a WWW ORG SITE).
    She is no D A or U S Attorney, either.
    The woman has a screw loose.
    Do any here take her seriously, other than Editilla, her mate de jure on matters USACE ?
    What is striking is how she is seeking to spin the floogate things pre 2005.
    All she does is draw more attention to how the La Levee boards so polluted La politics.

  7. Sandy Rosenthal seems to be the chief defender of La Levee board corruption.
    Over 3 newspapers have noted the thing about the local opposition to floogates before 2005(at the head of New Orleans canals)
    Sandy Rosenthal attacks those News outlets, creating bogus stories.
    Lake Orleans(water pouring into the city) had its nexis to no floodgates in place in August 2005.
    Ms Rosenthal has no expertise in engineering at all.
    She is an egomanic act with a WWW cyber site, the biggest spin-artist that has ever come down the pike.
    Is she a front for who–that is the real question ?

  8. All of Anonymous's sources are from 2005 or 2006. Credible data has since surfaced that solidly refutes the Corps' claim that it was forced by the locals to abandon its plans for barriers structures and canal closures.

    Sources:
    New Orleans Hurricane Protection Decision Chronology, Jun 2007
    Judge Stanwood Duval's Dismissal, Katrina Canal Breaches Consolidated Litigation, Jan 2008

    Re: the LA Times Christmas Day 2005 story . I called the authors in Dec 2008. They could not supply documentation to back up their story's claim that the OLB "forced" the Corps to abandon their gate plan. Mr. Vartabedian said his notes were verbal from Corps spokes persons in 2005.

    Re: Path of Destruction. Mark Schleifstein put in writing his assessment of the Myth of the Barriers which I have inserted into the comments of this blog post by Len Bahr.
    http://lacoastpost.com/blog/?p=8056

    Bottom line according to Schleifstein re: both the Canal Closures and the Barrier Plan:
    "In both cases, the corps made the final decisions and approved designs of
    the ultimate construction. In both cases, the corps never said it was
    approving the projects under protest, or refused to approve them because of
    concerns they would not work. "

  9. Anonymous says:

    Sources:
    The Politics of Flood Control
    Levees Weakened as New Orleans Board, Federal Engineers Feuded
    By Stephen Braun and Ralph Vartabedian
    December 25, 2005, Los Angeles Times
    The Slow Drowning of New Orleans
    By Michael Grunwald and Susan B. Glasser
    Washington Post Staff Writers, Sunday, October 9, 2005
    Why Did the 17th Street Canal Levee Fail?
    By David Kestenbaum, npr.org, May 19, 2006
    Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms – John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein

  10. Anonymous says:

    One might ask why create a law to force engineers to choose a deadly option? Why did we take away their first choice?

    The answer to that could be simple. Most of us are determined to blame the Corps for any failures related to any flooding. So that those who have lost everything do not understand that the locals and their friends in the US Congress are to blame. By pointing fingers we, the locals, win the media battle and avoid any accountability. That helps us pass the blame, but won't help us avoid the next disaster.

    When it comes to flood protection, we should work with engineers – not against them.

  11. Anonymous says:

    NPR's David Kestenbaum found:
    "<<The original soil testing was performed by a contractor, Eustis Engineering. Lloyd Held, who had signed off on the original soil report, would only comment that the matter would be "litigated in court." NPR also sent Bea's calculations and the design documents to several geotechnical engineers at several of the most reputable university programs in the country. And while they found the averaging somewhat troubling, they did not see it as a smoking gun. Geotechnical engineers say their work involves judgment calls, and that not every weak measurement means the soil really is weak.>>"

  12. Anonymous says:

    Dear Readers, with the benefit of hindsight and with the knowledge of the exact locations and types of failures, it's easy to point out design mistakes or any inaccurate assumptions. Those who investigated floodwall failures worked over a year to collect and analyze soil samples. Some of them had to try several times to get to the soil they thought was the “weak layer”. On the other hand, those who designed the original floodwalls, followed standard geotechnical procedures of that time and worked with limited budget and limited time. Soil samples were analyzed and walls were designed by local contractors – not by the Corps of Engineers. These contractors submitted their design work to Corps with acceptable factor of safety. Unfortunately, during review Corps did not find anything unusual.

  13. Anonymous says:

    John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein noted –
    “<<On Tuesday, 30 August 2005, out near the lakefront, engineers from the Corps, the Orleans Levee District, and the state Department of Transportation and Development had met at the 17th Street canal breach at 7:15 a.m. to take stock of the most urgent problem they faced. Lake water was still gushing through the breach, churning white.”
    "Colonel Wagenaar and his engineers from the Corps concluded the best approach was to block off the canal with sheet piling driven easily enough across a stretch north of the breach. But the local agencies, which also included the West Jefferson Levee District across the river, tapped for help and supplies, opposed Wagenaar’s plan, fearing they’d lose the ability to pump water out. Instead, they wanted to seal the breach itself. Exasperated, Wagenaar and Major General Don Riley, the Corps director of civil works, yielded to the state and local agencies.” It wasn’t long before they realized that sealing the gap would be a significant engineering challenge.>>”

  14. Anonymous says:

    For years, former Orleans levee officials say, Heitmeier, who headed the state Senate's public works committee and now its Finance Committee, was influential in levee board decisions on hiring, policy and contracts. Roemer was stymied by Heitmeier when he tried to reform the levee board system and wrest contracts away from local authorities. His "biggest battles," Roemer said, were with Heitmeier.>>"
    Even after the canal floodwall failures, locals had their contributions to the flooding of New Orleans. Legally, local levee districts have the responsibility to plug any breaches. On that matter –

  15. Anonymous says:

    Baudier's firm was also awarded a separate contract with the Orleans district, coordinating other levee board projects. Louisiana's legislative analyst criticized the arrangement in 1992, warning of potential conflicts between the firm's dual roles. Baudier insists his firm dealt only with financing and did not "review other people's designs."
    Levee board contractors also frequently gave campaign money to Francis C. Heitmeier, a powerful state legislator from New Orleans who has long wielded influence over Orleans levee district affairs.
    Among Heitmeier's donors from 1996 through 2002 were Baudier ($5,000), Burk-Kleinpeter ($10,000), and Modjeski and Masters Inc., an engineering firm that designed the 17th Street levee ($750). Officials with Burk-Kleinpeter and Modjeski and Masters did not return calls seeking comment.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Schneider moved quickly. The board issued $50 million in bonds, then began hiring private engineers. The consultants were chosen on their qualifications. But politics and hiring sometimes mixed, said former commissioners.
    All three engineering consultants who were selected by the Orleans board to design the levees contributed to the political campaigns of officials with sway over the board. Burk-Kleinpeter Inc., the engineering firm that designed the raised London Avenue flood wall, gave $5,000 to Edwards in 1991 before he won the 1992 governor's race. Walter Baudier also donated during the period that his firm, Design Engineering Inc., planned the Orleans Avenue levee. Baudier gave $2,200 to Roemer in 1987 and $3,000 to Edwards in 1991.
    "Everybody gave to everybody," Baudier said. "That neutralized any advantage."

  17. Anonymous says:

    Normally, the corps used its own contractors to design and build flood-control projects. But with the corps' approval, levee boards could hire consultants as a way to pay their 30% local share of a project's cost. In hindsight, said the corps' commander, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, the decision to let the Orleans board hire its own contractors was "an unusual practice for us." Some Corps veterans worried about the intrusion of local politics and budget complications.
    The political lines stretched to Louisiana's governors, who chose the majority of commissioners on local levee boards. In 1985, the power in Baton Rouge was Roemer's predecessor, Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards, who had installed New Orleans lawyer Emile Schneider as levee board president.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Regarding Orleans Levee Board Los Angeles Times goes on-
    "Left unchecked because of repeated failures by the Louisiana Legislature to reform the levee board system, critics say, the Orleans district operated its own patronage system.
    "The New Orleans board had the reputation of being one of the worst — by worst, I mean more political than professional," said former Louisiana Gov. Charles E. "Buddy" Roemer III, a Republican whose Orleans board appointees launched the 1990 power play in Congress.
    From the Orleans levee office on Stars and Stripes Boulevard to the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge, Louisiana's political veterans knew the unstated rules of the levee-building game.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Switching back to the Los Angeles Times story-
    "<<The levee board's unusual authority to hire its own consultants allowed its officials to select firms that regularly gave campaign contributions to politicians with influence over levee board business. Sometimes local levee board had acted on its own. When Corps stood firm on the gate option, Orleans board hired a construction firm to drive sheet piles at 17th Street. Plaquemines Levee District President Benny Rousselle twice ordered crews to raise levees along a local highway despite formal corps orders to desist. And East Jefferson Levee District bolstered its side of the 17th Street levee by a foot and a half without the corps' approval.>>”

  20. Anonymous says:

    "I never felt like the Louisiana delegation had flood control on its mind," recalled Dawson, the former assistant Army secretary. "They were focused on navigation." Indeed, Dawson said Johnston threatened to block his nomination if he opposed the Red River waterway, relenting only after he agreed not to go out of his way to attack the project.
    Local activist Pam Dashiell said she begged Vitter, Rep. William J. Jefferson (D) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) to fight the (lock) project ($750 million shipping lock for the New Orleans Industrial Canal) and focus on hurricane protection for her low-income neighborhood, but she said they told her the port was too important to the economy. Katrina's surge later overwhelmed floodwalls along the Industrial Canal — just a few feet from the lock project. "I'm not saying they didn't want stronger levees, but it wasn't as important to them as their pork," Dashiell said after Katrina.>>"

  21. Anonymous says:

    Michael Grunwald wrote –
    "<<The Corps budget consists almost entirely of "earmarked" projects requested by members of Congress, and its priorities are set almost exclusively by the annual race for appropriations. But the (Louisiana) delegation tended to steer the Corps toward business-backed navigation projects — damming and dredging rivers, deepening ports and building locks for barges.
    "They could have built the Hoover Dam around New Orleans with the money they brought home," said one former aide to Johnston, the senator. "But they always pissed it away on politically attractive projects."
    Johnston had his own pet project, a $2 billion effort to subdue the Red River between the Mississippi and Shreveport, La. Five presidential administrations opposed it, but Johnston pushed it through Congress; four of its dams were named for Louisiana politicians, and the handcuffed section of the river is now known as the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway. But it has been an economic flop, attracting only a tiny fraction of the barge traffic.

  22. Anonymous says:

    John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein noted –
    “The Corps didn’t know we added this language there,” said Bruce Feingerts, who drafted the relevant wording at the Levee Board’s request. “Then they called me and asked why they were being told to build in the canals, and I showed them the page in the conference report. They weren’t happy.”
    Corps had been defeated again: it would have to build and pay for floodwalls in the canals (the first defeat was the Barriers for the Lake Pontchartrain).
    The gambit was a crucial victory over the Corps by the Orleans district, the most powerful and well-financed among 18 Louisiana boards that supervise more than 340 miles of storm levees across the hurricane-prone southern half of the state. The corps had to abandon its floodgate plan and shoulder 70% of the project's costs while allowing the Orleans board to hire its own consultants to design the strengthened levees.>>"
    A law has been passed that forced Corps to abandon their preferred flood protection. To make things even worse, this law did not set aside any money to finish design and construction work.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Los Angeles Times continued –
    "<<(Senator) Johnston recalled that former Louisiana Rep. Jimmy Hayes was the "point man" as a House manager for conference negotiations. Now a Washington lobbyist, Hayes did not respond to interview requests. But a former aide, Rhod Shaw, said he often aided New Orleans projects and "would have been carrying whatever the delegation wanted."
    The military engineers were "asleep at the wheel," Feingerts said. "If they had seen it coming, they would have blown a gasket."
    The final bill passed with his language intact: "The conferees direct the corps to treat the outfall canals as part of the overall hurricane project.>>"

  24. Anonymous says:

    Los Angeles Times story continued –
    "<<They (levee board) aimed to keep the levee-raising option alive by hiring their own design consultants, then using political leverage to win their levee-raising plan later. By autumn of 1990, the Orleans board had also quietly hired Bruce Feingerts, a former aide to Russell Long, to lobby in Washington for levee expansion. Feingerts had discovered that the levees of Orleans and London avenues might win federal funding if he could persuade Congress to expand the coverage of the post-Betsy hurricane plan passed in 1965. Sens. Johnston and John B. Breaux agreed to help, Feingerts said, as did most of the state delegation.

    When Senate and House versions of the 1990 Water Resources bill neared passage in October, Feingerts went into action.

    As Senate and House negotiators gathered to craft the Water Resources Development Act of 1990, Louisiana's congressional delegation quietly inserted a lobbyist's phrasing ordering the Corps to raise the levee walls.
    "It was stealth; legislative trickery," recalled New Orleans lawyer Bruce Feingerts, who lobbied for the levee board. "We had to push every button at our disposal.>>"

  25. Anonymous says:

    The Levee Board’s chief concern was more mundane. Under complicated cost-sharing arrangements between the agencies, the board would end up paying a lot more if a gate were constructed. But if the Corps built hurricane levees along the canals, the federal government would shoulder most of the costs.>>”
    So, when Corps moved firmly to clear a path for the floodgate plan, Orleans levee officials came up with an idea that could be argued as the root cause of the Katrina flooding through these canals.

  26. Anonymous says:

    John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein continued –
    "<<But with the new canal plan, the Corps was trespassing on New Orleans’s political turf, where patronage ruled and tendrils of political influence stretched everywhere. The levee board was in charge of the canal floodwalls. The Sewerage and Water Board owned the pumping stations and the canal bottom.
    These groups didn’t much like the gate idea when the Corps proposed it in the 1980s. The Sewerage and Water Board was nervous that the new gates would make it impossible to pump water out during a storm – trapping rainfall and flooding the city anyway. Corps official disagreed, noting that if there was a storm surge in the lake, the high water would block the outflow anyway. “If there is a tidal surge in the Lake Pontchartrain, I don’t care where the barrier is, you’re not going to be able to pump water out into the lake efficiently,” said General Sands, who over saw the development of the second gate plan (My guess- the first one was the Lake Pontchartrain Barrier plan defeated by Luke Fontana and Jim Tripp, both of them are attorney).

  27. Anonymous says:

    Corps Critic Michael Grunwald noted –
    "<<Local officials often resisted proposals to protect their communities from storms because they did not want to pay their share of federal projects. Local officials resisted the goal of Category 3 protection for their communities as overly extravagant. In 1982, the Orleans Levee District urged the Corps to "lower its design standards to provide more realistic hurricane protection." The levee district, stocked with political appointees, could spend freely on private investigators, riverboat gambling and a $2.4 million Mardi Gras fountain. But it said it could not afford its share of protection from a 200-year storm, suggesting that 100-year protection would be fine.
    The levee board opposed a Corps plan for smaller floodgates at the mouths of three drainage canals stretching from Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans, saying they would be too expensive to maintain.>>"

  28. Anonymous says:

    The Los Angeles Times (December 25, 2005) reported-
    "<<When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and New Orleans levee officials joined forces in July 1985 to protect the city from a long-feared hurricane, the two agencies could not agree on how to proceed. Corps engineers wanted to install gates in front of the city's three main internal canals to protect against violent storm surges from Lake Pontchartrain. The Orleans Levee District, the city's flood protection agency, preferred to build higher flood walls for miles along the canals.>>"

  29. Anonymous says:

    Please read following quotations and judge for yourself.
    The 17th Street and London Avenue canals existed long before the Corps of Engineers came in town. City had been flooded through these canals and locals knew about it.__John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein wrote -__“<<If a hurricane surge entered the lake, canals would be a direct conduit for a flood into the heart of the city. City engineers fretted over this for years. In 1871, city surveyor W. H. Bell suggested that pumping stations should be moved to the lakefront because “heavy storms would result in water backup within the canal, culminating in an overflow of the city.” The proposal was ignored.__During 1915 hurricane city was flooded though these cabals. “On Thursday morning the lake level still maintained its maximum elevation, and there were numerous points along the various navigation and drainage outfall canals and on the rear protection levees where lake water was entering the city in large amount,” Sewerage and Water Board superintended George Earl wrote.>>”

  30. Anonymous says:

    Dear Readers:
    I respect Sandy’s position and wish her all the best.
    Orleans Levee Board had been a little bit more active than what Sandy has suggested. They have been involved in making and modifying flood protection acts and levee designs. Often those (questionable) designs had been the 30% local match which, by law, Corps had to accept.

  31. Billy Nungesser may be a nice guy, but for him to say “…the Orleans Levee Board, the state agency whose main job is to protect the levees surrounding New Orleans — the same levees that failed after Katrina hit” shows he does not know the law, the federal mandate passed in 1965 on exactly the OLB was supposed to do.

  32. Too Scared,
    I simply can’t take any of Len’s response as “an apology”, thank goodness! Nor would I want to, as I see no need for him to grovel at the feet of his avid readers’ abject hatred and repugnance of any attempt to give the Corps of Engineers benefit of doubt –let alone compliment the bastads. They are the Rock of Sisyphus! Question is: who does that make us?

    What I’m driving towards and what I have the most problem with is this notion that the Corps has ever operated with sound engineering competence. From what I have learned upon a growing body of work is that they have screwed up nearly every damn thing they touch. This is not hyperbole. It is a question of timeline and design flaw. When the failures of their structures is placed in such a light, taken en mass, one must conclude that we can do better…or frigging drown every year.

    The Corps is the bastardization of Civil Engineering –not its vestibule and certainly not that Noble Trade’s holder of the Engineers Ring.

    The entire system they have developed in middle of our country has contributed directly to the loss of our coastlines. You can try to muck it up with local relevance, but that is a Red Herring on a Black Pelican. They built it broke so they own it.
    But the Corps refuses to own up to it. They are cowards and liars.
    Len is a nice guy. Everyone thinks you can just be nice and the Corps will follow orders. That is simply not true. They do not follow orders, much less silly congressional mandates.
    But they are masters at 3 Card Monte Project Funding Games.

    So this brings me to the subject of reform. The Corps Command must be called to task for its failures in leadership in the flooding of New Orleans 8/29/05. Courts Marshaled and Heave’hoed.
    The entire Command structure of the Corps must be exorcised.
    They are possessed of self service.

    Whoever ends up in the office of Assistant Sec of the Army for Civil Works overseeing the Corps will have to address this systemic, congenital corruption. Gerald Galloway is the Corps of Engineers. That spells Conflict of Interests. He has a Titan’s Stool more, but that is the most glaring good ol’boy shout’out.

    I really really really appreciate Len’s give and take, but particularly his patience wit’me. Damn near pristine forbearance (definitely da’bearance:)

    As you can see however, it is way mo’betta that Len talks to these perps than…
    yer oh’so humble
    Editilla

  33. The “culpability of local pols” is the engineering community’s favorite excuse for the spectacular failure of their system in front of the whole world on August 29, 2005.

    And there is no sound evidence or proof to back it up. This NBS News story citing waste of state money means nothing pertaining to levee failure. You might as well blame the Orleans School Board.

  34. Dear Scared,

    It is not disputed that the historic levee board was a source of patronage and wasted some state money. However, there is no evidence anywhere that this misspending contributed in any way to the poor design and construction of the levees that failed on August 29, 2005.

    The levee boards were irrelevant. Because the role of the historic levee boards by federal mandate in the Flood Control Act of 1965 was, and still is, maintenance and tax collection to pay our share.

    These statements to NBC News by politicians do not erase the findings of five different studies after Hurricane Katrina which all found that the levee failures were caused by poor construction and/or design. None were due to maintenance.

    Dan Hitchings, Director of Task Force Hope told me in February of 2006 that the historic levee boards did nothing wrong of significance as pertains to the catastrophic flooding.
    http://levees.org/wp/?m=200602

  35. Too scared to be known says:

    According to the Levee Board President Jim Huey( as stated on Sept. 15, 2005) during hurricane Katrina New Orleans Flood protection sustem worked.
    Please read the following story:

    Is the Orleans Levee Board doing its job?
    Critics allege corruption, charge the board with wasteful spending
    By Lisa Myers & the NBC Investigative Unit
    NBC News
    updated 11:52 a.m. ET, Thurs., Sept. 15, 2005

    The unveiling of the Mardi Gras Fountain was celebrated this year in typical New Orleans style. The cost of $2.4 million was paid by the Orleans Levee Board, the state agency whose main job is to protect the levees surrounding New Orleans — the same levees that failed after Katrina hit.

    “They misspent the money,” says Billy Nungesser, a former top Republican official who was briefly president of the Levee Board. “Any dollar they wasted was a dollar that could have went in the levees.”

    Nungesser says he lost his job because he targeted wasteful spending.

    “A cesspool of politics, that’s all it was,” says Nungesser. “[Its purpose was to] provide jobs for people.”

    In fact, NBC News has uncovered a pattern of what critics call questionable spending practices by the Levee Board — a board which, at one point, was accused by a state inspector general of “a long-standing and continuing disregard of the public interest.”

    Beyond the fountain, there’s the $15 million spent on two overpasses that helped gamblers get to Bally’s riverboat casino. Critics tried and failed to put some of that money into flood protection.

    There was also $45,000 for private investigators to dig up dirt on radio host and board critic Robert Namer.

    “They hired a private eye for nine months to find something to make me look wacko, to make me look crazy or bad.” says Namer. “They couldn’t find anything.”

    Namer sued and the board then spent another $45,000 to settle.

    Critics charge, for years, the board has paid more attention to marinas, gambling and business than to maintaining the levees. As an example: of 11 construction projects now on the board’s Web site, only two are related to flood control.

    “I assure you,” says Levee Board President Jim Huey, “that you will find that all of our money was appropriately expended.”

    Huey says money for the levees comes from a different account than money for business activities and that part of the board’s job is providing recreational opportunities.

    And despite the catastrophic flooding, Huey says, “As far as the overall flood protection system, it’s intact, it’s there today, it worked. In 239 miles of levees, 152 floodgates, and canals throughout this entire city, there was only two areas.”

    But those two critical areas were major canals and their collapse contributed to hundreds of deaths and widespread destruction.

    Lisa Myers is NBC’s senior investigative correspondent.

    © 2008 msnbc.com Reprints
    URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9342186/

  36. Too scared to be known says:

    Len, I guess are now realizing what Jim Schutze meant by “To this day, it is rare in public political discourse in this country for anybody to speak honestly about the culpability of local pols in New Orleans for the Katrina floods.”

    You stated facts (not your opinion) and had to apologize.

  37. My My isn’t this discussion, to quote S. Rosenthal, “quite rollicking!”

    Heydee HeidiHoe! Here in Memphis we live atop an amazing drainage system, a true modern marvel, parts of it you can drive a truck through, all as a result of the Yellow Jack. As well as tap into 3 distinct prehistoric aquifers, all designed and built by Civil Engineers apart from the Corps of Engineers.

    Y’all check this out too:
    http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/Louisiana/New_Orleans/Water_Management/home.html

    My point is that Engineering is Sound Practice. Risk is for losers. This has nothing apparently to do with the Corps of Engineers.
    It is damn near dangerous faux pas to equate Sound Engineering Practices with the Corps of Engineers Flood Control Systems In Name Only. They are rotten to the Corps but not the rank and file, not the actual engineers I have also met (who shall friggin remain nameless).

    We can and we must do better that what we have operating now. We must think and act outside of the Box this Exquisite Corps has built around us.
    Really there are plenty of other Civil Engineers.
    We have to establish a different paradigm within which they can exercise their craft apart from the vagaries and vagabondatious project engineering of the Corps.
    This country must change the way we do Civil Engineering.
    For example it just ain’t right to have the President of the La ASCE working for the Corps of Engineers. It just ain’t right.
    That kind of hoo’rah must change so we can put competent engineers in the jobs we need for flood protection and coastal restoration.
    Engineers we got. The Exquisite Corps has just scared them all away is all! HA!

    OK…now Len, I love it when you get snappy! Ivor is one of my top heroes too and I kinda fear for his tenure. You realize that his modeling contradicts your boy “Gerry” Galloway’s modeling system? Hmmm, ask Ivor.

    No I am not happy with any of those beotches, particularly the Governorcist!
    But I am so glad you mentioned Spanish Lake!
    Can you please do a post on that boo’rah as I still don’t have it all from the Advocate and want to know more. Can you sick your serious acumen onto it please?

    OK OK I’m sorry I called you a cheer leader fo’da Corps. But they have plenty of expensive PR and the ASCE showing us how Risk is simply part of Engineering… things crumble yada yada… It really sounds and looks like that out in the media. They don’t need you on their team even for a second. WE need you, Len. We need to nail the perps who flooded New Orleans and stole our coastline and we need them out of the game. That’s all I’m sayin… they broked THEY OWN IT. But they don’t want to own it. They want to build more breakable stuff –oh wait, they actually want to continue to delay building more breakable stuff.

    We can do better than this.

    Thank youz,
    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

  38. Come on, People!
    From my first meeting with anyone from the US Army Corps of Engineers around 1975 until today I have never been called an apologist or cheerleader for the corps. Hell, I’m friends with Mike Grunwald and Ivor van Heerden, for god’s sake!

    I could name numerous former NO district commanders and civilian employees who deeply resented my relentless criticism of their policy decisions and how they were made. On the day before 9/11 I was in the Washington DC office of Gen. Bob Flowers, then chief engineer for the corps, complaining about what was happening – or not happening at the New Orleans District office.

    In other words I’m not now and never have been a pimp for the corps.
    On the other hand, life in south Louisiana would be so much easier if the only impediment to sustaining our coast were the federal agency with the snappy red castle logo.

    Are you happy with parish presidents who discuss draining and/or building an interstate loop through Spanish Lake, the last vestige of an historically-significant (and restorable) coastal swamp south of Baton Rouge?

    Are you happy with what may happen this time when the legislature convenes next month (the same body who pandered to the Louisiana Family Forum by passing embarassing anti-science legislation last year)?

    Are you happy with a governor who is so distracted by presidential ambitions that he’s willing to turn aside $100 million of sorely-needed unemployment compensation funding to prove his right wing creds?

    Get real.

  39. Who will provide the “real Civil Engineering?”

    The Bureau of Reclamation has been suggested on another LACOAST blog.

    But then one can recall Teton Dam in 1976…..

    Or the Klamath Basin water issues of 2001…..

    Perhaps retired Pinto Engineers could be enlisted….. they liked playing with fire….

    State Engineers a possibility too???

    Who will be the “real Civil Engineers???”

    Would Politicians be qualified????

  40. Hey Len! Excellent post.
    Except…
    Perhaps you never saw one of those Ford Pinto cars after they blew up because of known bad engineering. I have. The person I who I knew to have been burned nearly to death in that car is not responsible for its design failure from a less than 5 mph rear end collision. They bought the car, but they are to this day not responsible for whoever positioned a wedge of steel right in the middle of that gas tank in the rear of the car. Who was responsible, Len. Who built that Ford Pinto? I know someone who lived but do you know all of the people who died in those Ford Pinto cars due to known negligent engineering?

    It matters not one whit who owns a structure that the Corps of Engineers has Mis-built, when that structure inevitably fails –as happened in New Orleans on 8/29/05. You can find out the engineer who put that deadly flaw into the Ford Pinto. I did. But try finding the name of the engineers at the Corps who knew they were building our flood control wrong in the first place.
    They did it wrong in the first place, Len. Just as they have screwed up the water management systems the entire length of the Mississippi River to cause this catastrophic flooding we have now. To quote a recent Secretary of State: “They broke so THEY OWN IT.”
    Yet you would hash it up within politics and local morays.

    It is a slick trick the Corps pulls with cost sharing and responsibility for engineering failure. Slick indeed.
    No, Len. The Engineer who builds something is forever responsible for its failure.

    The help the mayor refers to is the millions of sandbags. Yes, once the flooding happens the Corps is all over it. Funny pattern that.
    But as for real Engineering Reform amongst their own ranks to get to the bottom of their own systemic corruption, I do not see any change of status que. Not one change and I look every day and night.
    Flood season is upon us and hurricane season on its way. We don’t need this bull’pockey spin’filtration.
    We need real Civil Engineering.
    The Exquisite Corps continues to build the old way, politics and public relations.
    You always seem to present the Corps from the perspective of sound engineering on their part in the past equals sound engineering now and in the future. Why? Because, that simply is not true on a system-wide level –not merely in New Orleans and South Louisiana. Their design credo favors Water Management over true Flood Control: build to control rather than sustain. There is a difference, most poignantly seen in the absence of our La Coast Post.

    I hung your post onto today’s Ladder because I do really like this blog and your writing in particular… but, Len Mon, why you wanna be such a cheer leader for these pigs? They stole our coast!

    Thank you,
    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

  41. Don’t leave out Schutze’s Feb 20 blog post written in response to many New Orleanians who wanted back up data for the “real estate cousin buddy” comment. In it, Schutze pointed to the 14-member ERP panel to validate his point, but does not provide any quotes. He does, however quote Ed Link, senior research engineer at the University of Maryland.

    Dr. Link spoke about a Congressional mandate that requires cost share (70/30) for flood protection projects designed and built by the USACE. Dr. Link suggested that the arrangement played a role in the construction of inferior flood protection.

    There are several things to note here. First, Mr. Link is not a member of the ERP, he is Project Leader of the corps-sponsored Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force which is not yet complete and currently under final peer review by the National Research Council. Dr. Link also worked for the USACE from 1986 – 2002, This long time association with the agency responsible for the hurricane protection system indicates that Mr. Link has an apparent conflict of interest.

    Second, and more importantly, the mandated cost-share arrangement is not unique to New Orleans. It is true for all fifty states where ever there are federal flood protection projects. There is no sound reason to suggest that existence of this cost share arrangement – which is an American standard – is a significant reason the levees failed catastrophically on August 29, 2005.

    You can click here for Schutze’s Feb 20 blog post.
    http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2009/02/breach_of_faith_redux_is_the_a.php#more

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