Sunday, April 15, 2007

Obstacles - Levees and Floodgates ...

From MarketWatch:

Critical to easing concerns among insurers -- not to mention all returning New Orleanians -- is levee construction. The Army Corps of Engineers has become a villain of sorts to many residents, with signs dotting the New Orleans landscape that say "Blame the Corps." One T-shirt exhorts engineers to "Make Levees, Not War."

To beat a statute of limitations issue over Katrina litigation, the city recently filed a $77 billion claim against the Corps alleging faulty levee construction. Whether that will evolve into a full-fledged lawsuit remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Corps is working to beef up the 350 miles of levees that surround New Orleans and adjacent parishes.

Since the Corps plugged holes where levee walls toppled and flooded the city, it has been raising levee heights at various points throughout the city either via earthen dams or concrete barriers. Roughly 220 miles of levees have gotten Corps attention.

Floodgates have been installed at the mouths of two of the canals that broke -- at London Avenue and 17th Street -- in an effort to keep hurricane-fueled storm surges from filling them up. A floodgate also was installed at the Orleans Avenue canal, which did not burst.

What is unclear is whether the floodgates will keep those two canals from breaking open in the future. The Corps dodged a potential bullet last year when a mild hurricane season didn't force it to employ a temporary fix for closing the floodgates -- cranes that easily could have toppled in high winds. The floodgates now have been outfitted with motor-operated winches to close them.

Further, the Corps is scrambling to outfit enough pumps at the gates that will shoot out rainwater that is pumped from city streets into the canals. And if that isn't enough, the levee walls themselves weren't buried deep enough in some cases or built on shaky ground.

"There are foundation issues with each of them," said John Meader, deputy director of the Corps' Task Force Hope, which oversees levee rebuilding. But it remains in question whether the Corps can completely reconstruct the walls; it hopes the floodgates will do the trick.

The Corps has spent roughly $1 billion of the $5.7 billion appropriated for levee reconstruction. Work is expected to continue through 2011, Meader said.

More to come ...


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