Friday, March 17, 2006

Sins of Omission: How Many More?? Independent Review of the Corps' Proposed Final Projects is Critical

How many more omissions, clerical errors, bad design, misjudgments must be revealed before this nation understands that the Corps' projects MUST be independently reviewed? Review must occur NOT by a blue ribbon advisory panel picked by the Corps as the Corps is proposing, but by an independent group of engineers NOT chosen by the Corps.
Independent review is needed BEFORE CONSTRUCTION for the Corps' final proposed projects (what the Corps calls their "Record of Decisions").
What is the Corps' fear of a truly independent review? More revelations? Well, at least we agree on that point.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Public Relations Efforts Will Not Fix the Corps; Independent Oversight Will

A public relations effort has been launched to address the image of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, no public relations campaign can disturb the fact that the Corps is not run by engineers, and its oversight is by non-engineers (see previous posting and reference therein on this website).

Today, NO independent engineering agency reviews routinely its projects for soundness. While the Corps has recently sought review of some aspects of the hurricane protection plan, the Corps ignored the criticism. For example, just recently, the National Science Foundation, a United States agency comprised of this nation's premier independent scientists found flaws in Corps' designs for hurricane protection in this area. Yet, the Corps is moving forward with no indication of considering the NSF's opinion.

The Corps is underfunded because the decisions are made by non-engineers.

It bears repeating: We do not have an overall competent hurricane protection plan. It doesn't take an engineer to figure out why this is so.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The "Corps" of Engineers is not Run by Engineers

The person responsible for the supervision of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is not an engineer nor is he required to be an engineer. The Corps is under the supervision of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works). This administration appointed John P. Woodley as the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works). He is not an engineer. He holds two degrees (a Bachelor of Arts and a Juris Doctor) from Washington & Lee, a university with no department dedicated solely to engineering.

Further, the leader of every Corps of Engineers district is a colonel in the army, again not necessarily an engineer. His or her stay in that position is only for a year, then the person moves on to another assignment. When Katrina hit, the current N.O. District colonel had only been in New Orleans for about 3 months. His name is Col. Richard P. Wagenaar. He is not an engineer either. He holds a bachelor's degree in environmental science and forestry from Syracuse University. His one year tenure is just about up, and then New Orleans will get a new inexperienced leader. This career path for colonels leads to a discontinuity of leadership for projects that can take 25 years from design to construction.

As is the case with most Construction/Engineering organizations the highly paid people are in the office sitting behind computers. As you get closer to the field construction site the salary scale plummets. The corps inspector onsite is the lowest paid person in the entire organization.

The "Corps" is not run by engineers and oversight is by non-engineers. The "Corps" is underfunded because the decisions to fund are made by non-engineers.

We do not have an overall competent hurricane protection plan. It doesn't take an engineer to figure why this is so.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Why New Orleans Needs Saving: The City's Natural Vulnerability is also its Greatest Strength

The following is an article written by Newt Gingrich and John M. Barry. The article appears in the current issue of TIME magazine and can be found at this link.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert wondered aloud whether the Federal Government should help rebuild a city much of which lies below sea level. The most tough-minded answer to that question demonstrates that rebuilding and protecting New Orleans is in the national interest. Reason: The very same geological forces that created that port are what make it vulnerable to Category 5 hurricanes and also what make it indispensable.

One such force is the Mississippi River. Once, the Gulf of Mexico extended north to Cape Girardeau, Mo., but the river gradually deposited enough sediment into a receding sea to create tens of thousands of square miles of land stretching south to the present mouth of the river. Long after New Orleans was first settled, the entire region remained above sea level and safe from hurricanes. Engineers prevented river floods by building levees and kept shipping channels open by constructing jetties two miles out into the ocean so that the river dropped its sediment into deep water. Before the jetties were built, 100 ships at a time often waited days for deep-enough water to pass over sandbars blocking the Mississippi's mouth. The levees and jetties stopped sediment from feeding the deltas; the land sank, and coastal Louisiana shrank. Similarly, other great ports on deltaic rivers, like Rotterdam, are also below sea level; the airport serving Amsterdam is 20 ft. below sea level, lower than any part of New Orleans.

If engineering the Mississippi made New Orleans vulnerable, it also created enormous value. New Orleans is the busiest port in the U.S.; 20% of all U.S. exports, and 60% of our grain exports, pass through it. Offshore Louisiana oil and gas wells supply 20% of domestic oil production. But to service that industry, canals and pipelines were dug through the land, greatly accelerating the washing away of coastal Louisiana. The state's land loss now totals 1,900 sq. mi. That land once protected the entire region from hurricanes by acting as a sponge to soak up storm surges. If nothing is done, in the foreseeable future an additional 700 sq. mi. will disappear, putting at risk port facilities and all the energy-producing infrastructure in the Gulf.

There is no debate about the reality of that land loss and its impact. On that the energy industry and environmentalists agree. There is also no doubt about the solution. Chip Groat, a former director of the U.S. Geological Survey, says, "This land loss can be managed, and New Orleans can be protected, even with projected sea-level rise." Category 5 hurricane protection for the region, including coastal restoration, storm-surge barriers and improved levees, would cost about $40 billion--over 30 years. Compare that with the cost to the economy of less international competitiveness (the result of increased freight charges stemming from loss of the efficiencies of the port of New Orleans), higher energy prices and more vulnerable energy supplies. Compare that with the cost of rebuilding the energy and port infrastructure elsewhere. Compare that with the fact that in the past two years, we have spent more to rebuild Iraq's wetlands than Louisiana's. National interest requires this restoration. Our energy needs alone require it. Yet the White House proposes spending only $100 million for coastal restoration.

Washington also has a moral burden. It was the Federal Government's responsibility to build levees that worked, and its failure to do so ultimately led to New Orleans' being flooded. The White House recognized that responsibility when it proposed an additional $4.2 billion for housing in New Orleans, but the first priority remains flood control. Without it, individuals will hesitate to rebuild, and lenders will decline to invest.

How should flood control be paid for? States get 50% of the tax revenues paid to the Federal Government from oil and gas produced on federally owned land. States justify that by arguing that the energy production puts strains on their infrastructure and environment. Louisiana gets no share of the tax revenue from the oil and gas production on the outer continental shelf. Yet that production puts an infinitely greater burden on it than energy production from other federal territory puts on any other state. If we treat Louisiana the same as other states and give it the same share of tax revenue that other states receive, it will need no other help from the government to protect itself. Every day's delay makes it harder to rebuild the city. It is time to act. It is well past time.
Newt Gingrich is a former Speaker of the House; John M. Barry is the author of Rising Tide and The Great Influenza,pubID.23951/pub_detail.asp

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The "Corps" Truth: It Is Not What You Think.

The "Corps" truth is an interesting interplay among US Army Corps of Engineers, the White House and Congress.
I had the opportunity to meet with Daniel Hitchings, who is the Regional Business Director for the Mississippi River Valley Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and also the civilian Director of Task Force Hope, the program overseeing recovery post-Katrina. He explained the tension surrounding the procurement of funding an overall competent hurricane protection plan. The upshot is that what the Corps builds is not necessarily what the Corps recommends, particularly when it comes to hurricane protection.
Perhaps, the problem is not that the Corps is incapable of doing the work properly. Rather, it is more likely that the Corps chronically lacks the necessary funding for a long-term plans like a competent overall hurricane protection plan. One need only to review funding levels over the years for coastal restoration, which all experts agree is a critical piece to an adequate hurricane protection plan.
Each year, the Corps' engineers recommend projects; many are not approved, especially those including coastal restoration. However, those recommendations are not made public. Rather, the engineers' recommendations go to an appointee hand-picked by the President du jour. That appointee is the Assistant Secretary for the Army (Public Works). This position is responsible for overseeing the workings of the Corps and more importantly, recommending the level of funding for any Corps project.
The appointee with that responsibility for this administration is John Paul Woodley, Jr. He is responsible for the funding recommendation that goes to the President. So, the lack of funding, or the promotion of funding for an overall hurricane protection plan falls initially on Woodley's shoulders.
As administrations ebb and flow, and different parties are in power, the Corps remains as the underfunded agency who takes the hits when there is a failure in protection. Yet, their stated mission is to "provide flood protection, navigation, environmental protection and enhancement, emergency operations, work for others, and homeland security for the Mississippi Valley region." They view themselves as the "the world's premier public engineering organization responding to our nation's needs in peace and war."
Even with those lofty goals, the Corps is woefully underfunded now with great untoward consequence.
We cannot get the Corps' best efforts unless and until they are funded appropriately. Unfortunately, the Corps is being used as the fall guy for the federal government's chronic failure to fund an overall competent hurricane protection plan.
Then, if that is not bad enough, built into the equation is the fact that the Corps is immune from suit.
Neat setup, huh?

WAKE UP WASHINGTON!! No Coast = No Protection

An overall competent hurricane protection plan includes coastal restoration - - EVERY credible expert has opined this for years. Without our coast, we are toast regardless of levees and pumps. Yet, only another $100m was recommended recently by the White House for a grand total of about $400m when the total amount needed is $ 15-25B. We are not appeased, nor protected, with levees and pumps without the critical third piece of coastal restoration. Take the bull by the horns, and get it planned and done. Balance the relevant concerns (oil and environment) for this needed project. Jump in there and be a leader. It needs to start now.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Feds Ignored Expert Reports Regarding Inadequate Hurricane Protection

This article in the February 2006 issue of Scientific American by Mark Frischetti presents a succinct history of what the federal government knew before Katrina, what the Corps failed to do to prepare, and what the Corps could have done to prepare.

Interesting reading.

Engineers under Federal Oversight and Control Designed Defective Levees

New Orleans flooded because of defectively built and designed levees. THE ENTITY ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEFECTIVE DESIGN IS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. See this article regarding "clerical errors" on charts with the Army Corps of Engineers' mark.

Hurricane Protection Plan First, Recovery Plan Second.

Friday, February 03, 2006


Mr. Powell -

You tell us that President Bush made a commitment that the federal government would be a full partner in the recovery and rebuilding of the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. You say that the federal government has already set aside $85 billion for the recovery effort, and more is on the way. You ask that we show our "recovery plan" to you first before more money is spent on our recovery.

I ask you: How can a true "recovery plan" be devised when there is no federal hurricane protection plan to date? Only $3.1B of the $80B allocated thus far has been earmarked for hurricane protection though experts say that it will cost between $ 25 and 35 B. It is not enough. You know it, and we do too.
We are having a hard time because much of the nation thinks that the city and state squandered federal funds for the levees, when it was the federal government which spent its own money on the levees which failed. You and I know that the federal government is in charge of building and designing our hurricane protection plan through statutes passed many many years ago.
ADEQUATE HURRICANE PROTECTION IS THE THRESHOLD ISSUE, not how the rest of the $ 80B that we are sharing with Mississippi is spent. Sure, we need a plan for how the "recovery" money is spent, but we need an adequate hurricane protection plan first and foremost. Even if it cannot be fully implemented for a number of years, we can start a "recovery plan" with that federal commitment in place. There is no indication from the White House or Congress that even with us providing our "recovery plans," the federal government will step up to the plate and fund adequate hurricane protection.
How can we come up with "recovery plans" if there are no adequate federal plans to prevent future flooding.
This seems backwards to me. Doesn't it to you? That is the outrage.
For a similar opinion check here.