The Army's Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, says that rebuilding New Orleans levees to their pre-Hurricane Katrina strength would cost about $1.6 billion. The Corps of Engineers is certain it can reconstruct the levees to withstand a Level 3 hurricane by next June 1, in advance of the 2006 hurricane season, Strock says.

Strock: Corps can rebuild to Level 3 storm protection by next June. (Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Appearing before the House energy and water appropriations subcommittee on Sept. 28, Strock also said that a preliminary Corps estimate shows that upgrading the levee protection to guard against a Level 5 storm would cost an additional $3 billion to $3.5 billion, beyond the $1.6 billion needed to get levees back to a Level 3 strength.

Strock said that "under normal conditions" completing a feasibility study for a Level 5 protection would take 24 to 30 months. "And then, depending on the [recommended] solution, we're talking several years -- five years perhaps -- to get a full system in place" he added.

The Bush administration has not asked Congress yet for the $1.6 billion to reconstruct the New Orleans levees to Level 3 strength. A supplemental post-hurricane funding request is expected in late October. If it includes the levee rebuilding proposal, "I think probably I have to support that, because we need to get the city structurally back....We're not going to build this back overnight" energy and water panel Chairman David Hobson (R-Ohio) told reporters.

Hobson added, "you probably have to get back to Category 3 and then we need to look at what's smart. Even with a Category can't go back to the way it was. You're going to have to make some accommodations for Mother Nature that we didn't do before. And we can't allow a catastrophic event like this to happen."

Hobson says he probably will support funding, but rebuilt levees must not be same as before storm. (Photo: Office of Rep. David Hobson)

Hobson also says that "we need to figure out what failed in this situation that caused so much loss of life and damage."

Strock said an investigation of the levee breaches is planned, but added that the flood-protection system was designed for a Category 3 storm and was Category 4 when it crossed the Louisiana coast. "These systems were not designed for a storm of this intensity."

Strock also told the subcommittee that the post-Katrina relief assignments that the Corps' has received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will cost approximately $3 billion. The Corps and other agencies handle various assignments from FEMA and are paid from its disaster relief funds.

Of that $3 billion, Strock said, about $2.5 billion is for removing debris and roughly $300 million to provide water and ice to hurricane victims.

The Corps also has received $400 million in direct emergency appropriations for initial repairs to damaged levees and to clear navigation channels.