The US Army Corps of Engineers has established a Hurricane Protection Center in New Orleans in an effort to meet its 2010 deadline for completing an unprecedented $5.6 billion in civil works projects in Louisiana. The 135-person office, headed by Colonel Jeff Bedey (formerly of the Omaha district) will handle project execution and support, including acquisition management support. “Normally, district offices handle all the project execution, but this situation is different because the program is so huge and must be done over a certain amount of time,” says Jim Ward, deputy director of Task Force Hope. “The Corps generally handles about $2 billion in civil works projects annually. Now we have $5.7 billion of design and construction to carry out between now and 2010.”

Ward was invited to the monthly meeting of the Society of American Military Engineers Louisiana Chapter specifically to explain to local engineers and contractors how the Corps plans to manage the local civil works projects that have been fast-tracked since Hurricane Katrina. Ward detailed how the Corps’ mission evolved over the past year and expanded from emergency repairs to include numerous other activities (and a budget) that is simply too large for the New Orleans District office to manage.

“Normally we do about 60-65% engineering and design in-house, and the remainder is done by contractors,” Ward says. “We don’t have that option here. We will be relying more heavily on contractors for construction management and quality control, which is unusual for us in civil works.” However, the large contract and short time frame have necessitated some organizational changes, Ward says. “We’ve got to sort of move that management up a level higher, with the Corps’ role being to ensure technical consistency and management.”

Employees from the New Orleans District office and Task Force Hope have been transitioning into positions in the new HPO, and some program management support contracts are already in place, Ward says. Corps partners include Evans-Graves Engineers, Inc. of Baton Rouge; PBS&J, Orlando, Fla.; and HDR, Omaha, Neb. “We actually started looking at re-organizing back in February when we started realizing the mission would be a lot bigger than we thought,” Ward says.

The bulk of HPO’s staff will be local, government employees, Ward says. “For this work, it is very important to have local and institutional knowledge, both about work the Corps has done here and communications with the different parties involved in that work,” he says. “Not only are things unique to local areas from a technology standpoint, but civil works is also about all these other people involved, (levee boards, governing districts, utilities) and a history with these entities is important.”

By comparison, the present civilian manpower workforce in Iraq under the Gulf Regional Division is 300, and TFH included up to 3,500 people.

TFH was formed last fall to handle the tremendous recovery and repair operations required after Hurricane Katrina damaged roughly 169 miles of the 350-mile levee protection system and flooded New Orleans. Since that time, TFH has been charged with numerous missions – including the unwatering of the city, emergency repairs and services, patching roofs, removing debris and restoring the levees to acceptable elevations.

In November 2005, TFH was charged with civil repairs totaling $800 million. By December 2005, the scope had changed to include $2 billion in repairs to be completed by 2007. “After the president came to visit several times and promised to make things okay here, the Corps decided to provide Congress with their wish list of projects,” Ward says. The list includes: selective armoring of levees; permanent pumps and closures at New Orleans’ three outfall canals; storm proofing on pump stations; navigable closures on key waterways; coastal wetland restoration and the incorporation of non-federal levees in Plaquemines Parish. “By February, 2006, TFH’s mission had grown to $3.5 billion,” Ward says. “Then there were a couple of other surprises waiting.”

Investigation revealed that deflection of the I-wall levee construction was the culprit largely responsible for the breaches in outfall canals, not overtopping and scouring or piling depths. “Then every I-wall everywhere was suspect,” Ward says. Then studies revealed that not only could the levees not withstand a 200-year event, but they probably can’t withstand a 100-year event. “The Corps worked with FEMA and the administration to come up with a solution, which resulted in the 4th emergency supplemental funding package,” Ward says. “By June 2006, the Corps was tasked with $5.7 billion in civil works.”

The Corps’ current mission is to: repair, restore, complete, improve, certify, and evaluate for higher levels of protection. “Meanwhile, we are also still handling the initial response stuff, including debris removal,” Ward says. “Probably nothing is a better indication of a disaster than the amount of debris removed.”

To date, the Corps has removed 34 million cubic yards of debris in Louisiana and 21 million in Mississippi. Previously, the worst disaster in history was Hurricane Andrew, and that only reaped 17 million cubic yards of debris.