The floodway repairs are typical of challenges throughout the flood-damaged system, including the need for speedy construction and the sensitivities raised when improving in some areas but not in others. “When you have a system that has been degraded and damaged, you can't start at the top and work down,” Whitney says. “If I repair on the left bank and have a weak point on the right bank, there will be a problem.”
The USACE presented its list of 10 funded projects to representatives of Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana on Oct. 20 at a New Orleans meeting of the Interagency Recovery Task Force. The group was formed by the Corps to devise solutions to repair the flood damage.
“Identifying the critical needs helps us to focus where our attention needs to be and will help us to secure necessary funds,” explains Jerome Zeringue, deputy executive director of Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Zeringue is happy that two Louisiana projects, estimated at $10.6 million total, made the list, but Corps estimates indicate the system in Louisiana has another $531.4 million in damages.
The list also is useful for state emergency management planning, says Mike Womack, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Authority. “We were fortunate that two of our highest- priority projects are funded, but the third was just slightly less of a risk than the other two,” Womack says. He says the state will work with locals to apprise them of the risk and make sure they have a response plan and materials staged.
Many projects didn't make the list because they don't pose an immediate risk to life safety. But they still may have tremendous adverse effects on levee districts, navigation and maintenance costs. For example, a 2,700-linear-ft stretch of top bank was eroded from the Merriwether-Cherokee levee in Tiptonville, Tenn. “The river tried to go straight across the peninsula and carve off nine miles,” Whitney says. “If we have another flood and we lose this top bank, we will lose nine miles of river channel that has $54 million of river training structures already in place. That would also destabilize areas up and down the river and have a domino effect.”
U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Tom Wendt, chief of the Coast Guard's Waterways Management Branch, District 8, says knowing the areas of damage and USACE's plan of action means the Coast Guard “is better positioned to address likely scenarios” that may result in a disruption to marine transportation. He says Coast Guard captains of the ports in the western rivers have been working with stakeholders since the end of the high-water season to capture lessons learned and update action plans.
No Pot of Gold
There doesn't seem to be much prospect of Congress opening up an endless pot of money for MR&T repairs. In 2008, during flood recovery in the upper Mississippi River system, Congress had authorized $250 million before the end of that summer, Whitney says. Now, however, “they were pretty silent during this flood.”
Armed with only the current operating budget, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy authorized funds to be pulled from other Corps projects to address the MR&T's most urgent needs. USACE gleaned $282 million from its three-year, 2011-13 budget from other projects nationwide. That amount will cover the $75.8 million needed for the top-10 ranked projects, but it doesn't come near the Corps' estimates to restore the whole system.
Further, the October estimate of $704.1 million for the list of 93 is dynamic, Whitney adds. “Those are relative order-of-magnitude costs that we put together quickly based on the information we had in August. As we get closer to construction, costs will be refined. Repair alternatives have not been nailed down.”