...by a combination of local interests, governments and industry. As the years have gone by, its use doesn’t justify the cost and environmental problems it has caused.

ENR: The Corps has been accused of spouting off rhetoric about coastal restoration, while dumping finances into typical engineering/construction projects like gates, enhanced levees, etc. Has anything really changed in your project approach, or is this business as usual?

Starkel: What is not business as usual is the fact that we have involved our parties and stakeholders in external review before we go forward. We have external review on processes and results, even project management and cost estimates. That up-front collaboration with stakeholders on how we exact solutions is new, and we are doing it for all the right reasons. 

ENR: The Time article asserts that, before Katrina, the Corps abused its funding in Louisiana on pork and, therefore, can’t be trusted not to make the same mistakes with what is now the largest civil works project in the country. How does your current budget compare to what the New Orleans District had access to in years past? How can we know you aren’t throwing this away on a bunch of pork?

Starkel: The New Orleans District budget is about $400 million on an annual basis. That’s why the hurricane protection system wasn’t complete. For example, our capability to deliver hurricane-protection projects on the west bank was not scheduled to be done until 2018.

Durham-Aguilera: Katrina was a wakeup call to the entire nation. This country as a nation has not invested in our infrastructure. Hopefully, the nation will look at how we take care of our infrastructure as a whole.

ENR: What has the Corps of Engineers learned about its water-resources management practices here, and what do other coastal communities stand to gain by your sticking it out and making it work here?

Brief Bio: Durham-Aguilera

Karen Durham-Aguilera is the director of Task Force Hope in Louisiana, part of the Corps’ Mississippi Valley Division. A professional engineer, she is responsible for overseeing the Corps’ hurricane protection system work in New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana and the long-term planning of coastal restoration and hurricane damage reduction.


Durham-Aguilera: Tom Waters, chief of planning for the Corps, called the decision chronology the tyranny of incremental decisions. The biggest and most dramatic change we’ve made is to look at things as a system. Louisiana set an example for what we’re now doing nationwide, like performing a national levee-assessment tour to see if levees elsewhere are performing the way they were designed.

The next step is being able to identify the probability of risk and risk benefits. Thanks to Dr. Ed Link, the IPET [Interagency Performance Evaluation Taskforce] study and the ASCE, New Orleans now has something available to no other city. The risk of other places hasn’t been mentioned in these other articles. I think we here in New Orleans are fortunate that we know far more about risk than others.

ENR: The TIME article states: “Corps leaders often say their projects simply reflect the will of the nation; when the U.S. wanted them to ransack the landscape with dams and dredges, they saluted and obeyed.” Is the Corps an army of yes-men? Can we trust your integrity and engineering expertise? How DOES the Corps overcome its tainted history of bureaucratic inefficiency and poor engineering?

Durham-Aguilera: The Corps of Engineers does reflect the will of society—we the people. One thing the article failed to convey is that the decision behind any water-resource project is made by a host of people, authorized by Congress and signed by the President. We are engineers, builders, but we are not the decision makers. As an example, I don’t think anybody would drain the Everglades today, but at the time, projects like that were initiated across the country, envisioned by communities and signed on by the President.

In regards to integrity, some people will never trust us. However, no amount of bad press or negative criticism will change our dedication to using our engineering expertise to do the right thing for the country. No one puts more pressure on the Corps of Engineers to deliver this mission than we do.

Bedey: To those who have those thoughts, I would challenge you to embed yourself into this team here in New Orleans or maybe go to Iraq to become embedded with Marines, soldiers, or airmen, and spend some time to learn the meaning of selfless service. Then come back and share your thoughts on yes-men, integrity and selfless service. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of the U. S. Army and the USACE for that service.