On the way from my home near City Park, just off of Esplanade Avenue, I passed the monumental debris heap that rises at least three stories high and fills the huge median on West End Boulevard. Every time I see it, I try to find the appropriately astounding adjective for this unprecedented pile of waste and am stymied. Where once Lakeview neighborhood residents could be seen tossing a Frisbee, walking their dogs or rollerblading, cycling or jogging along decoratively-paved paths, the green space lining the way to Lake Pontchartrain has been replaced by the remains of their lives � the material part anyway.
Approaching the bridge that traverses the 17th Street Canal poses a bit of a challenge. Although the flood waters are long gone, broken trees, garbage, furniture, flooded out cars and even boats still hinder the driving lanes of Old Hammond Highway. Safety markers block entrance to the bridge and a signal bearer directs traffic around a tree-trimming truck.
Two blocks away I have my first gander at B&G Crane�s 500-ton capacity hydraulic track crane tower, which reaches toward the sky like a huge black arm, strong enough to plug any holes. Excited to be in the realm of construction (rather than so much surrounding decay), my spirit is immediately bolstered by all of the activity on the bridge. Crews are working round-the-clock to complete more permanent emergency repairs to the 17th Street Canal, the location of the breach that allowed the damaging floodwaters to flow into so many lives. The workers from Boh Bros., Bertucci and B&G Crane symbolize New Orleans�s resiliency as much as the heap on West End signifies the city�s partial demise.
|The bridge makes a handy staging area for the operation.(Illustration by Angelle Bergeron for ENR)|
I arrived as counterweights were being placed on the crane that is being used to place equipment on flexi-float barges. �We are going to put that track hoe on that barge there,� said Arleigh Hays with B&G. �Then we will take this machine apart,� he said, pointing to a Boh crane positioned almost dead center on the bridge over the canal. �We�re going to take that boom out, remove the counterweights and put it on that other barge out there.� This isn�t an unusual job for B& G, just unusual circumstances. �We just come out here, put them together, do the rigging work on it, take it back apart and move on to somewhere else,� Hays said.
Bertucci, like Boh Bros., was one of the first responders at the scene of the breach. �When we first came here, we put barges together on that side,� Gaspard said, pointing in the direction I had come from. �We floated it through that neighborhood, through the breach and back into this canal,� he said.
Bertucci�s crew camped out the first couple of weeks in trailers at the company yard. For the first 22 days, Gaspard didn�t even get a break to see his family. �I have a good friend who just lives four blocks this way,� he said, pointing west toward Jefferson Parish on the opposite side from the fatal breach. �He was lucky that he didn�t get water because it could have just as easily broken on the other side.�
Bertucci, a Jefferson, La., company that specializes in coastal restoration work, is responsible for assembling the flexi-float barges. �This is what we do, but on a smaller version,� said Joseph Gaspard, a heavy equipment operator for Bertucci. �We helped with this closure and the one at London Avenue.�
The camaraderie among the workers was almost tangible. Although the immediate crisis has passed, and the environment is more business as usual, it�s obvious these men have forged some unbreakable bonds.
Fred Fuchs, project manager for Boh�s piledriving department, cuts up with a couple of guys from the crew and exchanges friendly greetings with members of the Corps of Engineers.
�This is a more substantial emergency repair to the 17th Street Canal breach,� Fuchs said. �We�re installing 65-ft-long ARBED AZ 26 sheet pile, 100 ft on either side.�
On a picture-perfect day, crews worked to get the material barge ready to start �throwing rock,� placing limestone in the breach and setting up the equipment to drive the sheet piling for a coffer dam around the area of the breach.
�This is to put a more permanent temporary fix on this breach,� Fuchs said. The coffer dam protecting the area will be 700 ft long and between 40 and 50 ft deep inside the channel.
The clock started Nov. 1 on the 52-day, $6.2-million contract. Boh will have crews working 24 hours a day, seven days a week until completion. �The track hoe will be throwing rock to line the channel,� Fuchs explained. �Because we are narrowing it up, the velocity will speed up and we need to armor the bottom with rip rap. We�re going to fill the dam with rock and line the channel with rock.�