|(Photo courtesy of FEMA)|
More than six months after Hurricane Katrina devastated communities all along the Florida to Louisiana Gulf Coast and overwhelmed the hurricane protection system and levees of New Orleans, many residents of that city are still wary of rebuilding their homes, business and lives. They want to know what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing to restore and improve the hurricane protection system. Many also want to know why they should again put their faith in the Corps to protect them from future storms.
Speaking for the Corps, I can say we will do absolutely everything we can, within our authorities and funding levels, to design, restore, and build an effective, reliable and resilient system. We will keep the public informed on our progress. We will maintain the public confidence through the quality of our work and all of it will be independently reviewed by the world’s leading experts.
At the same time, we acknowledge that hurricanes pack many variables. Katrina could have been a lot less, or a lot more, devastating if it had hit on different tracks or at different speeds. There is no high-end to a Category 5 storm and there are no infallible defenses.
Our immediate goal is to restore and improve the 169 miles of damaged levees to pre-Katrina levels by June 1. And we will continue working to improve the entire system so that by September 2007 we will have expedited and completed work on all of the presently authorized hurricane protection projects in the New Orleans area.
During the ongoing levee repairs, we have significantly increased the number of quality assurance checks on the materials being used. We inspect borrow material when it arrives and as it is placed to ensure it meets and exceeds standards. We are also installing temporary gate closures and temporary pumps at the mouth of each of
the three interior drainage canals. The closures will ensure future Lake Pontchartrain storm surge cannot enter the canals and put them at risk again. We are also planning for installation of permanent gate structures and pumps
to protect the canals. Katrina’s surge did not overtop the canal floodwalls, and the static loads were below the design level when they breached. We want to know why.
Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, USACE commander, commissioned the Interagency Performance Evaluation Team to thoroughly investigate what happened. IPET, comprised of 150 engineers, scientists and other experts, recently released its second of four reports on how the hurricane protection system performed during Katrina. The final IPET report is due June 1. My guidance to the investigators is: “Lay out all the facts candidly and openly, and help us determine what went right, and what went wrong.” Lessons learned are immediately applied to system improvements as we build it back.
Furthermore, the administration and Congress have provided $20 million for the Corps to conduct a feasibility study on providing higher levels of protection to Southeast Louisiana, and an additional $8 million for a similar study for coastal Mississippi.
The Corps works with partners and project sponsors—such as levee boards—to ensure projects achieve their purpose. Our partners are often responsible for substantial sums of money in cost-sharing, and in return, they get a say in how that money is spent. In sum, the Corps is accountable to the American public for the design and construction of every civil works project we perform for the nation, including the New Orleans-area hurricane protection system. We take this obligation seriously.