Turning 50 years of talk, stalled projects and storm wreckage into a $15-billion design and construction program that has rapidly built monumental storm-surge defenses around Greater New Orleans can only be achieved with smart, steady, determined and gutsy leadership.

Bedey, center, brought stakeholders together in endless meetings and conferences.
Photo: Angelle Bergeron / ENR
Bedey, center, brought stakeholders together in endless meetings and conferences.

Former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Col. Jeffrey A. Bedey, now retired, is credited with supplying a lot of that leadership by helping frame the effort around innovative processes. He successfully launched the program’s biggest job—a $1.3-billion, storm-surge barrier to guard the city’s eastern side, the last, massive wall-pile of which was driven on Oct. 21, 2009.

His signature project, a 1.4-mile-long, 26-ft-tall wall with navigation gates that, for the first time, will close a huge hole in the city’s eastern defenses, is racing to completion. It is the largest design-build civil-works project in Corps history.

New construction methods Bedey put to work accelerated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers program to restore and improve New Orleans storm-surge defenses.

As the first commander of the Corps’ Hurricane Protection Office, Bedey went to New Orleans in 2006 to work with the New Orleans District plus planners and managers in Task Force Hope, which was leading the Mississippi Valley Division’s effort to restore the damaged system to pre-Hurricane Katrina levels and then, by 2011, to build out a 50-year-old wish list to turn it into a system capable of blocking surge from strong storms with a 1% probability of occurring in any year.

In nine months, Bedey’s office oversaw the delivery of $2 billion in restoration. Then, with another $13.5 billion in hand, it turned to improvements. Bedey led the application of innovations that include using design-build for civil works, which the Corps had rarely done before, as well as using early contractor involvement.

Building major civil works is only possible with federal, state and local partners. In the wake of Katrina, distrust and anger colored every discussion. Bedey is credited on all sides with listening, adapting, earning trust and having the patience and fortitude to forge the agreements, coalitions and partnerships necessary to turn big ideas into enormous realities.

“Without Jeff’s leadership, it never would have happened,” says Tim Doody, president of South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, whose constituents will be shielded by the barrier.