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Corps reviews flood defenses, responds to criticism

Published: Jun. 22, 2012 at 11:32 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 6, 2012 at 7:32 PM CDT
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Barataria, La. -- The Army Corps of Engineers answered troubling questions Friday about the quality of New Orleans' new flood defenses.

It involves a dispute over funding for the East Bank versus the West Bank.  It involves $280 million left over from the East Bank flood protection projects.

The Corps wants to shift that money to the West Bank.  But the East Bank Flood Authority is objecting.

Coincidentally, the Corps' commanding general and Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, was making his first visit to New Orleans since taking over 30 days ago.  He checked out the "Great Wall" -- the two-mile long surge barrier in the east.

The Flood Authority fired off a letter to the Corps, raising questions about possible weaknesses in the new floodwalls and levees.  They include signs of corrosion on giant pilings driven into the earth to support the floodwalls.  The Flood Authority worries that shifting money to the West Bank would make it difficult to address those issues later.

But the Corps' district commander, Col. Ed Fleming, defends the quality of the construction.

"When you build the foundation for a large structure like that, there are lots of different techniques to use when you protect the portion of the structure that you don't see," said Col. Fleming.  "You can coat it, or you can give a broader cross-section.  What that means is, instead of giving a piece of steel that may meet a small criteria, you double the size or you triple the size.  So really, what in fact you're doing is coating steel with steel."

Lt. Gen. Bostick signed off Friday on a $400 million barrier island project.  It allows the Corps to do the design work.  The project still needs funding, though.  This repair would involve two projects, at the Caminada Headland near Grand Isle and, further east Shell Island Bay.

Just about three miles away, NOAA and the state are building back Pelican Island, pumping sand and dirt from 10 miles offshore.  They are creating about two miles of new beach – a critical hurricane protection.

Over the last decade, NOAA and the state have stitched together about 20 miles of barrier island.