Unless you somehow thought that the levee system around New Orleans would be “fine” come June, or people should be back in NOLA by now because everything’s just dandy over there (ergo they must be lazy sluffs), this ominous WaPo article won’t come as a surprise:
[…] experts say the Corps, racing to rebuild 169 miles of levees destroyed or damaged by Katrina, is taking shortcuts to compress what is usually a years-long construction process into a few weeks. They say that weak, substandard materials are being used in some levee walls, citing lab tests as evidence. And they say the Corps is deferring repairs to flood walls that survived Katrina but suffered structural damage that could cause them to topple in a future storm
There is nothing new about this information, folks. Of course they’re deferring repairs. It was never possible to repair the vastly damaged levee systems by the next hurricane season. Even in December, experts were warning that there simply wasn’t enough time to do this correctly before June – and the next hurricane season – arrived. And sure enough…
Corps officials acknowledge that many surviving levees may have been weakened by the storm, but testing of the entire 350-mile system is not expected for a least another year. Whether the untested levees are safe in the meantime is a subject of intense debate.
Deano Bonano, Jefferson Parish’s chief of emergency operations, said he saw no imminent danger in the sagging flood walls along Duncan Canal, noting that “the Corps is telling us the walls are safe.” But Chip Cahill, president of the West Jefferson Levee District, worries that the Corps is delaying repairs and upgrades that are needed before the next hurricane strikes. “The Corps has set aside $170 million for our district, but right now nothing is getting done,” Cahill said.
Unfortunately, there are only so many repairs that can be made at one time.
What Polimom really doesn’t like reading is that the ACoE is spending desperately-needed federal money on substandard materials, because not only are the damaged areas still fragile, the “fixes” will be, also – deceptively so.
East of the city, concerns are mounting about levees that are being rebuilt from scratch. Normally it takes years to build a proper earthen levee, engineers say, because the layers of soil need time to compress and settle before new layers are applied on top of them. The Corps has shortened the process to a few weeks.
Because native soils are notoriously soft, the agency is forced to bring in clay by barge. But independent observers contend that some of the materials used in levee construction are still inadequate.
It’s not even slightly reassuring to know that the Corps denies they’re cutting corners, particularly when one considers who designed the flawed mess in the first place. If that part of the Gulf Coast gets hit with another hurricane – even if it’s years down the road – sections sloppily rebuilt will simply collapse. Again. And we’ll have to pay to repair it. Again. And people who trusted the levees will be justifiably angry. Or dead. Again.
The city is likely to be less safe in June 2006 than it was on August 27 2005, yet residents are optimistically, and perhaps fatally, trusting the levees. People in the New Orleans area need to fully understand what they’re going back to. Yes, of course people want to come home to begin repairing their city and lives again. Host cities are stretched thin and New Orleanians are anxious and homesick — but there’s enormous risk here.
Polimom suspects people who live behind the flawed levees will be on pins and needles, poised to pack and flee every time a tropical storm ramps up in the Gulf of Mexico this summer – and while that’s probably wise, how can they possible live like that? Can you say stress?
It’s gonna be a very long summer.