Saturday, March 25, 2006

Failure Was The Only Option

The Washington Post reports an independent panel of civil engineers' finding that the failure of the levees and floodwalls in New Orleans was not only foreseeable, but that the Corps knew the failure would come, and did nothing.

The story headlined Army Corps if Faulted on New Orleans Levees reports taht the independent study contradicts the Corps' internal investigation claiming the failures were unforseeable.

The civil engineers group also rejected the explanation given by the Corps that
the system had failed because Katrina had unleashed "unforeseeable" physical
forces that weakened the flood walls. In a letter to Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock,
the Corps' commander, the civil engineers cited three previous Corps studies
that predicted precisely the chain of events that caused the city's 17th Street
Canal flood wall to fail
Those who have suggested my last post was too harsh will find it hard to convince me me to that we must go hat in hand, and ask massa nicely for some help. The failure of the Corps' flood protection was as predictable as the storm that would come and bring it about.

The Corps tries to hide behind soveriegn immunity and their own studies, but it is clear that those charged to protect us failed us, with clear foreknowledge of their implications of their actions. Their only excuse are bits of paper that hold them harmless, paper as flimsy as I-walls they built atop the 17th Street Canal.

The victims of the flood are owed full compensation, should demand it and do everything in their power to ensure it is paid. But compensation for losses alone is not enough. The extent of damage we received is directly tied to the channelization and leveeing of the river, and coastal oil-and-gas exploration. If these activities are to continue, then the nation must bear the cost, and that means funding the necessary coastal restoration and storm protection activities for those of us who have borne the brunt of the cost of these activities.

One important note in this story is being addressed: the danger that will persist from the drainage canals. What is most urgent now is at least being done: the gating of those canals where they enter the lake. This particular improvement was long fought by the the city's Sewerage and Water Board and Jefferson Parish officials. It is now clear that this work must be complete by June 1, even with the threat of rain flooding on low lying areas of the city.

This is critical because, as the engineering study warns, "every single foot of the I-walls is suspect," said Ivor van Heerden, leader of a Louisiana-appointed team of engineers. "When asked, we have constantly urged anyone returning to New Orleans to exercise caution, because the system now in place could fail in a Category 2 storm. It has already failed during a fast-moving Category 3 storm that missed New Orleans by 30 miles."

The gates must be ready by June 1.

The current cry is for Category Five levees. It's a laudable long-term goal, but there are things we need right much sooner. Beyond the gating of the canals, what is needed most in the short term (before, say, the June 1 2007 season) is the relocation of the pumping stations to the mouths of the canals.

When the original pumping stations were build, each was pretty much at the back of town already, and the consequences of flooding over the canals was not significant to the city. Now that the city has filled in the land between the 17th Street and Orleans and London Avenue Canals, the pumping stations must be moved so that we can have capable lakefront levees, and the ability to pump out rain water even during storm conditions.

We can argue about how best to protect the city. Clearly we need a massive program of coastal restorations, and the best levees and flood walls and pumping stations modern engineering is capable of. It will be an expensive and challenging undertaking. The United States remains a wealthy and powerful nation. It is within our capability.

The title of this post was taken from the film Apollo 13, the failed mission to the moon in which engineer struggled valiantly to bring home the three astronauts. The mission director in the movie (but not in reality) tells his team that "failure is not an option". The threat is not just to the lives of three men who clear-eyed and willingly went in harms way, but the prestige of the United States of America

If this nation fails to bring New Orleans to recovery, and to embark on the program of coastal restoration and storm protection needed, it will be the greatest failure in the national history, perhaps the failure that marks the end of the American era. If the nation is no longer capable of this (not just economically or technically, but because we have become so soft and selfish that the nation will not), then the days of American greatness will be behind us.

I keep trying to convince myself in these pages that we have not slipped past that point, that the people I helped to load relief trucks every night for a week in Fargo, N.D.--just as was done all across the country--will demand of their representatives that the right thing be done, and the cost be damned. It was the response to 9-11, and should be the same response here.

If it is not, then we will know that America has fallen so deeply into self-absorption and greed that only a credible threat, one that directly bears on each and every Ameircan, will move the nation to act. Fear and greed drove the response to 9-11, no matter what the flag-waving uber patriots will try to tell you.

As I suggested in my last post, we should give the Ladies of the Storm and one last chance to place our case before the government and the nation, before we begin to explore means to compel them, to do what is in our power to demonstrate what the loss of the port and the oil and gas will mean to them, to use fear and greed just as our highest leaders do to place and keep themselves in power.

If our government will not do what is right and just, if our leaders will not prove themselves as the gentleman and ladies they pretend to be when addressing each other on the floor of the House and Senate, if the people they represent will not demand they do what is right and just, then we must look to every means at our disposal to compel them to do so.

N.B.--Republished this after correcting some typos, etc. that resulted posting this from a fuzzy laptop in the wee hours of the morning while exhausted and angry.

I'm catching up on my reading and you have said a very important mouthful in this, as well as your two previous, posts. It's hard for me to grasp how so many simply don't understand these very basic points. I know I don't need to tell you this, but keep writing. What you're saying is essential. Thank you.
wow--very important points--we need to shout them around--so many totally miss this--i remind people repeatedly that new orleans was not just mardi gras and bourbon street
Brilliant, as usual.
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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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