Friday, May 05, 2006

Will we have to dynamite the levees next time?

So far, the leaders of the New Orleanians have dodged making the hard choices about redevelopment, about where and how to focus their resources, have avoided favoring one section over the other. The Corps of Engineers may force that decision on us all before the next hurricane season ends.

A report in Friday's Picayune points out that restoring the east side wall of the Industrial Canal to its originally specified height of fifteen feet threatens the core city with flooding, as the west side wall will remain at a height of only 12.5, due to subsidence. This means, simply, that in a Category Three storm, the largely uninhabited east will be spared and the core of the city will flood.

Any surge coming up the canal under this configuration will simply go over the west side much faster than before," said Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center and a member of the state team investigating the levee failures.
This is going to anger a lot of people, but it's been in the back of my mind for a long time, and simmering on the front burner ever singe the announcement that the Corps wasn't moving to restore levee protection to east Plaquemines: it is time to focus on protecting the core city for this hurricane season, then building out east as seems best.

This suggestion will bring out a lot of historical angst in St. Bernard, where there is resentment dating back to the decision to dynamite the river levees in the parish to protect the city in the flood of 1927, and in the Ninth Ward, where many believe the same was done to protect the city during Hurricane Betsy. Rumors that the flood walls were intentionally sabotaged during Katrina to save the west abound, and made their way to a Congressional hearing.

At this point, the core city is the area most advanced in recovery, and holds virtually all of the population east of Jefferson Parish. It is the area that will be the easiest to protect in the near term, and is central to the recovery of the entire region. To have a floodwall several feet higher protecting the rubble of the east simply makes no sense. If the Corps can't raise the wall on the west to 15 feet in a matter of weeks and months, the city will again confront the question of 1927: do we intentionally flood the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard to save the city?

Update 5/10/06: If you dont' normally read comments, read Tim's here. As he points out, the increased elevation is only along the failed section. The rest of the east side floodwall of the Industrial Canal will remain at pre-K (subsided) elevations. It makes sense to build the repair to the original spec, but only if the remaining walls are going to be elevated.

I thought the TERRORISTS BOMBED THE LEVEES this time. Next time, we make sure that everyone knows that it was the TERRORISTS that BOMBED THE LEVEES.

Jeez, is this administration dumb as a sack of hammers or what.
Since I imagine that the work is almost complete (assuming that it really will be done by June 1), I don't know what we can do other than pray. If ordering a work stoppage until the work is done on the west side would be poltically explosive locally, imagine how it would play nationally.

I'd like to think that if I lived in the lower ninth I'd understand that my home was already damaged, but who's to say? Are we sure that we won't see a similar scenario play out with the 17th street canal floodwall? The racial element would be removed from the politics, but you'd still have strong feelings. Depending upon how far into north and east Metairie any new flooding from a damaged west wall would extend, you'd be dealing with an undamged area with relatively low property values--at least in the residential part. And you'd have two different parish governments to deal with.
It's pretty simple what to do. Leave flood gates open, and build redoubt of sandbags as 12' of less.

I think anyone nationally who actually read a decent news story on the subject would understand. Anyone who relies exclusively on Fox or cable new in general, well they're too dumb to help.

The issue is not the same for the 17th St. Canal, and I don't believe their getting an entirely new T-wall at full elevation anyway. And the way it stands, the wall that will fail next time will be on the west side and flood Metarie, without some emergency action by the Corps. And we know the liklihood of that is about zero.
That was my point about the 17th street canal. If residents of an unflooded part of N.O. can say hold off on protecting that already damaged area if it endangers us, can't residents of that part of Metairie then say the same thing?
Jefferson Parish can't lay claim to a right to flood all of Orleans Parish again. And there's on indication I've seen that the flood wall all along the 17th St. Canal is being raised several feet on the Orleans Avenue side or converted to a T-wall. And, with the gates at the canal, it's a non issue anyway.
I meant to add (in that previous coment) that I hadn't really studied the engineering or followed the particulars of the story. Seemed logical that if the Jefferson side was on the verge of collapsing when the Orleans side collapsed, then completing the repairs on one side first would endanger the other side. But I haven't paid attention to the details.
Yes, the repairs to the Orleans side would endanger the Jefferson side, and they might make the same argument. Still, the floodgates should make that a non-issue, and both sides are more concerned about rain flooding with insufficient pumping capacity during a tropical storm with the gates closed.
This story is just the TP playing on people's fear, trying to stir up a scandal. If we get another storm surge like Katrina, the city will flood again--period.

Guys, why is the Corps is repairing the wall on the east side of the Industrial Canal? Because that's where the breach was. And why are they putting it to the correct height? Because it would be stupid to build it lower, only to come back later to put it right.

And here's the kicker: How much new wall is being built to the higher elevation? From the Claiborne Ave. bridge to the Florida Ave. bridge--that's it. Is this wall going to totally surround the Lower Ninth Ward? Nope, the existing wall from Claiborne to the river remains at the same height--only the scour damage is being fixed. And from Florida Ave. to the MRGO remains the same. Will rising water find its way AROUND the tall segment of wall and flood the Lower Ninth Ward again by going over lower parts of wall and levee? YOU BET YOUR SWEET BIPPY.

Final bit of advice: Ivor van Heerdon doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. Whenever the TP quotes him, you would do better to just turn the page. He's not even an engineer!
Thought I was retired from this. Guess I am just "Semi" retired. All the points made here are right on target but here's my concern.

If the west side of the 17th St. Canal levee goes, and if we lose most of East Jeff; other than River Ridge (perhaps), the West Bank, the North Shore and Armand Estates, what do we have left?

Obviously, New Orleans is the economic engine for the burbs (and for the state, and hell; for a great deal of the United States but if we lose the remainder of the majority of the South shore, what happens?

And please don't get the idea that I am advocating anything absurd because I am not. Even Ivor and most 5th graders realize that the first levee to breach on the 17th st. Canal was the saving grace for the other side.

At any cost, we cannot afford to lose East Jefferson. (And no, I do not live in E.J.) I believe a great deal of the future of re-birthing New Orleans depends upon not their government, but from their population.

But for the Corps to say we will be ready by June 1; even if that would be so, exactly what will be ready? You know the old saying about the "Weakest link".

I don't give a rat's ass what anyone says, but the burbs lost the nipple from which they nurse and from which upon their upper middle class lifestyle depends.

I really have no answer or solution to this but if another Katrina comes, I will again be sitting in a hotel room in TN but this time, if the path is identical, I have to pray both levees, hold. And if that cannot be a reality, then I have to secretly hope for which one to breach. I mean Christ; people just shouldn't have to live like this.

Maybe it's time to contact a real estate agent in NM so I can still attend a cock fight. Besides, if we lose E.J., will I really have a choice?
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