[StBernard] St. Bernard levee fix stressed

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Fri May 18 20:35:41 EDT 2007

St. Bernard levee fix stressed
Posted by The Times-Picayune May 17, 2007 7:07PM
Categories: Breaking News, Rebuilding/Recovery, St. Bernard
By Sheila Grissett
East Jefferson bureau

Regional levee officials increased pressure on the federal government
Thursday to reinforce a badly degraded hurricane barrier in southern St.
Bernard Parish before it must face another nasty storm surge from the Gulf
of Mexico.

"This section of levee has been identified as the second-highest area of
risk on the east bank system," said President Tom Jackson of the Southeast
Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. "We can't play games with this
because we're playing with peoples' lives."

Executive Director Bob Turner of the Lake Borgne Levee District told
authority commissioners that the Army Corps of Engineers had planned in 2003
to raise the 8-1/4-mile levee section between Verrett and Caernarvon, but
budget cuts eliminated money for the work at a time when the federal
government was shifting resources into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The
money was ultimately included in an emergency spending package that Congress
approved after Katrina struck in 2005, but it is now tangled up in red tape.

In some spots, the Verrett-Caernarvon levee is three to four feet below its
pre-Katrina design height.

The authority fired off a strongly-worded resolution asking that Congress
and the corps do whatever it takes to raise that vulnerable length of
Gulf-facing levee as soon as possible. Commissioners also are also making
personal appeals to members of the region's congressional delegation and top
state lawmakers, as well as arranging a face-to-face session with corps

"You can't take your eye off the ball for a second, or you lose your funding
or something else takes priority," said resolution sponsor Tim Doody of St.

Through a miscommunication with the corps, Doody said he learned only
Wednesday that money for the levee project isn't immediately available. A
corps official confirmed that the agency has completed plans and
specifications for the levee job and is ready to advertise for a contractor,
but it can't go out for bids because it can't yet access the money.

Under current congressional guidelines, the corps is prohibited from moving
money between its budget accounts, even if it means that critical projects
must wait while the corps awards contracts for projects that might not be
ready for a year or more. For example, the corps could award a contract now
to build permanent pumping stations at three New Orleans outfall canals even
though the designs aren't finished.

"We actually have all the money we need this year to do what we need to do,"
said Col. Jeffery Bedey, chief of the corps' Hurricane Protection Office.
"We just don't have it in the right places."

The corps and the White House have been asking for months that Congress give
the agency the flexibility to shift money to build critical projects as they
become ready for construction.

"It's the place of this board to push for flexibility within (our)
jurisdiction because we don't want money sitting in the General Accounting
Office. .¤.¤. That is needed for vital projects," Jackson said. "We have to
go to the root of this project. We have to go wherever we have to go to fix

After approving the Verrett-Caernarvon initiative, authority commissioners
quickly drafted and enthusiastically approved a second resolution asking
that the corps provide them with regular, detailed reports of all hurricane
protection system projects under their jurisdiction east of the Mississippi
River. Saying they are weary of miscommunication and aggravated by the
availability of only partial information, authority members want the corps
to paint clear pictures of each project and make regular updates.

For starters, the accountings should come at least once a quarter, though
commissioners said they would request more frequent updates if warranted.
They should also contain "womb to tomb" details, from project conception
through final construction, said commissioner Stradford Goins, author of the

"We need to get the corps to begin managing these projects more like a
business and hold people accountable," Goins said.

The resolution also requests progress reports on all corps planning,
including those that concern deauthorization of the Mississippi River-Gulf
Outlet and methods of providing protection against strong hurricanes
historically called Category 5 storms.

Sheila Grissett can be reached at sgrissett at timespicayune.com or (504)

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