Hurricane Isaac: Army Corps of Engineers Reports Its New Orleans New Defenses Are Working Fine; Elsewhere — Absent Infrastructure — It's Devastation
August 30, 2012 • 10:02AM

At a press conference this morning, 24 hours after landfall of Hurricane Issac on the U.S. Gulf Coast at outer New Orleans, Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Rachel Rodi reported on the city's flood defenses, "The system is performing as intended, as we expected. We don't see any issues with the hurricane at this point." She was referring to the system of water control structures — levees, pumps, gates and others, rebuilt or installed since the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, to protect New Orleans.

In particular, in use for the first time ever, are the gigantic surge gates of the Lake Borgne Surge Barrier. On Aug. 28 in the morning, the floodgates were put into place at the upper end of Lake Borgne (east of Lake Pontchartrain), closing the Surge Barrier. Locally, the barrier is referred to, as The Great Wall. This forms the first line of defense to protect against tidal surge from the Gulf of Mexico moving inward. It protects the parishes hit so badly in 2005 — the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Barnard Parish.

New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu personally went to the shutting of the gates on the Lake Borgne Surge Barrier earlier this week, and told the radio today, "The Federal levee system...is fine. There are no risks. It is holding exactly as we expected it, and is performing exactly as it should."

Isaac, which hit as a Category 1 hurricane, has been downgraded today to a tropical storm, but its slow course of motion has dumped a huge volume of water in the region, with high-velocity wind gusts. After 36 hours since landfall, there were 700,000 people without electricity in the tri-state emergency region of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Some Gulf locations may get up to 26 inches. Thousands of National Guard troops are deployed in all three states. Northcom is using Jacksonville Naval Air Station and Maxwell AFB, Alabama as incident support bases, for staging of relief supplies and other logistical support.

The one levee which overtopped near New Orleans, was in Plaquemines Parish, low-lying ground to the southeast. The 18-mile levee is owned and maintained by the Parish, not part of the Federal system. Evacuation orders were implemented; the flooding is significant.

The Obama Administration has done everything possible to undercut what the Army Corps of Engineers can do. Look at what happened with the Surge Barrier. To recap its origins: As of 2006, the flood defense systems were mapped out, and in 2008, the the Corps awarded a $1 bil design-build contract to Shaw Environmentmental & Infrastructure, Inc.—the largest such civil works contract in Corps history. Under its supervision, the barrier and gates were finished in an unbelievable time of two years and two weeks. The final funding came under the Stimulus Act. But the Administration does not want to fund the operation and maintenance!

Under Obama, the Federal government refuses to take the Borgne Lake Surge Barrier and other installations as a Federal responsibility to fund their O&M, either directly through the Corps budget, or indirectly, by paying through an entity already in existence, the South East Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) which was created by the Louisiana state legislature after the 2005 Katrina disaster. The SLFPA-E is contracting out to GEC, Inc. to work out a plan to operate the Borgne Lake and other gates complexes (Seabrook, Bayou Bienvenue, Bayou St. John, and others), but the authority needs funds. As a state and region, Louisiana doesn't have the resources, but Obama and Washington say, too bad.

The IHNC (Inner Harbor Navigation Canal) Lake Borgne Surge Barrier is designed so that, for a 500-year storm surge, the IHNC Basin would rise to an elevation of less than 10 ft. The Corps reports that the project has, "enough steel to construct 8 Eiffel Towers, enough concret to fill one football field, 94 feet deep...[and] involves 160 miles of piles."