Tuesday, May 30, 2006

New Orleans Levee Repairs Failing

In this story from today’s New Orleans Times Picayune the work being done by the Army Corps, the folks who will be doing levee work here also, is not doing too well and time is running out before hurricane season arrives.

Here is an excerpt.

Levee slumps; repairs to take weeks
Weak soil discovered in rebuilt Buras section
Tuesday, May 30, 2006 By Mark Schleifstein Staff writer

With hurricane season only three days away, the Army Corps of Engineers on Monday announced that a 400-foot section of earthen hurricane protection levee being rebuilt near Buras High School in Plaquemines Parish slumped by more than 6 feet overnight Saturday, and repairs could take three to six weeks.

Corps spokesman Jim Taylor said the levee section, just west of the main Mississippi River levee and about 60 miles south of downtown New Orleans, seemed to twist in place, losing 61/2 feet of height at its top. The earth at its toe rose by 3 feet, he said.

The levee had been raised to 15 feet by Saturday, and was scheduled to be raised to 17 1/2 feet by Thursday, the beginning of hurricane season.

"An unexpected event such as this during construction is disappointing, but we will continue to work as quickly as possible to restore the hurricane protection system repairs while making sure the restoration is done correctly," said Col. Lewis Setliff III, commander of Task Force Guardian, which is rebuilding local levees.

Parish President Benny Rousselle said the incident highlights the importance of residents complying with all evacuation orders this year.

"These repaired levees are virgin levees, and they need time to settle and get the grass growing on them again before they're tested with any major storm," Rousselle said.

Since Hurricane Katrina, the corps has spent more than $700 million to restore 169 miles of devastated hurricane levees, floodwalls and gates in the New Orleans area. But Taylor said the speed in restoring hurricane protection has resulted in the levees often being raised to pre-Katrina standards before samples of soils beneath them are analyzed and returned to the corps.

When the results show problems, he said, corps engineers and contractors have moved quickly to repair problem areas.

Corps engineers already were concerned with the Buras section, after test results received last week showed the underlying soil was weaker than other tests indicated before construction began, Taylor said. Corps engineers were looking at ways to compensate for the softer soils when the slumping occurred, he said.

Engineers also are studying similar test results showing softer-than-expected soil conditions beneath levee repairs under way at the Empire Lock, about five miles upriver, Taylor said. He said those were the only two locations with substandard soils among 200 sets of test borings reviewed last week.