Story first appeared on APNews.com.
In the busy and under-staffed offices of New Orleans' flood-control leaders, there's an uneasy feeling about what lies ahead.
the time the next hurricane season starts in June of 2013, the city
will take control of much of a revamped protection system of gates,
walls and armored levees that the Army Corps of Engineers has spent
about $12 billion building. The corps has about $1 billion worth of work
Engineers consider it a Rolls Royce of flood protection -
comparable to systems in seaside European cities such as St. Petersburg,
Venice, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Whether the infrastructure can hold is
less in question than whether New Orleans can be trusted with the keys.
Army Corps estimates it will take $38 million a year to pay for upkeep,
maintenance and operational costs after it's turned over to local
Local flood-control chief Robert Turner said he has
questions about where that money will come from. At current funding
levels, the region will run out of money to properly operate the
high-powered system within a decade unless a new revenue source is
There's a price to pay for resiliency, the levee engineer
said from his office at the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection
On Nov. 6, New Orleans voters were faced
with one of their first challenges on flood protection when they voted
on renewal of a critical levee tax. The tax levy was approved, meaning
millions of dollars should be available annually for levee maintenance.
Bea, a civil engineer at the University of California, said the region
must find additional money to keep the system working properly.
Many locals remain uneasy,
even though Turner's agency is a welcome replacement for local levee
boards that were previously derided.
After Katrina, the locally run levee boards
that oversaw the area's defenses were vilified, and quickly replaced by
the regional levee district run by Turner.
investigations found the old Orleans Levee Board more interested in
managing a casino license and two marinas than looking after levees.
Though the Army Corps of Engineers had responsibility for annual levee
inspections, the local levee boards were responsible for maintenance.
Still, the boards spent millions of dollars on a fountain and overpasses
rather than on levee protection. And there was confusion over who was
responsible for managing the fragmented levee system, U.S. Senate
Still, experts generally agree the old
levee board's failings did not cause the levees to collapse during
Katrina. Poor levee designs by the corps and the sheer strength of
Katrina get the lion's share of the blame.
Since the Flood Control
Act of 1936, the Army Corps has given local or state authorities
oversight of water-control projects, whether earthen levees in the
Midwest or beach walls in New England.
New Orleans is an unusual case because the area is inheriting the nation's first-of-its-kind urban flood control system.
nation has spent lavishly on fixing the system in the seven years since
Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and left 1,800 people dead.
it remains that way could be tricky. The biggest headaches are several
mega-projects with lots of moving parts, all needing constant upkeep.
The corps is building them across major waterways that lead into New
Take for instance the 1.8-mile-long, 26-foot-high surge
barrier southeast of the French Quarter that blocks water coming up from
the Gulf of Mexico across lakes and into the city's canals. Water from
this direction doomed the Lower 9th Ward and threatened to flood the
French Quarter. Maintaining this giant wall alone will cost $4 million
or more a year.
There is a mounting list of to-dos.
lightning has knocked out chunks of wall. Grass hasn't grown well on
several new stretches of levee. Louisiana State University grass experts
have been called in to help seed them.
There are recurring
problems with vibrations and shuddering on a new floodgate at Bayou
Dupre in St. Bernard Parish. The corps has plans to overhaul the
structure in the spring before handing it over to local control. And
there will be the inevitable sinking of levees and structures, as always
happens in south Louisiana's naturally soft soils. Over time, levees
will have to be raised.
Col. Ed Fleming, the New Orleans corps commander, said his outfit will work to ensure the transition to local control is smooth.