NEW ORLEANS (AP) The Army Corps of Engineers said it will cost approximately $1.3 billion, or nearly twice as much as first thought, to build major barriers against hurricanes on the eastern flank of New Orleans.
Corps officials told the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development on Feb. 24 that the cost is going up because it has decided to make the structure safer for barge traffic to go through.
Previously, the corps said it would cost about $695 million to build a 2-mi. (3.2 km) long structure made of floodgates and robust floodwalls. The corps has made the storm surge barrier a top priority and said it represents one of the largest projects ever in corps history.
The higher cost estimate is a source of irritation for Louisiana officials, fearful that the corps’ construction of flood defenses in the greater New Orleans area will be delayed by cost overruns and other hurdles.
“Unfortunately, this is par for the course,’’ said Sen. David Vitter, R-La. “The corps’ initial cost estimates for all of this work have always been low and my office’s higher estimates have always been proved out.’’
Wade Habshey, a corps spokesman, said that the project’s higher costs are results of added safety features, increased material costs, tighter schedules and in-depth environmental studies.
After Hurricane Katrina, the corps asked Congress for $14 billion to build a better flood defense system. The corps insists that it will meet a 2011 deadline to upgrade it.
Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, the corps’ chief engineer, told the subcommittee that the rise in cost would pay to build longer walls towboats can use to guide barges through the 150-ft. (45.7 m)-wide floodgate on the Intracoastal Waterway, a major thoroughfare for barge traffic.
The towing industry and the Coast Guard have complained that the floodgate is not wide enough. The maritime industry asked the corps to make the gates 250 ft. (76.2 m) wide.
Raymond Butler, the executive director of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association, said that the corps did listen to the maritime industry’s concerns.
He said barges might not make it through the floodgate without banging into it, especially during rough seas kicked up by hurricanes as towboats push barges into New Orleans to get them out of danger.
“Why would we want to put that kind of risk in a major navigation artery?’’ Butler said.
Habshey said that the corps has worked with the navigation industry and that modeling simulations have shown that the corps’ design is safe for navigation.