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Corps’ ’Permanent Solution’ for New Orleans Has $1B Price Tag

Wed August 29, 2007 - Southeast Edition

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The Army Corps of Engineers is considering putting resources into a massive flood prevention project instead of temporary measures to lower the risk to the French Quarter and other historic neighborhoods, the agency said Aug. 8.

That may leave the city’s vulnerable historic neighborhoods at risk of flooding for several years under the plan to build massive flood walls and gates east of the city to block storm surge. The project would cost as much as $1 billion and not be completed until 2011.

The eastern side of New Orleans, which includes the French Quarter, is now the city’s most vulnerable spot after two years of repairs since Hurricane Katrina.

The Corps had been expected to install stopgap measures, such as a temporary barge gate and steel plates on flood walls, until the new flood gates were built.

On Aug. 8, the Corps’ Col. Jeffrey Bedey told a City Council committee that those measures are proving to be difficult to carry out, technically and logistically, and would siphon off valuable architects and engineers.

“I wish the Corps of Engineers could snap it its fingers and say, ’Here it is,’” said Bedey, the commander overseeing levee reconstruction.

He stressed, though, that all the temporary measures are still “on the table.” The stopgap work would cost as much as $100 million.

An array of problems, from disrupting railroad lines to dealing with tidal flows, complicate the quick fixes, Bedey said. And, he said, there is no guarantee the temporary measures could be built quickly, leading the Corps to consider putting all its resources into building the massive flood gates — the “permanent solution.”

Bedey’s arguments didn’t sit well with City Council members.

“We have a vulnerability until then [2011] that is totally unacceptable,” said Stacey Head, a councilwoman overseeing the public works committee.

Independent engineers are concerned that the flood walls along the Industrial Canal, a waterway just 2 mi. from Bourbon Street, could collapse if another Katrina-like storm hits New Orleans. Engineers contend that repairs to the rest of the hurricane system have actually made the western side of the Industrial Canal, the side next to the heart of the city, the weak link because it is lower and weaker than reconstructed parts.

The agency is reviewing bids from approximately 12 international engineering firms interested in building the permanent gate-and-levee structure. It would be built across marsh land and stop storm surge from the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a waterway blamed for much of the flooding during Katrina.

If built, the Corps said, the structure would be one of the largest civil works project the agency has ever undertaken.

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