NEW ORLEANS (AP) A Baton Rouge construction and engineering firm has been awarded a massive $695 million contract to build a set of floodgates to block hurricane surges from flooding New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers said April 4.
The contract was awarded to a branch of The Shaw Group Inc., a politically connected company that has become one of the main recipients of government contracts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Shaw has been employed to handle everything from pumping flood waters out of New Orleans to building shelter for hurricane victims.
The contract is one of the biggest ever awarded by the corps for a public works project and would put New Orleans on the path of looking more like the Netherlands, which is protected by giant-sized flood defenses.
“We are proud to support our home state,” said J.M. Bernhard Jr., the Shaw president and CEO said.
Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure Inc. will build a barrier to stop storm surge from entering the Industrial Canal, a source of major flooding after Katrina and a spot that has been called the “Achilles’ heel” of the city’s levee system.
Engineers are worried that the flood walls on the Industrial Canal would not be able to withstand a major hurricane and break, causing widespread flooding.
The new structure, slated to be done by 2011, would protect many historic neighborhoods in New Orleans and parts of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward, some of the worst-hit neighborhoods that remain in tatters two-and-a-half years after Katrina.
Building a barrier on the Industrial Canal has become a top priority for the corps as it races to upgrade New Orleans’ levee system so it can protect the city against a storm with the likelihood of hitting once a century, known in engineering jargon as “100-year protection.”
“This project is the largest element in the overall 100-year level of protection for the greater New Orleans area,” said Jeffrey Bedey, the corps commander of the Hurricane Protection Office.
Karen Durham-Aguilera, the director of the corps’ Task Force Hope, called the contract a “historic milestone” that will “reduce risk and provide increased safety” for New Orleans.
The federal government is paying to build the structure and the state will take over its maintenance and operation once it is completed.
A separate structure will be built by June 2009 as an interim storm surge barrier.
In all, the corps is spending about $14.6 billion to repair and improve the region’s flood defenses.