Hearings - Testimony
 
Field Hearing
Oversee the Ongoing Rebuilding and Restoration Efforts of Hurricane and Flood Protection by the Army Corps of Engineers
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
 
Honorable John Paul Woodley, Jr.
Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, I am John Paul Woodley, Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works). I am honored to testify before your Committee today on the preparation for next hurricane season in Louisiana. I am joined today by Mr. Dan Hitchings, Director of the Corps of Engineers’ Task Force Hope.

 

My testimony today will update the Committee on rebuilding and restoration of hurricane and flood protection system by the Army Corps of Engineers. I will provide an update on measures to strengthen the system that the Administration and Congress are working to authorize and fund; on measures required to certify and further enhance the system to the standard for a 100-year storm; and on analyses being conducted for a greater levels of protection for southern Louisiana. Mr. Hitchings will provide a summary of the damage to the hurricane protection system and describe authorized and funded efforts now underway to re-establish an intact hurricane protection system before the start of this summer’s hurricane season.

The damage to the hurricane protection system by Hurricane Katrina was calamitous. Sixty percent (169 of 350 miles) of the earthen levees and concrete floodwall systems and 87 percent (66 of 76) of the existing pump stations were damaged. The Corps is on schedule to repair the damaged levees and floodwalls to their pre-storm condition by June 1, the beginning of the hurricane season.

Measures to Strengthen the System

I believe it is important for the Committee and the public to fully understand the efforts we are making to gain the information needed to inform prudent decisions for hurricane protection for New Orleans and the Louisiana coastal areas. Following landfall of Hurricane Katrina on 29 August 2005, Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, directed the Secretary of the Army, Dr. Francis J. Harvey, to convene an independent panel of national experts under the direction of the National Academies to evaluate the performance of hurricane protection systems in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. I directed the National Academies to assemble a multidisciplinary (e.g., engineering, atmospheric sciences, etc.) panel drawn from the public and private sectors and academia. The purpose of the panel is to assist the office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Works (ASA (CW)) in conducting a forensic investigation of the performance of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) projects during Hurricane Katrina.

The Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers formally established the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) on October 10, 2005, to provide credible and objective scientific and engineering facts to answer questions about the performance of the New Orleans hurricane and flood protection system during Hurricane Katrina. The IPET is examining and providing forensic analysis on the performance of the entire storm damage reduction system in New Orleans, helping us to understand the failures that occurred, to understand other components of the system that may have been degraded in their capacity to protect against future storms, and to understand where the system performed successfully. The IPET is developing information on risk and reliability of the system as it will be after the Corps completes the repairs. The Corps is immediately acting to incorporate findings into both its interim repair and its long term work.

The American Society of Civil Engineers is providing external peer review of IPET activities – referred to as the External Review Report (ERP). Both the Corps IPET and the ASCE ERP teams are comprised of some of the nation’s most highly regarded engineers and scientists from government (federal, state, and local agencies), academia and private industry. These experts are using some of the most advanced scientific and engineering methods and tools in their comprehensive study.

The National Academies Committee on New Orleans Regional Hurricane Projects is performing an independent review of the IPET and ASCE reports and will issue separate findings and recommendations to me. The findings of the National Academies panel will be subject to peer review process before being released under the imprimatur of the National Academies of Science.

The IPET product will include four reports. IPET Report 1, publicly released on 10 Jan 2006, provided the strategy for implementing their performance evaluation and provided interim status. IPET Report 2, released in March, provided a progress report on implementation with interim results. IPET Report 3, scheduled for June 1, 2006, will be a final draft report on the performance evaluation of the hurricane protection system. Following a review by both the ASCE ERP and the National Academies, a final report will be released in the fall of 2006.

The IPET Reports are reviewed by the ASCE External Review Panel and the National Academies Committee. All comments pertaining to IPET will be addressed in future IPET reports. National Academies review comments on IPET reports are provided directly to the Department of the Army. ASCE review comments on IPET reports are provided to LTG Carl Strock, Chief of Engineers.

The National Academies review of the IPET work will produce several reports. A preliminary letter report was issued February 21, 2006, to ASA (CW) providing an assessment of IPET Report 1. An interim report will be issued near the midpoint of their study (tentatively 1 June 2006) with the comprehensive report evaluating the final draft IPET and ERP reports scheduled to be released tentatively in Sept 2006. The National Academies review of the final IPET report will be prepared about 90 days after the final IPET report is released.

At the same time, on a parallel path with the IPET and National Academies studies, Congress authorized and appropriated funds for a 2-year, $20 million Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Project (LACPR) analysis and design to identify options for increasing the level of hurricane storm protection for New Orleans and coastal Louisiana. Planning and organization for this study is now underway. It will incorporate all information developed by other studies. As directed, the Corps is preparing an interim report is due in June 2006, with a final report of recommendations and alternatives due December 30, 2007. We trust that the State will fully comply with the statutory conditions that will enable this study to proceed to completion.

The LACPR study has been referred to as the “Category 5” study, but I caution the committee and the public about the use of such terminology and measures when making decisions about the kinds and size of structures to build for storm protection. Storm category classifications, which are based on sustained wind velocities, are general categorizations best used to inform the general public about the expected level of destructiveness associated with a storm so that individuals and officials can make decisions about how to protect themselves and their property, such as whether or not to evacuate. Storm protection levees and similar structures are now designed to specific storm surge and wave criteria based on the modeled effects of a statistically-selected “design storm.” While sustained wind velocity is one measure that has an effect on surge and wave heights, many other factors are critically important, as well. These include storm characteristics such as forward speed, radius, barometric pressure, tidal factors, the bottom depth in front of levees, and more. A storm of Category 5 wind velocity characteristics could well be less destructive to a storm protection system than would a storm with Category 3 wind velocity if those other factors were unfavorable. The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Project will incorporate all these factors to study the means to provide a higher level of protection.

Immediately after the hurricane, the Administration committed to helping New Orleans rebuild, and to the reconstruction of its hurricane protection system. In supplemental appropriations to date, Congress and the President have provided $2.08 Billion to repair and restore the levee system to its design height.

In February, I wrote the Congress with a proposal for a fourth supplemental funding to construct measures that would strengthen and improve the hurricane protection for greater New Orleans. Such measures include additional structural protections that would address the main causes of he catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina, as well as measures to begin to restore the coastal wetlands that help to protect New Orleans from hurricane-generated storm surge. While the repairs and rebuilding activities that are now underway will make the flood control and hurricane protection system better than it was immediately prior to Hurricane Katrina, the additional measures that I proposed in February will result in a system significantly better and stronger than it ever has been before. The proposal includes:

· Construct state-of-the-art pump stations and floodgates at the outfall ends of three drainage canals (17th Street, Orleans Avenue, and London Avenue) to reduce exposure of the interior of the city to surge from Lake Pontchartrain. Closing the lakefront of the outfall canals will prevent a storm surge from entering the canals when the gates are closed while still allowing interior drainage waters to be pumped into Lake Pontchartrain.
· Strengthen protection along the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) through two navigable closure structures at to-be-determined locations on the Industrial Canal at Seabrook near Lake Pontchartrain and west of the intersection of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). Placing navigable gated structures on the Industrial Canal at Seabrook and west of the intersection of the GIWW and MRGO will allow ship traffic to move freely when open, but would protect the IHNC from major storm events when closed. There are about 20 miles of floodwall that will be isolated by the permanent pump stations and the navigable gates at Seabrook and GIWW.
· Storm-proof authorized pump stations in Jefferson and Orleans Parishes. Storm-proofing pump stations will allow them to function through the fiercest storms by hardening them, raising critical equipment and providing emergency power and fuel systems.
· Armor critical elements of the hurricane protection system. The Corps will selectively armor critical elements in the system such as transitions from levees to walls and from levees or walls to structures, penetrations, crossings, and the like, and also some levee segments that are most exposed to surge. Armoring levees means strengthening them – applying materials to make levees resistant to wave-wash and scour that can occur during overtopping;
· Incorporate a non-Federal levee on the West Bank of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish into the existing Federal levee system to protect an evacuation route. The incorporation of non-Federal levees will allow the Corps to improve them to the same standard heights and design as other area Federal Hurricane Protection levees in Plaquemines Parish and offer increased protection for both residents and state Highway 23, a major hurricane evacuation route. and
· Reduce the impact of storm surge in areas east of the city by reversing wetland losses in areas affected by navigation channels, oil and gas channels or other channels and modifying the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion structure or its operation. When the main surge arrives, the basins can then hold more floodwater, thus reducing the high water and potential flooding. Restoring coastal ecosystems, such as barrier islands and marshlands increases the natural lines of defense against hurricane-induced storm surge.

These measures, estimated to cost $1.46 billion are yet to be authorized and funded. If funds are appropriated in FY2006, these measures can be completed in 2010.

Measures Required to Certify and Further Enhance the System to the Standard for a 100-Year Flood

In the weeks since my February recommendation, new information has been developed that has caused us to recommend additional modifications to the system. The new recommendations are primarily the result of two new pieces of information. First, the IPET study informs us that any I-walls in the system need to be carefully examined and in many cases may need to be replaced. Second, new, post-Katrina weather data developed by the National Weather Service informs us that the statistically-determined “100-year” storm is a more powerful storm than the storm for which the existing hurricane protection system was designed.

On April 12, 2006, Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding Donald Powell, along with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commander Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, FEMA Director of Mitigation and Administrator of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) David Maurstad, and FEMA Deputy Director for Gulf Coast Recovery Gil Jamieson, announced the release of advisory flood data for New Orleans and the majority of the surrounding area. The flood advisories will inform residents how to reduce or mitigate flood risks as they begin reconstruction, and will provide guidance to communities for better and stronger rebuilding. The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) has stated that for residents to be eligible for its State Homeowner Assistance plan, all reconstruction work must meet or exceed the latest available FEMA advisory base flood elevations and meet the legal requirements of the State Uniform Construction Code. FEMA has previously stated that these advisories must be used for any rebuilding projects using certain FEMA grant dollars, meaning that the FEMA advisories apply to both public infrastructure projects as well as mitigation requirements.

The flood advisories are based on the assumption that the rebuilt hurricane protection system will be sufficient to withstand the newly established 100-year storm, which is a requirement of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. Since the Corps is not able to certify the existing and authorized levee design heights for the new more powerful 100-year storm, the levees will have to be raised in many areas to meet the new standard. The Administration is discussing with Congress the timing of a formal request for additional authorization and funding to certify and further enhance the majority of the levee system.

The estimated additional cost to raise and enhance the entire New Orleans area levee system, including Plaquemines Parish, enough to provide100-year protection is estimated at $4.1 billion, in addition to the $1.46 billion I recommended in February. The additional work for certification of the system includes raising levee heights, in some cases as much as 7 feet, and to upgrade or replace the remaining existing I-walls with T-walls. We plan to begin working with Congress immediately to provide $2.5 billion to address improvements in all of the New Orleans system except for lower Plaquemines. The $2.5 billion will provide 100-year protection to about 98 percent of the population in the New Orleans area. Providing similar protection to the area of lower Plaquemines, which was home to 2 percent of the area’s population, is estimated to cost a total of $1.6 billion. Before committing to that funding request, the Administration is awaiting the results of the Corps’ further analysis that will provide additional insight into the technical challenges of protecting such a narrow strip of land; whether certifying the levees there exacerbates an already challenging environmental situation (i.e., sinking and wetlands erosion); and whether such improvements would be economically justified.

Analyses into a Greater Level of Protection for Southern Louisiana

Longer term, as I previously mentioned, the Corps is identifying and analyzing the options for higher levels of protection. The preliminary report of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Project is scheduled to be completed in June of this year and a final report will be completed in December 2007, as provided for in law.

Closing

Mr. Chairman, the rebuilding and redesign of the greater New Orleans hurricane protection system is one of the most ambitious civil works projects ever undertaken and I applaud the efforts of the men and women of the Corps of Engineers, many of whom were personally impacted by the hurricanes that devastated the Gulf Coast. The commitment and selfless service that they are demonstrating by meeting our June first goal is a testament to the dedication of this organization. The amount of work underway is immense. It would ordinarily take years to do what we are doing in months. Work is being accelerated and compressed without jeopardizing the science, the engineering or the best construction practices.

This concludes my statement. Again, I appreciate the opportunity to testify today. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

 

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