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
 
Mr. Daniel Hitchings
Director, Task Force HOPE, Regional Business Director, Mississippi Valley Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, I am Mr. Daniel Hitchings, Regional Business Director for the Mississippi Valley Division, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. I am honored to be testifying before your Committee today, on the preparation for next hurricane season in Louisiana. I am joined today by the Honorable John Paul Woodley, Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works). My testimony today will provide a summary of the damage to the hurricane protection system and authorized and funded efforts ongoing to re-establish an imperforate 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. We are on schedule to repair the damaged levees and floodwalls to their pre-storm condition by June 1, the beginning of the hurricane season.

Orleans Parish

The flood and hurricane protection system in Orleans Parish is divided into a western portion and eastern portion commonly referred to as Orleans East Bank and New Orleans East respectively.

The Orleans East Bank portion consists of the Lake Pontchartrain Lakefront from the 17th St. Canal to the Inner Harbor Navigation Channel (IHNC) and then along the western bank of the IHNC to the Mississippi River. Within the Orleans East Bank boundaries of the Parish there are 26.2 miles of levees and floodwalls, 13 pump stations, and 15 roadway floodgates. Significant damage occurred to 3.1 miles of levees and floodwalls and to all 13 pump stations. Specifically, the damages to the levees and floodwalls included:

· 455 foot breach in the east side I-wall along 17th St. Canal;
· Breaches on both the east side (425 feet) and west side (720 feet) I-wall along London Ave. Canal;
· Two breaches on the west side of the IHNC both in the vicinity of France Road and Benefit Street; and
· Intermittent minor scour along the other portions of the levee and floodwall protection

The New Orleans East portion is bounded by the east bank of the IHNC, Lake Pontchartrain shoreline between the IHNC and Southpoint, the eastern boundary of the Bayou Savage National Wildlife Preserve, and the north and south banks of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW). Within the New Orleans East boundaries of the Parish there are 49.4 miles of exterior levees and floodwalls, 9 miles of interior levees, 9 pump stations, and 7 Floodgates. Significant damage occurred to 7.6 miles of exterior levees and floodwalls, 4 floodgates, and all 9 pump stations. Specifically, the damages to the levees and floodwalls included:

· 12,750 feet of levee breach along the north bank of the GIWW between Michoud Canal and the CSX Railroad;
· A floodwall breach at Pump Station 15 (800 feet) near the Maxent Levee;
· A floodwall breach at the Air Products Hydrogen Plant near the Michoud Canal (300 feet);
· Floodgate floodwall and adjacent levee damage at the CSX railroad crossing;
· 2,000 feet of floodwall damage along the north bank of the GIWW between the IHNC and Paris Road;
· Two breaches in the east side of the IHNC both located in the lower 9th ward neighborhood;
· Damage to 4 floodgates, floodwall, and minor levee damages from Bienvenue Control Structure to GIWW lock; and
· Intermittent minor scour along the other portions of the levee and floodwall protection

 

St. Bernard Parish

The St. Bernard Parish hurricane protection system includes the levee/floodwall extending from the Bayou Bienvenue Control Structure, continuing along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) southeastly, then turns generally to the west, where it ties into the Mississippi River Levee at Caernarvon. There is a total of 25 miles of levees in the Parish. Eight miles of hurricane protection levees were damaged. The most severely damaged levees are along the reach adjacent to the MRGO extending from the Bayou Bienvenue Control Structure to Verret. There was also scour on the Verret to Caernarvon levee and damage to the Bayou Dupre Control Structure, the Bayou Bienvenue Control Structure, and the Creedmore Structure.

Plaquemines Parish

The Plaquemines Parish Basin includes long, narrow strips of protected land on both sides of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River Levees (MRL) protect the Parish from floods coming down the river; protection from hurricane-induced tidal surges is achieved by the New Orleans to Venice (NOV) hurricane protection system. The NOV is a system of levees on the gulf side of the protected lands and additional berms and floodwalls on top of the MRL along the river. The distance between the gulf-side levees (back levees), and the MRL is less than a mile in most places. Altogether the Plaquemines Parish MRL and NOV systems include 162 miles of levee and 7 miles of floodwall. There are fifteen non-federal pump stations for interior drainage. All of the levees in Plaquemines Parish sustained damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. There was considerable crown and slope scour along the total length. The MRL slope pavement sustained damage from the hundreds of ships and barges that crashed upon it. There were also several distinct locations of severe damage, coinciding with pipeline crossings through the levee and with some floodwall sections. Five of the six miles of NOV floodwall along the Mississippi River was damaged beyond repair. There were major breaches at sheet pile wing walls at two pump stations in the back levee. A major breach occurred at the Shell pipeline crossing near Nairn and the West Pointe a la Hache pipeline crossing was severely damaged. Wind and water damage from Katrina and Rita severely impacted nearly every structure within the east bank area of protection and on the west bank below Myrtle Grove (50 miles above Venice).

Authorized and Funded Efforts

Repair: The Corps of Engineers is well on its way to accomplishing the initial goal of repairing the damaged portions of the hurricane protection system by the start of the next hurricane season. The Corps has awarded 59 reconstruction contracts and is committed to completing the $798 million reconstruction of the hurricane protection system to pre-Katrina levels by June 1. Information gained through an Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) and various independent review panels is informing decisions on the repair of the existing authorized structures, including the replacement of damaged I-walls with L- or T-walls or with levee enlargements. The flood walls that failed are being replaced with new designs that use deeper sheet piles and are anchored with H-piles driven up to 80 feet into the ground. Only soil that meets the specifications is being used to rebuild the levees. Extensive on-site inspections, sampling and laboratory testing is performed to ensure only quality materials are being used. High quality clay soils from as far away as Mississippi are being brought in to ensure the levees are better and stronger.

Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Project:

In Orleans East Bank, 17 separate construction projects have been completed or are underway to repair the damaged areas and to restore flood protection to pre-hurricane Katrina conditions. These projects represent an estimated $182.3 million in construction contracts. Work on the breaches is proceeding as scheduled. An analysis by the IPET has shown that the 17th Street canal levees and floodwalls will not perform reliably without major reconstruction and strengthening. Better protection at all three outfall canals will be provided by closing off the mouths of interior drainage canals at Lake Pontchartrain and replacing damaged I-walls with T-walls. The outfall canal closure plan includes installation of temporary gates and pumps by June, until a more permanent solution is authorized, funded and can be constructed. The temporary gates can be opened and closed to protect the canals from storm-induced surges from Lake Pontchartrain. During most storm events, the gates will remain open and the existing pumps will be operated as intended to evacuate rainwater. The Corps is working with local officials to optimize pumping capability when the gates are closed. The schedule for the temporary structures is very compressed. Contractors are using innovative construction techniques to deliver. Work along the Industrial Canal in Orleans Parish is progressing on schedule.

In New Orleans East, 13 separate construction projects have been completed or are underway. These projects represent an estimated $66.8 million in construction contracts. Repairs for most of the structures in the area are on schedule. There is a delay in the floodwall repairs at Pump Station #15, but materials have been delivered and work is progressing. Modifications to the Citrus Back Levee are slightly delayed, but the contractor has an excellent history of meeting its schedule. Modifications to the floodgate at the CSX (L&N) Tracks are slightly delayed due to negotiations with the railroad. These negotiations have now been completed and a revised schedule is being developed.

In St. Bernard Basin, which includes St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward of Orleans Parish, 9 separate construction projects have been completed or are underway. These projects represent an estimated $69.3 million in construction contracts. Levee repairs are all on schedule. Work on both control structures is slightly behind schedule, but the schedule is being managed and the projects will be completed on time.

New Orleans to Venice

For the New Orleans to Venice project located in Plaquemines Parish, 20 separate construction projects have been completed or are underway. These projects represent an estimated $114.5 million in construction contracts. Half of these projects have been completed, including all of the MRL repairs. Recent completion of the Port Sulphur to Fort Jackson MRL repairs has provided full access for levee four enlargement projects that were previously delayed. These are areas where the New Orleans to Venice Hurricane Protection Project consists of additional berms and floodwalls on top of the MRL levees.

Restoration of undamaged and subsided areas; Completion of un-constructed portions of authorized projects

The Corps continues to conduct both surface and subsurface inspections of the remaining 181 miles of the New Orleans-area levee system that was not visibly damaged by last year’s hurricanes, and is thoroughly inspecting all of the I-walls that were not damaged. By September 2007, the Corps plans to restore undamaged but subsided areas of the hurricane protection system to its authorized elevation. They will also complete un-constructed yet authorized portions of the New Orleans to Venice, West Bank and Vicinity, Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity, Grand Isle, and Larose to Golden Meadow hurricane protection projects and the Southeast Louisiana interior flood damage reduction project.

In addition, we are re-assessing the reliability of all of the floodwalls in the system based on the findings of the IPET. These findings identified a failure mechanism that was not taken into account during design. If the proposed improvements that were described by Mr. Woodley in his testimony are implemented, the length of floodwalls in the system will be reduced by about 20 miles. However, there are 36 miles of floodwalls that will remain in the system. Reevaluation may reveal that replacement or reinforcement of all or part of this length may be necessary.

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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