I am George Dunlop, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. I am pleased to appear today with Major General Don Riley, Director of Civil Works, to discuss the role of the Department of the Army and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the recovery and rebuilding efforts that lie ahead for the Gulf Coast.
The Administration stands ready to work with local and state officials as they plan for the future of New Orleans, parishes in Southern Louisiana, Mississippi and other parts of the Gulf Coast. As we know, New Orleans has a particular challenge because much of the city lies below sea level. Thorough analysis, much thoughtful consideration of alternatives and careful attention as to how to best integrate future flood and storm damage reduction objectives with one another and with the effort to address the needs of the coastal wetlands ecosystem will guide future consideration and decision making, to be sure. The Corps of Engineers will work with the State, City, and Parish officials to design and build a flood and storm damage reduction system that is better than before the storm; and these local officials will have a large part in the engineering decisions to come.
Corps Role in Current Federal Efforts
The Corps of Engineers, in collaboration with FEMA, will be an integral member of the close federal partnership with the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, the city of New Orleans, and other Gulf Coast cities, parishes, and counties. The Corps stands ready to provide advice to assist their recovery and rebuilding in a way that provides full consideration of all relevant factors.
Federal funds are being made available to help cover the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zones, from roads and bridges to schools and water systems. If called upon, the Corps of Engineers stands ready to execute a broad array of engineering, construction and contract management services. The President has established, by Executive Order, the Gulf Coast Recovery and Rebuilding Council to further strengthen Federal support for the recovery and rebuilding effort through effective, integrated, and fiscally responsible support from across the Federal Government to State, local, and tribal governments, the private sector, and faith-based and other community humanitarian relief organizations.
Beyond immediate recovery tasks such as removing debris and providing utilities and “blue roofs” for homes and businesses, the Corps is currently working on repairs to the storm damage reduction system that was in place in the city of New Orleans and other parts of the storm-affected area before the storm. Essentially, the Corps is repairing existing levees and floodwalls before the onset of the next hurricane season to reduce the risk of damage in a future storm.
The Corps is actively engaged in assessing the performance of the storm damage reduction projects that were in place at the time of the Katrina and Rita storm events. We will use these findings to ensure that repairs to existing features in the New Orleans area are technically sound, will have efficacy, and are accomplished in a way that is environmentally sustainable. Lessons learned will be integrated on an ongoing basis into the design, engineering and repair of these features, which is already underway.
Indeed, the Corps is already hard at work in this regard, having established an Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) to collect and assess information that can inform decisions to repair existing authorized structures. Also, an independent team from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is already collecting information to apply to the development of design criteria for these features. Other organizations and individuals are doing important work in this regard, as well. To the extent practicable, all relevant data will be carefully considered and objectively assessed.
In addition, the Secretary of Defense has directed the Secretary of the Army to convene a panel of experts under the auspicies of the National Academies to evaluate the information collected by the IPET and other parties so as to provide an independent and peer reviewed assessment of the performance of the storm damage reduction system in New Orleans and the surrounding areas.
The National Academies will assemble an independent multidisciplinary panel of acknowledged national and international experts from the public and private sectors and academia. This National Academies panel is to be drawn from the membership of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. The panel will issue a final set of findings based primarily on the forensic data gathered by the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force and the American Society of Civil Engineers Independent Review Panel, and will draw upon information and assessments provided by other sources.
The National Academies will report directly to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works). The study is expected to take approximately eight months to complete. All reports generated by these panels will be made available to Congress and to the public.
Following the forensic analysis, we will need to evaluate a broad range of options before developing recommendations as to the best ways to reduce the risk of future storm damages for the City of New Orleans and surrounding parishes.
Coastal Ecosystem Restoration
The Administration has also recommended the reallocation of $250 million of the Emergency Supplemental funds already provided by Congress to fund activities related to the restoration of natural coastal features that will help reduce the risk of storm damage in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area. Specifically, barrier islands and coastal marshes can provide a natural buffer against some storm surges, and thus serve as the foundation upon which projects to reduce the risk of storm damage to the urban areas of the coast are constructed.
The Administration is working with Congress and the State of Louisiana to develop an appropriate, generic authorization for the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Protection and Restoration Program that will expedite the approval process for projects and their implementation while providing greater flexibility in setting future priorities and increased opportunities for application of adaptive management decision making. Such an integrated, programmatic approach to coastal wetlands protection and restoration is essential for program efficiency and efficacy.
Support to Navigation
Finally, I mention with pride the great work that the Corps has done to restore waterways in the region to navigable condition. Although much work is ongoing, particularly dredging and repairs to locks and bridges, most of the Gulf Coast’s waterways have already resumed normal operations.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I look forward to working with you and the Ranking member and other Committee members on matters of mutual interest and concern. Following Major General Riley’s statement, I would be pleased to answer any questions you or the other Committee members may have.