Hearings - Testimony
 
FULL COMMITTEE FIELD HEARING: "Moving Forward after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita" PLEASE NOTE: This hearing will start at 10:00 AM Central Time (11:00 Eastern Time)
Monday, February 26, 2007
 
Mr. John Paul Woodley
Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)

DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY

 

COMPLETE STATEMENT

 

 

OF

 

 

JOHN PAUL WOODLEY, JR.

 

ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE ARMY

 

(CIVIL WORKS)

 

 

and

 

 

MAJOR GENERAL DON T. RILEY

 

DIRECTOR OF CIVIL WORKS

 

U. S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS

 

 

BEFORE

 

THE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS

 

UNITED STATES SENATE

 

 

ON

 

 

RECONSTRUCTION, RESTORATION AND DEBRIS REMOVAL IN NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

 

 

 

February 26, 2007

 


Introduction

 

 

Madam Chair and other Members of the Committee, I am John Paul Woodley, Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works).  Attending this hearing with me is Major General Don Riley, Director, Civil Works, for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to discuss the hurricane response operations and the ongoing reconstruction and restoration efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the New Orleans area.  As you know, the New Orleans Hurricane Protection System was extensively damaged during Hurricane Katrina.  The Corps has completed repairs on 225 miles of the system.  However, due to the significant changes in the coastal environment, and geological, and other changes that have occurred over many decades, the system does not provide the level of risk reduction envisioned when it was first authorized.  We are working actively to address this concern and are also pursuing ways to improve upon the existing Hurricane Protection System.

 

 

My testimony will focus on the Hurricane Protection System Restoration, Ecosystem Restoration, and the debris removal mission.

 

 

Hurricane Protection System Restoration Status

 

 

The Hurricane Protection System for the greater New Orleans metropolitan area consists of a series of levees, floodwalls, gates, armoring and pump stations.

 

 

Design and construction activities are focusing on building the system to the level of risk reduction envisioned when it was first authorized, while implementing further improvements where appropriate.  The designs themselves are being accomplished through a combination of contracts with private industry and the Corps of Engineers.  All designs are then vetted through the independent technical review process.  Furthermore, we will continue to assess and improve designs throughout the construction process. 

 

 

Generally, the Corps is working to reduce the risk of flood damage in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area from a storm with a one percent chance of occurring in any one year, which is known colloquially as a 100-year storm.  To determine the impact of such a storm, we assembled a group of national and international experts to advance modeling techniques to determine both surge and wave heights by storm frequency for the area within the existing Hurricane Protection System.  This is a progressive advancement encouraged by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the National Research Council.  We are using this information in designing levees and floodwalls to reduce the risk of flood damage from such a storm.

 

 

The FY 2008 Budget, released earlier this month, recommends, as part of an FY 2007 Supplemental appropriations package, enactment of a statutory provision to authorize the Secretary of the Army to reallocate up to $1.3 billion of the emergency supplemental appropriations that were provided in FY 2006, but that remain unobligated.  The proposed reallocation will enable the Corps to apply this funding to those measures that will best improve the near-term, overall level of risk reduction in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area.  It will enable the Corps to complete higher priority work sooner, in concert with similar work in other areas. 

 

 

The estimate of the cost of the work necessary to accomplish our work is expected to increase as a result of various engineering forensic investigations and assessments, a review of new storm surge data from the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force Risk and Consequence study currently underway, increased material costs, and other factors.  Updated, actionable re-estimates will not be available until this summer.

 

 

While the Corps is moving forward with design and with refining cost-estimates for future work, we continue to make progress on ongoing work.  The Corps has recently awarded contracts to furnish 11 additional pumps at the

17th Street
Canal and eight additional pumps at
London Avenue
and to construct the pump platforms and install the pumps.  The addition of these pumps will increase capacity at
17th Street
to approximately 7,600 cubic feet per second (cfs) and increase capacity at
London Avenue
to approximately 5,000 cfs.  These reflect increased capabilities based upon the Interagency Performance Evaluation Taskforce (IPET) modeling for the city’s 10-year design storm.  This increased pumping capacity will be in place by August, 2007.   While the work at the outfall canals is not yet complete, by June 1, 2007, we will have increased pumping capacity at
17th Street
from 4,060 cfs to 5,200 cfs.  Pumping capacities at
Orleans Avenue
and London Avenue Canals will remain at 2,200 cfs and 2,800 cfs, respectively, on June 1, 2007.

 

 

Additionally, the Corps has completed upgrading the manually operated gates to mechanical operation.  The mechanically operated gates provide storm surge protection at the outfall canals when a major storm is approaching.  The temporary pumps in the outfall canals will provide interior drainage capability comparable to conditions that existed during major storms prior to Hurricane Katrina.   We continue to prepare for the expected spring rains and the next hurricane season.

 

 

Restoration Efforts

 

 

We are engaged on several fronts with respect to ecosystem restoration in coastal Louisiana .  These activities are now conducted under various authorities.  A key challenge that we face is finding a way to integrate all of these activities.  If our strategy for restoring the ecosystem is to be successful, we will also need to ensure that our efforts to improve the level of risk reduction from future hurricanes in Louisiana are compatible with the long-term needs of the ecosystem.

 

 

Mississippi River Gulf Outlet

 

 

Since Hurricane Katrina, the Corps of Engineers has been involved in a number of simultaneous efforts located on or near the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO).  These efforts include emergency levee repairs, ecosystem restoration projects, and development of a proposed plan for de-authorizing deep draft navigation. Using some of the funds that the Congress appropriated in Public Law 109-234 (the fourth emergency supplemental appropriations act of 2006), we have been working on options to restore and protect critical coastal wetlands along MRGO, as well as ways to design structures for saltwater intrusion and storm surge prevention.  Work is now underway to protect critical wetlands buffering some of the levee systems in the MRGO area.  This work will help maintain important natural wave buffers and ecological habitats in the Lake Borgne estuary located east of New Orleans and in St. Bernard Parish.  Residents of the area depend on these wetlands for storm damage reduction, recreation and commercial fishing activities.  Our work also includes preparing a proposed plan for de-authorizing deep draft navigation on the MRGO.  In December we submitted an Interim Report to Congress, which explored the future of navigation and addressed storm damage reduction and wetlands restoration in the channel area.       

 

Ecosystem Restoration

 

The fourth emergency supplemental appropriations act of 2006 provided $20.2 million to reduce the risk of storm damage to the greater New Orleans metropolitan area by restoring the surrounding wetlands through measures to begin to reverse wetland losses in areas affected by navigation, oil and gas, and other channels and through modification of the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion structure or its operations.

 

 

The landbridge in Barataria Basin is subsiding and eroding at an alarming rate.  This land loss threatens not only fish and wildlife habitat but also oil and gas infrastructure and numerous communities, including Barataria, Lafitte, and the west bank of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes.  Without the landbridge, the basin would be subjected to greater intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico , including hurricane storm surge.  To restore the fragile marsh, Federal and state agencies partnering under the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act of 1990 (CWPPRA) developed a series of complementary projects, each rebuilding or protecting a different piece of the landbridge.  When completed, these projects will rebuild and protect more than 5,000 acres of wetlands.  We are also looking at other options for ecosystem restoration in the vicinity of the landbridge. 

 

 

The Corps is evaluating options for improving the performance of the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion Project.   The alternatives under consideration include modifications of its operation and/or combinations of channel restoration, increased sediment delivery, and marsh creation.

 

 

Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act

 

 

The CWPPRA program was authorized in 1990.  The CWPPRA program is available only for restoration work in the State of Louisiana .  The Federal government finances 85 percent of the program’s costs through the Sport Fisheries and Boating Trust Fund, and the State covers the other 15 percent of the costs.

 

 

CWPPRA provides targeted funds for planning and implementing cost-effective projects that create, protect, restore and enhance wetlands in coastal Louisiana . There are 143 projects in the program which will create, protect, or restore over 120,000 acres of wetlands in coastal Louisiana .  Project impacts range in size from nine acres to 36,121 acres. The types of projects include freshwater and sediment diversion, outfall management, dredged material/marsh creation, shoreline protection, sediment and nutrient trapping, hydrologic restoration, marsh management, barrier island restoration, and vegetation planting.  Currently, seventy projects have been completed, another eighteen are under construction, and 55 are in some stage of planning or design.  Under this Act, the principal Federal wetlands agencies and the State use a competitive process for allocating funds to potential wetlands restoration projects.  They try to select the best individual projects on the merits, but lack an overall strategy to identify integrated groups of projects that could yield greater environmental benefits by acting in concert on a watershed basis

 

 

Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration

 

 

Given the magnitude of Louisiana ’s coastal land loss and the extent of the associated ecosystem degradation, it is apparent that a more systematic approach would be the best way to restore natural processes.  Larger-scale projects to benefit the ecosystem are needed.  The barrier islands and coastal marshes of Louisiana also provide a natural buffer against some storm surges, and are a critical element of any overall strategy for reducing the risk of storm damage to the urban centers of the coast. 

 

 

The Corps, in collaboration with the State of Louisiana , Federal and state agencies, and other stakeholders, has developed a Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Plan.  This plan builds upon progress made under CWPPRA and is intended to guide the next phase of the restoration effort.  The LCA plan is a near-term, 10-year plan of studies, projects, and program elements, with a total cost of $1.9 billion.  We are currently undertaking investigations and plans to implement some of the proposed restoration features, and are working to address some of the key scientific uncertainties and engineering challenges associated with coastal restoration.

 

 

However, we believe that the Congress should not authorize the LCA plan through a conventional authorization.  To reduce taxpayer costs and make better use of the available funds for restoring coastal Louisiana wetlands, the Administration has urged the Congress instead to enact a broad authorization covering all studies, construction, and science work that would support the wetlands restoration effort, including the measures now undertaken under CWPPRA, without regard to the specific projects and funding allocations envisioned in the LCA plan. 

 

 

The kind of authorization that we have recommended will ensure that the coastal Louisiana restoration effort will be able to adapt and evolve as needed based on the best available science. Also, the Corps selected and formulated the projects proposed in its 10-year plan principally to address ecological benefits.  While the program should retain its current ecological focus, it needs to establish priorities based on a full array of the potential benefits.  This will require identifying opportunities where changes to the size, design objectives, or location of wetlands projects would advance ecosystem as well as storm damage reduction objectives.

 

 

Coastal Protection and Restoration

 

 

The Corps began its Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration (LACPR) study in 2005.  We are considering a full range of flood and storm damage reduction and coastal restoration measures, including those that could reduce the risk of damage from a “Category 5” storm.  Potential measures are being developed based on extensive stakeholder involvement efforts with the State, resource agencies, Nongovernmental Organizations, academia, and the public.  These measures will be integrated into alternatives, with the objective of developing an overall plan to improve the existing coastal restoration and protection system.  We are using a risk-based approach to evaluate alternatives for risk reduction to people, property and coastal landscape stabilization and performance for design levels ranging from the stage-frequencies that could be expected during a 100-year storm to those that might occur during a much more severe storm.  Our analysis will focus more extensively on uncertainty and will include consideration of relative sea level rise, redevelopment rates, and storm intensity and frequency.  A preliminary draft report was submitted to Congress in July 2006.

 

 

As you can see, we have a wide range of programs and studies underway to reduce the risk of flood and storm damage, protect and rebuild the coastal wetlands, or both.  As we go forward, particularly with the LACPR study, we will need to keep in mind the importance of integrating these dual, complementary objectives in a way that will promote a long-term, sustainable vision for the coast.

 

 

 

Debris Removal

 

 

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita created catastrophic devastation throughout the Gulf region.  In the State of Louisiana , some 60 million cubic yards of debris were strewn throughout 21 parishes covering almost 15,000 square miles. In order to maintain compliance at federal, state, and local levels for debris management, the Corps coordinated extensively with federal, state and local agencies, for debris removal planning and execution.

 

 

Waste Segregation and Disposal

 

 

From the outset of the response, the Corps applied rigorous protocols for segregation, collection, processing, staging, recycling, and disposal of hurricane generated waste to sustain compliance with environmental laws and regulations. Specific waste streams, which require special handling, included municipal solid waste, vegetative debris, construction and demolition debris, small motorized equipment, asbestos containing materials, electronic waste, household hazardous waste, white goods and tires.

 

 

Robust quality control and quality assurance programs were followed throughout operations to assure the appropriate disposition of waste. The Corps employed quality assurance personnel to monitor segregation, collection and disposal of hurricane debris.  Contracts for debris removal required execution of quality control plans to assure the application of waste disposal protocols.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of Louisiana employed monitors to augment the Corps’ quality assurance practices.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provided field oversight to address public health and worker protection needs respectively.  Additionally, we brought our own team of auditors to assist in monitoring the work.

 

 

Special care was exercised to ensure the proper handling and disposal of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Subtitle C hazardous waste and household hazardous waste that is often commingled with debris. The EPA established and managed the operation of a hazardous waste processing center in eastern New Orleans for handling and disposal of hazardous waste until November 2006, when the operation of the site was turned over to the Corps.  Approximately 5 million units of household hazardous waste have been processed through the site since the commencement of operations. 

 

 

Landfills

 

 

To date, 48 landfills have been used for disposal of hurricane Katrina generated waste and 21 have been used for hurricane Rita generated waste. Presently, there are nine active landfills. The permitting of landfills for receipt of hurricane generated debris falls under the jurisdiction of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.  The Corps does not engage in a direct contractual relationship with permitted landfills, but reimburses our prime contractors for tipping fees charged for waste disposal. Contractors have the discretion to direct hurricane waste to any of the properly permitted landfills to optimize the efficiency of their debris removal operations.  The New Orleans area was served by four landfill facilities; Chef Menteur, Gentilly, Riverbirch, and the Highway 90 construction and demolition (C&D) landfills.  Chef Menteur was an Enhanced Type III landfill that was permitted to accept C&D and non-regulated, asbestos containing material (ACM).  The Chef Menteur landfill was opened from April 13 to August 15, 2006.  Riverbirch is a Type I & II landfill that is National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutions (NESHAP) compliant and can accept regulated ACM (RACM), as well as other types of residential debris.  Highway 90 is a Type III landfill that can accept C&D and non-regulated ACM.  Gentilly is a Type III landfill that can accept residential C&D and non-regulated ACM.  The Gentilly landfill is best situated to accept the hurricane debris from the city of New Orleans, excluding RACM, due to its proximity to the waste stream.

 

 

Gentilly Landfill

 

 

The Old Gentilly Landfill (Gentilly Landfill) is located in an industrial corridor in eastern New Orleans .  The facility is owned by the City of New Orleans and operated by Amid Metro Partnership, LLC.  Commencing in the 1960’s, the Gentilly Landfill operated as a municipal landfill for solid waste generated in and around the City of New Orleans .  The facility stopped accepting waste around 1986.  The City applied for a permit in June of 2002, to reopen as a Type III Landfill to be constructed over the closed, municipal landfill.  The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) issued a Standard Solid Waste Type III Permit on December 28, 2004.  In response to Hurricane Katrina, LDEQ issued a Declaration of Emergency and Administrative Order dated August 30, 2005, and subsequent amendments, which authorized the disposal of uncontaminated construction and demolition debris at permitted Type III landfills.  On September 29, 2005, LDEQ issued a Commencement Order to the City authorizing the disposal of hurricane debris at the Gentilly Landfill.

 

 

 

Corps contractors started using the facility on October 2, 2005, initially receiving an average daily quantity of 20,000 to 25,000 cubic yards (CY) of C&D material during the first month.  The operation quickly ramped up to a daily average of 40,000 to 50,000 CY over the next two months.  On October 31, 2005, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) filed a Petition for Judicial Review of the Commencement Order citing concerns related to environmental sustainability and structural stability of the landfill which is in close proximity of the MRGO hurricane protection levee.  LDEQ and LEAN entered into a Consent Judgment on March 16, 2006, which resulted in establishment of a daily limit of 19,000 CY pending issuance by LDEQ of a decisional document addressing concerns raised by LEAN. FEMA subsequently directed the Corps to limit daily quantities to 10,000 CY at the end of February and further curtailed the daily quantities to 5,000 CY in March 2006.  LDEQ issued their decisional document on August 28, 2006, which substantially addressed issues raised by LEAN.  FEMA responded by relaxing the daily quantity limits.  At present, the limit has been set at 15,000 CY per day.

 

 

This concludes my testimony.  Madam Chair, again, thank you for allowing me to testify on the ongoing efforts of the Corps of Engineers in the New Orleans area.  I will be happy to answer any questions you or the other Members may have.

 

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