Corp of Engineers Told Levee "Weak" In 1994

NBC’s Lisa Myers found a set of 1998 court transcripts from a dispute over contract costs between the US Army Corp of Engineers and a New Orleans construction firm contracted to shore up the levees 17th Street Canal. From her report:

NBC News has obtained what may be a key clue, hidden in long forgotten legal documents. They reveal that when the floodwall on the 17th Street Canal was built a decade ago, there were major construction problems problems brought to the attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A 1998 ruling, by an administrative judge for the Corps’ Board of Contract Appeals, shows that the contractor, Pittman Construction, told the Corps that the soil and the foundation for the walls were not of sufficient strength, rigidity and stability to build on.

Pittman won the contract in 1993. There already was an earthen levee made of soil. Embedded in that was a thin metal wall called sheet piling. The contractor was hired to pour concrete on top of all that to form the flood wall.

But the 1998 documents – filed as part of a legal dispute over costs – indicate the contractor complained about weakness of the soil and the lack of structural integrity of the existing sheet pile around which the concrete was poured. The ruling also referenced the flimsiness of the sheet piling.

The construction company said as a result of these problems the walls were shifting and “out of tolerance,” meaning they did not meet some design specifications. Nevertheless, the Army Corps of Engineers accepted the work.New Orleans residents should get no comfort out of the fact that the entire network of levees was built on top of shifting silt-laden ground by the lowest bidder…

Last week, Paul covered the Corp’s and media’s parsing of the terms “topping” and “breaching” in the wake of Hurricane Rita extensively (See here, here, here, and here). Several of you pointed out that he was highly charged up, in both his posting and comments. Given that he’s a long time resident of the area and an engineer, this is an emotional topic for him. Consider yourself warned if you choose to debate him on the topic of levees in the future.

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