[StBernard] MR-GO levee looks better, engineers say
westley at da-parish.com
Sun Apr 9 23:22:48 EDT 2006
MR-GO levee looks better, engineers say
They see big improvements over past few weeks in St. Bernard
Sunday, April 09, 2006
By Karen Turni Bazile
St. Bernard/Plaquemines bureau
Two men who a few weeks ago were harshly critical of the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers' levee-restoration efforts said they liked what they saw on a
Saturday tour of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet levee.
University of California-Berkeley engineering professors Bob Bea and Ray
Seed praised the corps for bringing in out-of-town quality soils to rebuild
the levee, although they and two researchers from the Louisiana State
University Hurricane Center told corps officials that levees along the
channel in St. Bernard Parish must be armored because they are exposed to
strong storm waves from the channel and Lake Borgne.
Col. Lewis Setliff III, the commander of Task Force Guardian, said he
welcomed such input. The task force is the corps' effort to rebuild area
levees to pre-Hurricane Katrina levels. Setliff said Saturday's example of
experts sharing information is "absolutely critical."
"I'm told all the time, 'The world is watching' -- because it is -- and
'This is history-making' -- because it is," Setliff said of the corps'
effort to quickly repair the area's fractured levees by the start of
hurricane season. "Today is an important step. . . . The only way we are
going to get to a solution is to engage the brightest minds in the
A bevy of corps officials toured the 11-mile stretch of the MR-GO outlet in
St. Bernard along with several outside experts charged with bird-dogging the
repair effort to ensure that it learns lessons from past mistakes.
A good start
Bea and Seed kicked up some dirt last month when they charged that the corps
had been using substandard soils to rebuild a part of the MR-GO levee that
crumbled under Katrina's surge. But those results were based on samples they
took during an impromptu January visit.
"There has been a night-and-day difference over the last eight weeks," Seed
said after the tour. "We are very impressed."
"This is good stuff," Bea said of the soils he saw Saturday.
Since their last visit, Seed and Bea said, the corps is using better soils,
better compaction techniques and better quality-control efforts to test the
As they did during their January visit, Seed and Bea, who are part of a
National Science Foundation team investigating the New Orleans disaster,
stopped numerous times during the tour to gather soil samples.
Although both said they were impressed with what they saw, they said they
still need to know what is underneath, and Seed said they will return in a
few weeks to take core samples of the levees to see what types of soils form
G. Paul Kemp with the LSU Hurricane Center said he and colleague Hassan
Mashriqui plan to meet with corps officials "to talk about the hydraulic
criteria for trying to armor the more critical areas of the levee."
Kemp said he hopes to set in motion an effort to get "a public safety
certification so we can speak with one voice about the capability of the
system that now has a bare levee face and is still vulnerable to waves and
When the corps dredged the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet in the 1960s, it
acknowledged the channel could increase the risk of storm surges flooding
settled areas of St. Bernard Parish. The corps later raised the levee on the
west side of the channel to mitigate that threat, but it mainly used highly
organic soils dredged from the channel, officials said.
Although that levee has been solid enough to withstand boat wakes and minor
storm surges, it had settled over the years and was waiting on a facelift
for which Congress had not appropriated money, officials said. When Katrina
overtopped the 15- to 17-foot-high levee, water gushing down the land side
of the levee caused the soil to quickly crumble, they said.
The California-based team agrees with LSU researchers who said they think
wave energy and surge current eroded and caused the collapse of the water
side of the levees before they were overtopped by the surge.
But John Jaeger, the technical director for the Interagency Performance
Evaluation Task Force, said his group is still conducting its own erosion
tests. The task force is charged with gathering facts for the corps about
what happened and making suggestions about how to proceed.
The professors from LSU and California-Berkeley will hold a conference call
with the task force Tuesday to begin sharing in detail their theories about
"why and how the levees eroded," Jaeger said.
"Understanding that will allow us to be confident in the way we go forward,"
Looking at armoring
Walter Baumy Jr., an Arabi native whose mother lost her home to Hurricanes
Betsy in 1965 and Katrina last year, is the deputy program manager for Task
Force Guardian, which is spending $50 million to $60 million to repair the
damaged levees and floodgates along the Gulf Outlet.
Baumy said the corps will get an engineering report by the beginning of May
with recommendations for what type of armoring would work best in local
If Congress agrees to spend about $170 million that President Bush has
requested for selective armoring, it is possible there would be enough money
to armor the entire 11-mile stretch of levee in St. Bernard that is exposed
to Lake Borgne's wave action.
At a news conference after the tour, Setliff of Task Force Guardian said
citizens should know that by June 1, the beginning of hurricane season, the
levees along the Gulf Outlet will be higher and stronger than they were
before Katrina, although they will be armored only in key areas such as
where floodgates meet the earthen areas.
However, he promised the corps will keep working to improve the levee and
said it hopes to get money to do further armoring over the next few years.
"The people of St. Bernard should have a lot of confidence in what we are
building and how we are building the levee," Setliff said. "The quality of
the soils is better than pre-Katrina, and it will be higher and stronger."
. . . . . . .
Karen Turni Bazile can be reached at kturni at timespicayune.com or (504)
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