Corps Cutting It Close at Floodgates this Year

May 23, 2008 by

Once more HumidCity is proud to syndicate the emails of engineer Matt McBride, the man who formerly helmed Fix The Pumps. He is one of our best voices for New Orleans.

Dear New Orleanians,

Last week, the Corps held a public hurricane readiness exercise under the rubric of a simulated storm called “Hurricane Zeus.”

There wasn’t a lot of press attention to it, and the even the Corps hasn’t put out a press release detailing how the exercise went.

However, the Baton Rouge Advocate wrote an article about it.

In there is this paragraph:

“Ray Newman in the operations division of the corps’ New Orleans District said a hydraulic winch system lowers the gates. A backup system for the hydraulic winches and redundant electrical systems ensure continued operation, he said.”

That backup system is a crane to lower and lift the individual gate segments at each floodgate structure. Cranes were used exclusively to lower and lift the gates during the 2006 hurricane season, before the hydraulic winches were installed. A picture of a typical crane is attached.

There’s nothing wrong with using cranes. They are slower than the automatic system, and they generally can’t operate in particularly high winds, but as a backup system, they work fine.

The problem is you have to actually have them at the site. It seems the Corps doesn’t, and is scrambling just days before hurricane season starts to rectify the situation.

On May 14, the Corps advertised a solicitation for rental of 60 ton hydraulic cranes at all three outfall canal sites.

The wording of the solicitation indicates the situation is one that is short on time:

This announcement constitutes the only solicitation; proposals are being requested and a written solicitation will not be issued. Quotes will be accepted on an all or none basis.”

“One (1) each at London Ave Canal, Orleans Ave Canal and 17th Street Canal from 1 June 2008 through 30 November 2008 for the base period.”

Here’s pictures that I found of the Orleans Avenue site in April, 2008 during a hurricane readiness exercise:

Here’s pictures of the London Avenue canal site last month from April 29, 2008,

and an associated blog entry.

There are no cranes visible in any of the shots. As you can see from the attached picture (taken in 2007), the cranes used to be parked at the sites. I suppose it’s possible they are parking them elsewhere during times when the gates aren’t used, but that wouldn’t explain their absence during an actual drill. Plus, they were always parked on site during 2006 and 2007.

One is led to wonder how the Corps – without cranes at the site – would have lifted the gate segments during or after the drills if the hydraulic winches had failed? Also, how valid a drill is it if all of the equipment necessary during an actual storm isn’t there?

Matt

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