Filed Under:  Environmental, Gulf Coast, Local, News

New data shows that Corps of Engineers took shortcut with levees

27th August 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

Local disaster protection advocates are once again blasting the Army Corps of Engineers for its role in the historic flooding of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Almost seven years after the storm devastated the city, the group Levees.org has produced a short film compiling data that refutes the Corps’ oft-repeated assertion that local officials blocked efforts to create an adequate flood protection zone.

Levees.org – led by local activist Sandy Rosenthal – has often sparred with the Corps in the years following Katrina and the release of the short documentary is just the latest round in the barrage of back-and-forth stances on both sides as New Orleans prepares to commemorate another year out from under the cloud of Katrina.

Rosenthal, at an Aug. 22 press conference announcing the film’s release, said the film is dedicated to all of those who lost their lives in the storm. “We owe it to all of the people who lost their lives to tell the truth and get the word out about what really happened here in New Orleans.” Rosenthal was joined at the press conference by H.J. Bosworth, a researcher for Levees.org, in making the group’s case against the Corps.

A document request, Bosworth pointed out, turned up material indicating the Corps botched a study into how far to place support beams for the city’s flood walls into the ground. The Corps believed that placing support structures at a depth of 17 feet would be adequate to support flood walls around the city, but subsequent research has proven that a depth closer to 30 or more feet would have provided better protection.

The shallow supports for the flood walls allowed water to seep under the 17th Street and London Ave. canal walls during Katrina, causing the walls to buckle and flood the homes and other property behind them.

Levees.org also obtained documents from the early 1990s outlining efforts by local officials to bypass the Corps’ flood protection plan in favor of a more expensive, but, believed to be, more sound strategy to protect the city from flood waters. This, Rosenthal, said is evidence that local officials did not try to persuade Corps officials to build a cheaper protection system. “This idea has been repeated over and over again,” Rosenthal lamented, “and it’s not true.”

But by not creating a more costly flood protection zone, the Corps saved $100 million, according to the film. Those savings are juxtaposed, the filmmakers point out, with the more than $20 billion in damage done to the New Orleans region.

Harry Shearer, a voice actor on “The Simpsons” animated series and producer of the Katrina-related documentary “The Big Uneasy,” joined the press conference via Skype and expressed his support for Rosenthal’s efforts and underscored the need to “hold the Corps accountable” for the flooding of New Orleans. “We can’t stop until the truth about what happened in New Orleans becomes household knowledge,” he added.

The film — entitled “The Secret Truth about the Katrina Levee Failures—can be found on YouTube by visiting the Levees.org homepage.

This article originally published in the August 27, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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