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Feds Set Rebuilding Rules In New Orleans- And They're a Mess

New Orleans residents have been on an 8 month hold, waiting to see if they will be allowed to rebuild or not. Supposedly we were waiting on new floodplain maps from FEMA. But as with everything else with FEMA, it wasn't that simple.

In their infinite wisdom, FEMA decided to not release the maps we've been waiting on for 6 months, but to instead issue a set guidelines based on the existing floodplain maps. (from 1984)

While many people are breathing sighs of relief that we finally have the rules, I've already spend a few hours pouring over them and they approach non-sensical if you try to apply them.

The base rule works like this. If you live in a house that was more than 50% damaged by the flooding from the levee failures, you either have to tear down your house OR raise it up to the "Base Flood Elevation" or 3 feet off the ground, whichever is higher. [The Base Flood Elevation (BFE) is the 100 year floodplain.]

At first glance that seems logical. But it sets up some incredibly illogical situations. For example 2 houses, same value, both sustained 51% damage from the levee breaks:

HOUSE A:
Raised House, 1 foot BELOW the BFE. Must be raised 1 foot to meet BFE.

HOUSE B:
Slab house, 1 foot ABOVE the BFE. This house, even thought it is already above the BFE must be raised an additional 3 feet.

Raising an already raised house 1 additional foot is a logical thing to do if that single foot raises it from a 50 year floodplain to a 100 year floodplain. While it is a burden for the homeowner, it is reasonable.

However, raising a slab home -already above the floodplain- 3 feet in the air is simply ludicrous. That would put the slab home 4 feet higher than the frame home. Not only does that insult common sense, it puts a grossly undue burdern on the home owner who lives on higher ground!

That is only but one of many bizarre issues caused by these guidelines.

The guidelines actually punish areas of the city that improved their drainage system in the last 22 years. As I've said before (and gotten pummeled in the comments by idiots) the new floodmaps should, by all rights, show LESS of a chance for flooding in most areas because of drainage improvements made since 1984. - That's why FEMA still wants to stick with the old maps.

FEMA is trying to broker a unspoken deal here. "We won't take Katrina into account and you guys let us use the old outdated flood risk maps. WInk. Wink." That's not fair to thousands of citizens who have paid for additional flood protection.

It should be noted that the new floodmaps do not take last year's flooding -an engineering failure- into account.

In the Broadmoor section of town for example, 22 years ago it flooded if someone sneezed. 2 decades and millions of dollars in drainage projects later, Broodmoor now rarely floods. Yet those citizens will have to raise their houses simply because FEMA is using old maps. If FEMA used today's maps, many of them would not have to raise their houses.

Of course the whole thing is bogus if you think about it. None of this would have happened if the Corps had not been negligent in the design of the levees. We have a "Pottery Barn" rule in Iraq, we should have one in America. If the Feds flood a city, the burden to fix it should not be on the people they flooded.

These rules will also probably cause many historic homes to be town down for no reason. I can't point you to an exact example, (yet) but I know there are 100 year old homes that have never flooded before and are above the floodplain that now must be raised (or razed) because the Corps designed the levee poorly. It makes no sense unless you consider Corps negligence to be a reoccurring risk.

It gets exponentially more illogical when you dig deeper into it. Financially it stands to be a boondoggle for both the people of New Orleans and the American taxpayer. But I'll skip that for now, it gets complex. Suffice it to say that after 6 months of waiting for FEMA to finish writing these rules, it is especially discouraging that so little thought was given to them. I could have come up with these rules in an afternoon. Why it took 6 months I'll never know.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. It won't be weather or geography that will kill New Orleans. It will be bureaucracy and stupidity.


And my new commenting rules apply. I spent a few hours trying to understand all this stuff. (and I'm still only 95% sure I do ;-) If you want to debate something you'd be best served taking the time to get your facts right. Drive-by idiots will be mocked, embarrassed or deleted. My choice. Intelligent comments are always welcome. Even from Mantis.

And just in case some of you more unhinged commenters were wondering, in the Lower Ninth Ward -where they had 12 feet of water in the houses- most homes will only have to be raised about 1 foot. That should set you chattering.


Comments (63)

[snipped] But once again a ... (Below threshold)
lakestate:

[snipped] But once again a plan like mine won't be used - it makes too much sense.

[Lakestate, the Lower 9th is one of the least floodprone areas in the city. - Minus Levee failure.

So despite your ego, your plan is no more logical. Please take the time to learn what you are talking about before making an ass of yourself. -Paul]

This will turn into anothe... (Below threshold)
virgo:

This will turn into another" Big Dig "for the local economy and the u.s. taxpayer will pick up tab again !

I suppose that it's unreaso... (Below threshold)
Gmac:

I suppose that it's unreasonable to ask that they base any new rulesets on the most recent flooding data, ie the levels seen from Katrina?

Even in the area's damaged by the levee failures as well because it would be prudent to plan for worst case scenario.

Actually, I think levee bre... (Below threshold)
meep:

Actually, I think levee breakage due to Army Corps of Engineers incompetence is a likely reoccurring risk factor. Especially after seeing these rules. They certainly don't inspire any confidence in me, that's for sure. But using 20-year-old flood maps seems about par for the course for the Corps, considering they used even older levee testing data to measure levee adequacy... and then ignored even that.

>I suppose that it's unreas... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>I suppose that it's unreasonable to ask that they base any new rulesets on the most recent flooding data, ie the levels seen from Katrina?

The feds don't want that! Since it was negligence on the part of the Feds, they'd eat the whole cost.

It might be "reasonable" but it ain't going to happen.

>Actually, I think levee br... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>Actually, I think levee breakage due to Army Corps of Engineers incompetence is a likely reoccurring risk factor.

Yeah you and about a million of us too. :-/

Paul, I'm trying t... (Below threshold)

Paul,

I'm trying to understand something here wihout much success: what exactly is the 100-year floodplain for New Orleans?

Is that measured from "inside the bowl," and thus taking into account an artifical plain created by the levee system, or is it measured from without, measure what a natural, levee-less floodplain would have looked like before the Corps of Enginners modified it?

If the house is over half d... (Below threshold)
Bob Jones:

If the house is over half damaged, raising it a few few feet when they rebuild it is no big deal. There are no slabs as houses with crawl spaces are a pier & beam construction.

Personally, I think they should raise them all 10 feet and have floodable garages.

Excellent common sense ide... (Below threshold)
virgo:

Excellent common sense idea Bob , houses on stilts just like in florida and the carolinas. Would have saved a lot of lives and property.

I agree with virgo. <... (Below threshold)
Eneils Bailey:

I agree with virgo.

I can only imagine the ineptness of the Federal government coupled with the corruption of Louisiana/New Orleans politics will leave our wallets a little thinner.

I totally agree with you. ... (Below threshold)
Dana:

I totally agree with you. The bureaucracy is killing not just New Orleans, but the surrounding areas that depend on New Orleans' economy. It is absolutely ridiculous.

And then, today, I read an article in People magazine that quoted a college student gutting homes. Brandi Gilbert from the University of Delaware said, "We rode through the white neighborhoods and were shocked. It doesn't even look like they were hit."

She must have been beaten by the same idiot stick as FEMA was.

Rebuilding a house made of ... (Below threshold)
bill:

Rebuilding a house made of wood that has been flooded is a bad idea ... the stink will never go away. If it were made of concrete block, like in Florida, then you could gut the inside and rebuild just that.

The rules make no sense, they should use what happened and go from there. Even though the flood was caused by levee failure, it will hapopen again no matter how good the levee repairs.

As an aside, why not build-rebuild homes only according to the Dade county hurricane codes and be done with it.

Paul are the flood plain ma... (Below threshold)

Paul are the flood plain maps provided by the National Flood Insurance Program? If so, I wouldn't trust them. The are very inaccurate. On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they had places within 50 feet of the beach front that weren't on the flood maps prior to Katrina.

We are going through the same process over here. The local cities and governments will not issue permits until the new building requirements are addressed.

Most of the rebuilding that is going on in Mississippi is taking into account a 20-30 foot storm surge and most buildings will have the bottom floor as a kind of blow-out wall that allows for the surge to pass through while hopefully keeping stuff on the upper floors from being damaged by the water.

It will cost the businesses and homeowners more initially but will be less expensive in the long run. It'll save down time for businesses and homeowners will hopefully have to worry less the next time a hurricane hits us directly.

>EneilsIf you are ... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>Eneils

If you are worried about corruption in Louisiana you don't have a clue what you are talking about. The Feds are pissing a money by the BILLIONS (billions!) and they say they can't trust LA with it. Bullshit. Not even Edwin Edwards could steal as much as they piss away in a week.

---------

>I'm trying to understand something here wihout much success: what exactly is the 100-year floodplain for New Orleans?

CY...

The 100 floodplain in New Orleans, as it is everywhere in the country, is the area that has a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year. OBVIOUSLY this has to do with far more than raw elevation. As we learned a few months ago, Napa is dozens of feet above sea level and they flood if someone leaves a cork out a wine cask.

Everything is considered. Pumpstations, canal, elevation etc etc etc. One thing most people don't realize is that (short of a levee crumbling) it really is hard to flood New Orleans. We have pumps that can pump billions of gallons of water per minute. We can handle 24 inches of rain in 24 hours with little more than water in the streets. (assuming it comes down 1 inch per hour) Most towns 5 inches of water in 24hrs and they start to have problems. We can laugh at double that.

(So to get to your question...)

The floodplains are drawn up to define when WEATHER is likely to flood things. (again, Katrina didn't flood New Orleans) There simply is no way to predict when mankind will build something that will fail. That's the irony of the whole thing. Katrina is forcing the Gov to define the new floodplains and they will be HIGHER than before Katrina.

>As an aside, why not build... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>As an aside, why not build-rebuild homes only according to the Dade county hurricane codes and be done with it.

We're doing something real close to that. The "problem" is that people in North LA have a problem with it. (OK that's sorta fair) So they are making a demarcation line but I don't know where it is or even if they have established it yet. Suffice it to say that the legislature is way ahead of you.

But Walter Issacson likes t... (Below threshold)
Barry Dauphin:

But Walter Issacson likes the plan, so it must be good! (/sarcasm off).

I just want to back Paul up... (Below threshold)
doctorj:

I just want to back Paul up in regard to his comments about local politicians vs. the feds. I always knew the local and state government was useless but I never knew the federal government made them look good!

You have to remember that t... (Below threshold)
drjak:

You have to remember that this is a) Louisiana, b) New Orleans, c) the DHS (and the USG in general) aren't attracting the sharpest knives in the drawer, and d) when you get right down to it, we owe it to them to just turn over billions so that they can rebuild in a flood plain.

Good work Paul. No one ment... (Below threshold)

Good work Paul. No one mentions just how impossible it is to raise a slab house. As far as I know it cannot be done reasonably.

My wife was a sub contractor helping to find spots to put trailers and she was absolutely shocked at the leve of incompetence of FEMA. She actually warned me about them almost 3 years ago. She works for a company that does disaster planning.

Pierre
Baton Rouge Former New Orleans Resident: Garden District, Mid City, Uptown and Terrytown.

We have pumps that can p... (Below threshold)
J:

We have pumps that can pump billions of gallons of water per minute. We can handle 24 inches of rain in 24 hours with little more than water in the streets. (assuming it comes down 1 inch per hour) Most towns 5 inches of water in 24hrs and they start to have problems. We can laugh at double that.

Isn't the need for pumps a sign of a problem to begin with?

Obviously this is a huge mess that's only getting messier...

Build them 3' above sea lev... (Below threshold)
John Lederer:

Build them 3' above sea level. Use some of the money to make sure that wave action is minimal. Use some to reconstruct public utilities to exist underwater and subsidize driving piles for private homes.

Do a controlled opening of the levees and have a new Venice.

use the last bit of money to cover the costs of establishing water taxis and boardwalks.

In 200 years they will be begging for federal money because their unique city over the water is silting up.

NOLA is a special case, bec... (Below threshold)
The Monster:

NOLA is a special case, because so much of it is below sea level, not to mention the normal levels of the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain. Katrina showed that when the pumps that keep that water out are themselves flooded (and why the heck are the pumps located where they can be flooded?) anything below the level of the lake can be under water for a very long time.
A sensible rule to my way of thinking is that the part of a structure that's below a certain level (something like 2 feet above lake level) has to be concrete and metal. That doesn't preclude putting non-structural elements below that level, like gypsum wallboard, with the understanding that in the event of a flood, you're going to gut it down to that structure that can survive the water. And we taxpayers aren't going to pay to rebuild that part the next time it gets wet. If you want to live below lake level, you do so at your own risk.

That means there are parts of the city where wood framing could rationally be used for the roof of a building, but little else. That includes the lower 9th, because 'minus levee failure' is irrelevant. Levees fail. Everything fails.

OK, prepare to mock and emb... (Below threshold)

OK, prepare to mock and embarrass me, because I'm not understanding what you wrote:

The base rule works like this. If you live in a house that was more than 50% damaged by the flooding from the levee failures, you either have to tear down your house OR raise it up to the "Base Flood Elevation" or 3 feet off the ground, whichever is higher. [The Base Flood Elevation (BFE) is the 100 year floodplain.]

...

HOUSE A:
Raised House, 1 foot BELOW the BFE. Must be raised 1 foot to meet BFE.

HOUSE B:
Slab house, 1 foot ABOVE the BFE. This house, even thought it is already above the BFE must be raised an additional 3 feet.

I'm reading this part differently:

If you live in a house that was more than 50% damaged by the flooding from the levee failures, you either have to tear down your house OR raise it up to the "Base Flood Elevation" or 3 feet off the ground, whichever is higher.

I interpret this as meaning: "All houses more than 50% damaged must be raised a minimum of 3 feet, and must be raised to the BFE." If I were to write my interpretation as an equation, I would write:

E(new) = MAX( E(old) + 3 , BFE )

Now looking at your two examples:

HOUSE A:
Raised House, 1 foot BELOW the BFE.

E(old) = BFE - 1
E(new) = MAX( E(old) + 3 , BFE )
E(new) = MAX( BFE - 1 + 3 , BFE )
E(new) = MAX( BFE + 2 , BFE )
E(new) = BFE + 2

Must be raised 3 feet, to a final height of BFE + 2 feet.

HOUSE B:
Slab house, 1 foot ABOVE the BFE.
E(old) = BFE + 1
E(new) = MAX( E(old) + 3 , BFE )
E(new) = MAX( BFE + 1 + 3 , BFE )
E(new) = MAX( BFE + 4 , BFE )
E(new) = BFE + 4

Must be raised 3 feet, to a final height of BFE + 4 feet.

Now let's look at one more hypothetical house:

HOUSE C:
Raised house, 4 feet BELOW the BFE. (And no, I don't know if this example makes sense, other than numerically.)

E(old) = BFE - 4
E(new) = MAX( E(old) + 3 , BFE )
E(new) = MAX( BFE - 4 + 3 , BFE )
E(new) = MAX( BFE - 1 , BFE )
E(new) = BFE

Must be raised 4 feet, to a final height of BFE.

It seems to me like their formula, while having some big problems, is consistent with this sort of thinking: "Well, we absolutely insist that damaged homes have to be brought up to BFE, or else torn down; but we also think that BFE isn't good enough. We wish we had the revised flood maps, but we don't. So rather than wait for the revised maps, we're going to arbitrarily set a 3 foot minimum: damaged homes must be raised at least 3 feet, because the 51% damage proves that there's a risk there."

In other words, I see bureaucratic fiat substituting for engineering analysis (yet to come), as a way to allow people to get building more quickly. And I'm not endorsing that. In particular, I think examples like your House B show that there are gaps in their logic. I have a hard time imagining raising a slab home to BFE + 4.

But I think your example only confuses it further, because it implies that the higher house gets raised farther. The way I read the rule, all 51% damaged houses get raised 3 feet; and if that doesn't get them to the BFE, then they get raised to the BFE.

Martin: You read it wrong'... (Below threshold)
The Monster:

Martin: You read it wrong'
The key phrase is:
"Base Flood Elevation" or 3 feet off the ground, whichever is higher.

It doesn't say '3 feet above where it is now'. The raised house is already above the gound

Monster,OK, I see ... (Below threshold)

Monster,

OK, I see that. I don't see why they wrote that rule -- now I'm as puzzled as Paul -- but I can see where I misread. Thanks!

I'm a freaking idiot who kn... (Below threshold)
tracelan:

I'm a freaking idiot who knows nothing.

[I warned you. -Paul]

How about just clearing out... (Below threshold)
CP:

How about just clearing out the mess, and refill it with water and give everyone the opportunity to live in moored floating homes such as those in Seattle?

tracelan, I grew up in the ... (Below threshold)
JorgXMckie:

tracelan, I grew up in the Mississippi flood plain north of St Louis. If you saw the barge traffic going up and down the river and the farming on both sides you might realized that a realistically leveed Mississippi is a benefit to the whole country.

Maybe, in a perfect world, NOLA could be moved 25 miles or whatever north so the people needed for the best port in the southern US would have a place to live, but then we would lose a wonderful and valuable piece of America.

Anyway, the Corps built our levees back after WWI sometime, but if we didn't bust ass keeping the whole we'd be in the same shape as NOLA about half the time. It's a joke. My friends in my Levee District and the ones to the immediate north and south have had, at minimum, 4 100 year floods since 1944. I've got a picture that year of geese swimming in my grandparents' second floor window.

In 93 my Mom had a new 12 x 6 mile lake in her front yard. The corps is mostly useless, unless they're dredging or piling dirt somewhere.

And why anyone would expect a big federal bureaucracy to do anything well is beyond me. At least with local crooks you can yell at them personally and maybe someone you know will get some benefit. With fed bureaucrats, they're invulnerable to your input, so their incompetence is boundless.

I have an acquaitance who is at the second highest non-appointed level of FEMA. Sweet guy, but he couldn't find his ass with both hands and a six-cell flashlight.

MAN- I'm glad The Monster r... (Below threshold)
Paul:

MAN- I'm glad The Monster read all that before I needed to. ...

Martin, I never mock people who genuinly don't understand. Why do you think I take hours to type this stuff if not to "teach" people what is going on?

I mock the idiots who just spout nonsense they know nothing about... AND I REALLY get annoyed at the people who tell me I'm wrong when they have no F#&%ing idea what they are talking about.

I called a few "names" in town today and asked them why someone above the floodplain had to raise their house and to a person they all said they wondered the same thing.

FEMA is just freaking guessing. They told us for 6 months that the floodmaps were delayed because this was highly technical and very complicated work...

Then they just take the old map and say "Um... let's make them add 3 feet to it." You and I coulda done that over a beer in 20 minutes.

P

Your math is way off here. ... (Below threshold)
Trevor:

Your math is way off here. You even underline the "Whichever is higher" part. What is higher, 1 foot, or 3 feet?

For instance, both houses here would have to be raised 3 feet. However if a house was 4 feet below the BFE, it would have to be raised to the BFE (4 feet total).

Trevor

Paul:Thank you. F... (Below threshold)
cliff:

Paul:

Thank you. Finally, someone understands this FEMA silliness. And yes, it IS silly. Some points in response to several of the comments:

1. Bob Jones: LOTS of houses in New Orleans are slab-on-grade. Lots of houses in Lakeview are slab-on-grade. I grew up in one, so did my wife. Our parents were living in these same houses when the storm hit.

2. Confederate Yankee: The term "100 year flood" is really a misnomer. In engineering terms it is the flood that has a 1 percent chance of occuring. In terms of New Orleans, that would be the level expected 1 percent of the time WITHIN the levee protected areas, with the assumption the levees worked. And for many years, they did work.

3. Rebuilding according to Dade County Standards: The State of Louisiana is enacting emergency legislation making the International Building Code (IBC), inluding the wind force portions, law in the entiire state. Orleans Parish has signed on, but we are getting resistance from the Northern Parishes. These standards will mandate pressure and imapact resistances similar to the Maimi Dade Protocols and Florida State Building Code Protocols. I am an architect, and yesterday I attended a seminar on these new Code items. (We got to see them shoot 2x4s at different window types. Cool!) If you think finding a required minimum floor elevation is confusing, try figuring panel pressures and roof uplift loads!

4. Great ideas on rebuilding: OK, let's be real - New Orleans is NOT going to all be rebult on stilts, be floated on barges, turned back into swamp, made into a new Venice, or other such silliness. The levees need to be rebuilt. I agree that New Orleanians should pay for a portion of the cost for the levees, just as people in California should pay a portion of the cost of siesmic upgrades to highways, or folks in Kansas should pay a portion of the cost for torando warning radars.

.....CLIFF

So the Lower 9th is one of ... (Below threshold)
Ronnie, Arabi LA:

So the Lower 9th is one of the least floodprone areas minus levee breakage!!

Might as well say minus water. I've been flooded by 8 (Betsy) 14 (Katrina) and 8 (Rita) feet of water and all of it came throught the Lower 9th before it got to me. That's 30 total feet in three storms. Find me a more floodprone area tat can match that.

FEMA is a joke... thank heaven I didn't need them. The Corps is worse. FEMA screwed up for 6 months. The Corps has been screwing up this area more or less continuously for 50 or so years.

The flood elevations plan is too absurd to even comment on. As for elevating all the houses there are about 20,000 slab homes in St. Bernard with owners just waiting for someone to come by and show them how. Do you folks think before you make these asinine suggestions.

I lived in a raised house o... (Below threshold)
Django:

I lived in a raised house on a raised lot in Gentilly. My house never had been flooded, not in Betsy, not ever. The damage assessments are a joke. My wife and I got ours on Monday. They are random. On Tuesday, FEMA devalued our home just as the Corps had. What FEMA did was hand the insurance industry the tool to thwart rebuilding. The bravest and most committed to this area have now been told that, because of insurance, their property is going to be economically unfeasable.

If all the Corps of Enginee... (Below threshold)
John C.:

If all the Corps of Engineers is good for is moving dirt, and they are going to waste billions of our dollars anyway, why not just have the Corps fill in the areas that are below water level so they can't flood any more and be done with it?

>Your math is way off here.... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>Your math is way off here. You even underline the "Whichever is higher" part. What is higher, 1 foot, or 3 feet?

No, your understanding is. Try reading next time.

------------

>So the Lower 9th is one of the least floodprone areas minus levee breakage!!

>Might as well say minus water. I've been flooded by 8 (Betsy) 14 (Katrina) and 8 (Rita) feet of water and all of it came throught the Lower 9th before it got to me. That's 30 total feet in three storms.

Ronnie you made my point. Did you flood May 8th?

>Find me a more floodprone area tat can match that.

Google 'napa flooding'. Way more people are flood prone than the lower 9th.

--------

>If all the Corps of Engineers is good for is moving dirt, and they are going to waste billions of our dollars anyway, why not just have the Corps fill in the areas that are below water level so they can't flood any more and be done with it?

That's probably the best idea. It would cost billions to rasie the city but it would be money well spent. The way the Corps is spending money now??????

Well, I synopsize what coul... (Below threshold)

Well, I synopsize what could be done to better spend Our tax dollars, and have been pushing that for some time, here.

Rebuilding NOLA without addressing the geophysical problems of the region, terrorist threats and the increased hurricane cycle we are in is nuts.

Make of it what you will, but there is a *better* way than *just* rebuilding. For the one thing we know after all this time, is that no matter what you prepare for, the entire delta system will smack you silly on the side you don't expect. Perhaps time to give it the due it has earned and adjust our idea of what a city *is* rather than trying to adjust the delta to the city.

John C.:>> ...why... (Below threshold)
cliff:

John C.:

>> ...why not just have the Corps fill in the areas that are below water level so they can't flood any more and be done with it? John C.:

>> ...why not just have the Corps fill in the areas that are below water level so they can't flood any more and be done with it? John C.:

>> ...why not just have the Corps fill in the areas that are below water level so they can't flood any more and be done with it? John C.:

>> ...why not just have the Corps fill in the areas that are below water level so they can't flood any more and be done with it?

Why? Let's forget that we would have to effectively destroy 80 percent of the city in order to save it. Let's do the math: Say, for point of argument, we had to raise 80% of the city inside the levee protection system an average of three feet. (80% of New Orleans flooded) The City is 180.6 square miles of dry land, of which approximately 50 percent of that is behind flood protection levees. So (work with me here) 180.6 times .5 times .8, equals.... 72.24 square miles of area that would have to be raised. A square mile is 3,097,600 square yards, So.... (the math bit isn't over, yet) 3,097,600 square yards times 72.24 is.... 233,77,624 square yards that will need ot be raised 3 feet, which will require 1 cubic yard of fill per square yard of area. Therefore, you would need 233,77,624 cubic yards of fill in order to complete your plan (233,77,624 times 1)

Do you know how many levees you can build with 233,77,624 cubic yards of dirt??? (Right answer: A lot.)

Folks, I was born and raised in New Orleans, as was my wife. We have been dealing with this event for eight months now, trying to get our parents safe, and back home. Forgive me if I seem to have little patience for the "why don't we just...." comments, but we need real world solutions, and we need them, well, NOW. FEMA has fiddled; Governor Blanco has stuck her head in the sand; and Mayor Nagan has stuck his head into orafices that would seem anatomically impossible.

Think, people, think.

Oops. That should be 233,7... (Below threshold)
cliff:

Oops. That should be 233,770,624 cubic yards.

I shold watch my typing............

Paul, in response to your s... (Below threshold)
lakestate:

Paul, in response to your slam from yesterday. First of all, yes, I got my are wrong (I don't live there, my mistake) - but you missed my point. All I was saying is the best (and cheapest) way to "fix" the flood plained part of NO, was to make it into parks, golf courses, etc. and build the homes on higher ground. It was meant to be semi-serious. Had nothing to do with my ego. Seems you have the ego problem judging by your response.

Paul,I worked for ... (Below threshold)

Paul,

I worked for FEMA from 1996 to 2002 and as a contractor for FEMA and HUD from 2002 to 2004. During that stint I worked in NOLA several times for the agency, and also as a contractor for FEMA and HUD: I've been inside literally thousands of homes inside the Parish.

Going into the agency I was a nice, normal, conservative guy. By the time I left I was a ruthlessly pure small government libertarian. If you ever happen to write up a list of government agencies which should be entirely eliminated with no remaining vestige, please list FEMA second after the IRS and just before the ATF. There really is no way to accurately convey to you in words the multiple levels of incompetence which permiate that agency from top to bottom, and from side to side. Sadly, I came to the astonishing conclusion that ALL federal agencies are exactly like that.

Not only do government agencies not attract the sharpest knives in the drawer, but when on happens in by accident - as I did - they actively work to get rid of them.

Oh yeah: 1984 is a relatively recent date for a FIRM map. Many of the ones I worked with while at the agency dated back to the late 70's and early 80's, though this did improve with time.

George

They ought to make a few re... (Below threshold)
Smitty:

They ought to make a few re-usable concrete forms to build 10' raised foundations and let the homewners raise the whole city, all they'd need is about 50 forms and a few cranes.

Cast in place garages would be cool in the summer & spring too.

Your argument is good, nice... (Below threshold)
CB:

Your argument is good, nice example that seems to go against common sense. However, you ignore the fact that the home had to have 50% or more flood damage! Even if it was above BFE, if it had that kind of damage it must **by definition** have been **not good enough**. I agree they could come out with a new flood plain map, and that would be more straightforward, but what makes a better map than the water line on your home?? It is easy to see who is at risk and should raise or rebuild (or bug out), and who is not.
Being 3 feet above the lowest level (usually out in the street/gutters) will prevent you from experiencing any/much flooding during heavy rainstorms when the pumps aren't working well enough. In the case of the lake pouring into the city, well, we can tell from experience who needs to be higher.
Let experience be your map! Why have FEMA make a new one (considering how well they do their job!!)? Or the Corps of Engineers!?

Let's break it down some mo... (Below threshold)
Trevor:

Let's break it down some more since you obviously don't understand this. If a house had 50% flood damage, it has to be raised 3 feet MINIMUM. It doesn't matter if it's 3 feet below the BFE or 100 feet above it. It still has to be raised 3 feet.

If the house is more than 3 feet below the BFE, it has to be raised to the BFE. If it's four feet below the BFE, it has to go four feet up. If it's 100 feet below the BFE it has to go up 100 feet (ludicrous example, but it shows the point).

Again, what is higher, 1 foot up, or 3 feet total. My extensive math training tells me 3, show me how I'm wrong.


The only person here who is talking sense is cliff. What's a guestimate for moving soil around by the cubic yard? I don't work in the geotechnical aspect of engineering, but I'd have to guess around $10/cy. That's only 2 billion dollars, cheap! Hell, we could use concrete which is going at around $100/cy and it'd only run 20 billion. I wonder how much the formwork for that would run... another 20 billion or so, and then the labor, another 20 billion. Hmm, still not THAT expensive...

>Let's break it down some m... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>Let's break it down some more since you obviously don't understand this. If a house had 50% flood damage, it has to be raised 3 feet MINIMUM. It doesn't matter if it's 3 feet below the BFE or 100 feet above it. It still has to be raised 3 feet.

Sigh... Let's break it down some more since you obviously don't understand this. The first house was already raised. So you don't have to raise it all 3 feet.

Math is nice Trevor, but reading has its merits too.

Dimwit.

Trevor,You are a l... (Below threshold)
P2:

Trevor,

You are a living example of why I say all math should be taught with word problems.

You might have "extensive math training" but you are as dumb as a brick.

Treavor:I thank yo... (Below threshold)
cliff:

Treavor:

I thank you for the compliment, but on the earth fill issue, you math is way off. According to R.S. Means Building Construction Cost Data 2006 (Q1), that cubic yard of fill is not $10 per cubic yard, but $31.77 per cubic yard. ($2.37 for fill excavation, $22.50 for haul - 20 mile haul assuned - and $6.90 for bulk dumping/spreading) And that DOES NOT include costs for the following: property expropriation, demolition and haul-off, soil comapction (8" lifts), additional soil due to subsidance (remember, New Orleans soil bearing capacities are meanured in the hundreds, not thousands), or what we locally now call the "Katrina Factor" - the 20-50 percent increase in local building costs we have seen since August. And the latter gets highher the closer you get to Orleans Parish. So, given my earlier number of 233,770,624 cubic yards of fill, it would cost not less than $7.426 billion just in dirt alone!

I went through the above exercise not because I believe filling in New Orleans is an arguable point, but to show that it NOT a realistic, and therefore arguable, point in this debate.

Please understand that this is not an academic issue to me. I deal with the aftermath of Ketrina every day. I work with my parents to secure contractors, surveyors, FEMA walk-thrus, and the like. When I go home tonight, I will spend my evening cleaning items we rescued from my parents house several weeks ago.

What FEMA decides, and how they decide to proceed, has a HUGE impact on us. So let's get back to realities, folks. Lets put some facts on the table - not conjecture, guesses, opinions, or armchair-engineering dreams.

You might have "extensiv... (Below threshold)
mantis:

You might have "extensive math training" but you are as dumb as a brick.

Assuming you don't mean Smart Bricks!

Thanks for replying cliff. ... (Below threshold)
Trevor:

Thanks for replying cliff. I knew I was going to be way off on that figure, but just decided to put a figure to it. I have absoluetly zero expierence with the money involved in earth moving. I'm not suggesting that it should be done either. I have the Constructions Costs (2004) book laying around here somewhere though, probably could have looked that number up.

I'm sorry about your parents house. My grandfather lives on the gulf coast and we do the hurricane clean up from time to time as well. Though I was a little bit to young to remember the last time he got hit bad.

I could have sworn: "OR raise it up to the "Base Flood Elevation" or 3 feet off the ground, whichever is higher." said 3 feet, not 3 feet off the ground. Way to be arrogant boys =]

Above all, I think this means that slab-houses in general are done for in that part of the world. The concrete slabs wouldn't be able to take a direct lift without failing under the bending moments. Up here, the contracters even managae to conviently forget to put half (or all) of the rebar in slabs to begin with. I imagine it's somewhat the same over there.

>Way to be arrogant boys =]... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>Way to be arrogant boys =]

Trevor...

"Mr. extensive math training" is going to whine that OTHER people are arrogant?

Are you freaking out of your mind?

Here's a clue for you... There are two things that drive me nuts and one of them is people too stupid to understand irony.

You twice came after me with wrong information. The first time was fine... You misread something. No big deal -- But after I told you to read it again and you came back with an attitude, you deserve what you get.

YOU complaining that people are arrogant is just priceless.

Turn down the attitude and turn up your irony meter or hit the road.

Only you mantis, only you.<... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Only you mantis, only you.

Trevor:First, my a... (Below threshold)
cliff:

Trevor:

First, my apologies for mis-spelling your name earlier. I have an excuse: I am an LSU graduate..... Now, in response to your post and other posts:

I agree that new slab-on-grade houses are pretty much done for, at least in Lakeview, if these FEMA regs hold up. (That is a BIG if.) There were, back in the mid '90s, several experiments in raising slab-on-grade housees in Denham Springs, Louisiana, near Baton Rouge. The area floods regularly (it is on the Amite River) and two houses that I know of were raised above the BFE for the area. I believe both were succesful. I have no idea of the cost, though.

Smitty: "They ought to make a few re-usable concrete forms to build 10' raised foundations and let the homewners raise the whole city, all they'd need is about 50 forms and a few cranes."
Oh, really? For 100 thousand some dwellings? You have some specific process in mind and/or calculations that will back up your stated quantities?? ....... Didn't think so. End of discussion.

Paul: Thanks for bringing this whole issue up, and giving it some well-deserved analysis. FEMA has not dropped the ball here - it lost it completely. In October they said that the revised maps were a challenge since the area was in the midst of a benchmark recalibration when the storm struck, and it would be January at the earliest. Surveyors I know confirmed that some recalibration was taking place, so I could understand. January came, and we were told that the huge disruption caused by Katrina was hampering efforts. Can't find benchmarks. I could see that. OK. March for sure. March comes along, and we get the "we'd rather be right than fast" excuse. April first, we promise. And now, they issue out what we got this week. Can you see why everyone's so pissed?

Cliff you or I could have c... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Cliff you or I could have come up with something more intelligent in 20 minutes.

What really pisses me off is that if someone had a building permit yesterday, they were ok, they were "grandfathered."

But if they did what they WERE TOLD and waited for the Feds to issue rules they are screwed out of 40,000 dollars or so to raise their house.. That pisses me off.

Paul:Yes, we could... (Below threshold)
cliff:

Paul:

Yes, we could have come up with something better. Or, at the very least, come up with this MONTHS ago. My parents have refrained from sinking any money into the house waiting to see what the rules were going to be. Waited months. That is all anybody wants - tell us what the game plan will be, and we will move forward. Most of the Lakeview neighborhood, contrary to what the news reports say, is not affulent. It is mostly people like my parents - middle-age to elderly - both rich and not-so-rich. These folks have been looking for answers, but all they get is posturing, excuses, or the mayors preferences on ice cream flavors.

Oh yes: $40,000 to raise a house? Not anymore.......

>Oh yes: $40,000 to raise a... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>Oh yes: $40,000 to raise a house? Not anymore.......

That's true... with the price of labor now, no telling. Good luck to your folks man.

There was a flood special h... (Below threshold)

There was a flood special here in Sacramento-- which is considered at worse risk for urban flooding than New Orleans*, but which has much shorter escape routes-- that mentioned one idea that I thought was interesting in regards to New Orleans. The gent involved was some kind of ecologist, and he has been watching the marshland barrier to NO disappear over the years. (When you streamline a river for navigation, you move where the silt gets deposited.

This is important because the marshlands "act as a sponge" in regards to storm surges. So his idea was to create a second channel for the Mississippi, a slow, silt channel. You keep the current one for navigation, levees and port and all, and the second one is running with minimal controls off to the side, providing a pressure release and rebuilding the marshes.

In other words, very very long-term flood protection thinking.

*The special talked about the Natomas area just north of Sacramento, a development my parents opposed for years because it's located on a natural floodplain. Apparently, most people who buy houses there don't know they're at risk for flooding (the greatest risk aside from two old areas of town with inadequate levees), and many are even told, truthfully, that they're not required to buy flood insurance (because the maps are based on the supposition of better levee protection than is actually in place.)

There's also a real estate term which nobody seems to consider the implications of. It's called "highwater" as in "highwater bungalow." What this means is a house that has its main entrance on the second floor, a common sight in downtown Sacramento where floods occurred almost yearly until they raised the city and began building levees. In other words, these houses were designed for floods... and the only reason that the high entry stopped being important is that they built levees. Over a hundred years ago. Without all the necessary maintenance since.

Paul..There is a d... (Below threshold)
Ronnie, Arabi LA:

Paul..

There is a difference between being flood prone and actually flooding. The lower 9th-Arabi-Chalmette-St Bernard area is all the same area relative to flooding from levee breach. Have you eve looked at a map? This is the most flood prone area since the levees surrounding it are substandard and will not hold even a Cat 2 hurricane surge. There is a difference between being prone to heart failure and having a couple and dying. I'd say the latter is more serious. Don't mind the actual water, just get busy with the stats and flood maps.

Every place is immediately flood prone when a levee built to protect it breaks. My home is a couple of feet above sea level but we are surrounded by sorry CE engineered levees that have collapsed twice under the weight of CAT 3 surges, which they are supposedly designed to handle. The Industrial Canal levee broke in almost the same place as it did after Betsy. The Corps had "strengthened" it... just like they are doing now. Wonder why I'm buying on Baton Rouge?

It will take a minimum of 20 years for the area to gain any semblance of normalcy. Anybody who has not seen St. Bernard first hand, on the ground in boots, sights, smells and all, has no clue the damage this storm has done. It is 90% flood related. At 7 am my home had not even lost power and there was scant water in the streets. Wind damage was minimal, a branch fell from the pecan tree in the yard. Ten minutes later we were forcing the door against 4 feet of water. By 8 am it was 8 ft, up to the gutters. The water flowing past had whitecaps. It stopped there for awhile, which is where it stopped for Betsy, but at 10 am the MRGO levee collpsed and the water started coming from down parish. It didn't stop rising until 2 pm at about 14 feet which is 3 tiles from the top of my roof. We were sitting on the ridge tiles with our feet in the water.

But I wasn't worried. I knew if I Googled it I would find that there were other places even more flood prone.

Get real.

Two other items...... (Below threshold)
Ronnie, Arabi LA:

Two other items...

- Katrina and Rita have left no marsh protection around St. Bernard, New Orleans East, and the Lower 9th (on the same plain as St. Bernard). A flight over the area shows Lake Borgne right up to the levees. All of the breakwaters are gone.

- For those suggesting all of these fancy engineering solutions to be implemented by the Corps of Engineers I would suggest a trial first to see if they could handle it. Let them move Hoover dam and Lake Mead a hundred miles west so we don't have to pump the water so far to get it to California. Once they finish that project we can let them start on New Orleans. Hopefully by the time they drown eveyone in Nevada the free market and nature will have handled most of our problems down here.

Ronnie, with all due respec... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Ronnie, with all due respect, you're being an idiot.

The floodmaps can not predict a levee failure. Can you? Apparently from your story you can't.

The floodmaps are concerned with rain not human failure. If we just designed for levee breaks everything would be 14 feet high and we wouldn't need levees.

You may as well accept the fact that these are the rules we now live under. It may be counterintuitive but the new floodmaps will show much of the city with less chance of flooding than the old maps.

If you don't like that, I'm sorry but I'm not the one that needs to get real.

P

BTW I was in the parish while there was still water in some streets. I was working in a mobile home that came thru the storm unscathed. (freaky feeling)

> So his idea was to create... (Below threshold)
Paul:

> So his idea was to create a second channel for the Mississippi, a slow, silt channel.

B Durb, there's no shortage of ideas like this down here. Trust me.

The question is which one is economically, ecologically and technologically feasable.

Ronnie:I am so sor... (Below threshold)
cliff:

Ronnie:

I am so sorry to hear what happened to y'all. You have FAR more right to speak on this issue than I do. My apologies. My Katrina problems pale compared to yours. I will remember you and yours at Mass tomorrow night.

I have not been to St. Bernard since the storm. I confine myself to Lakeview; I cannot bring myself to "sightsee". I believe that what you have to deal with in Arabi, and what we have to deal with in Lakeview, is very personal and not fodder for gawkers. We have too many gawkers coming by now (they even have guided tours in Lakeview!). There is a boat in the neutral ground near my parents house that we call the "picture boat". People pull off, get the family out of the car, take a few snaps standing in front of the boat, and drive away. We have even had people stop to dig through my parents trash pile looking for souviners of their trip. People need to know and see what happened, but they need remember that this is not Disaster Disneyland.

As for Baton Rouge, it is where we are, and have been for some time. It is different, but I think you will like it. We do have Mandina's now - with the original kitchen staff. The turtle soup is as good as ever!! No Rocky & Carlo's, unfortuantely, but I hear that they are trying to reopen in their old location.

All the best, and a Happy Easter.

Paul:Before you ta... (Below threshold)
cliff:

Paul:

Before you take it out on Ronnie, please remember what he has been through. If you had been through the same, you'd be pretty damn sore, too. I do not think Ronnie an idiot, nor you. Ronnie does have some contextural points that should be noted. First, The levees were supposed to resist a Cat 3 storm. The part of Katrina that hit New Orleans was a only a Cat 2-3; the system clearly failed east of the Industrial Canal. Just as they did in Betsy. The why is still a matter of conjecture - we do not have all of the facts yet. But Ronnie, like most of the flood victims, has no trust in the levee system anymore. Can you blame them?

Ronnie:

Paul is right about the flood maps. They deal with expected flooding due to reasonably expected weather events, assuming the levees work, not catastrophic events. At a certian level, you can not protect. Take seismic forces (earthquakes): we can design to resist up to a certian point, but after that, there is no reasonable way ro resist the forces. We all know that a 8.5 or 9.0 or 10.0 is going to hit California someday, but that is not the event we design to. We couldn't afford to build anything. We have to set our limits, and assume some risk that the worst may happen.

>Before you take it out on ... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>Before you take it out on Ronnie, please remember what he has been through. If you had been through the same, you'd be pretty damn sore, too.

Man I appreciate all that.

>I do not think Ronnie an idiot, nor you.

I didn't call him an idiot, I said he is being an idiot on this one. World of difference. (to me anyway)

>Ronnie does have some contextural points that should be noted. First, The levees were supposed to resist a Cat 3 storm. The part of Katrina that hit New Orleans was a only a Cat 2-3; the system clearly failed east of the Industrial Canal. Just as they did in Betsy.


OK... You guys probably got here via google news on this story. If you go back in the Katrina archives, I blogged the storm from Memphis and I've been doing this for MONTHS.

I explained back in September WHY the Corps kept saying the levees where not "breached" they were "topped." (and fought the idiots in the comments who had no clue what I was talking about)

Without breaking my arm patting myself on the back, I've been WAY WAY WAY out front on this story. Search for "no longer a voice in the wilderness" for just one example.

Actually, read posts titled "Pray II" and search for "riding out katrina in the superdome" and you'll see I blogged this BEFORE it even happened.

If you go to our search function and type "levee" (or floodwalls) you'll see I've blogged a a few things about them. (just a few ;-)

The point being I'm very, very, very well versed in every nuance of the the levee failures. I've been leading the charge saying it was an engineering debacle for months. (With all due respect) You don't need to tell me that the levees failed prematurely. Been there, done that! -- About 3 days after the storm.

BTW- Katrina was a Cat 3 when she hit Buras and a CONFIRMED Cat 1 by the time she hit New Orleans. Don't belive the "This was a freak killer Cat 5" hype. It's B.S. (check the archives)


>The why is still a matter of conjecture - we do not have all of the facts yet.

Yes and no. We "know" why the levees failed. Are the final reports written? Not yet. But we know. (again, see archives atlthough admittedly I've focused more on the floodwalls than the levees to the east)

>But Ronnie, like most of the flood victims, has no trust in the levee system anymore. Can you blame them?

No, not a bit. But as you noted above, the floodmaps and levee failure are different beasts.

Personally, I would not live east of the industrial canal. I grew up on that side the canal and I love it out there (you know the Parish is God's Country) but short of a concrete hurricane hut on 14 feet piles, it ain't for me.

--- If Ronnie is making the same choice, I'm not mocking him, I'd agree ---

But I'm discussing the reality of the way life works down here. Chalmette is being steadily rebuilt, the flood insurance rates those people pay will be based on the floodmaps. That's all I'm talking about.

Paul:I'll make thi... (Below threshold)
cliff:

Paul:

I'll make this my last post, and let you have the last word. We are beginning to thrash an expired equine here.

In a nutshell, you and I are in agreement. I see that you were on this months ago. As for my comment about all of the facts not being in, I made that after sitting through several presentations by some of the LSU engineers who are doing the analysis of the failures. Each time, they have revised their hypothesis based on new data - some of which they could not obtain until a lot of debris removal was done. At the 17th Street Canal, they initially surmised that there was overtopping, and that the steel cofferdam panels were not driven in deep enough. Turns out they were in to the design depth, but driven into soils that could not resist the forces being placed on them. Ditto, London Avenue. Initially, overtopping was thought a factor in both, but it was not at the 17th Street Canal (don't remember what he said about London Avenue). Overtopping was the culprit at the Industrial Canal and at the MGRO. Not a barge or a bomb. I have seen their forensic evidence, and it is very strong. But, as they have warned us each I heard them talk, there is much that we do not know.

And yes, you are right - flood maps and levee breaks are two different things.

All the best, and, again, thanks for taking on this issue.




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