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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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Comments (9)

Shall we all hold our breat... (Below threshold)

Shall we all hold our breath until the "elitist media" points out that SICK WILLIE occupied the White House during most of the 1990s and was thus over the Corps of Engineers?

"The construction company s... (Below threshold)

"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."

Although lowest bidder can be a problem, it was not in this case.
The company pointed out the structural problem, and the government agency ignored it.

Before we all leap to the c... (Below threshold)

Before we all leap to the conclusion the MSM wants us to reach, go have a look at the "court papers" in question. The contractor was trying to collect an extra $800,000 on the contract. "Out of tolerance" in this context means "not plumb" (or straight) and has absolutely nothing to do with the strength or adequacy of the levee... in fact the contractor admitted and agreed that the levee was adequate for its intended purpose. This was actually a dispute where a contractor was claiming the site conditions caused delays and extra expense (and the failure to produce walls plumb to within 1/4") and the gov't claimed the contractor caused its own problems the way it placed its forms for concrete. And produced another contractor who had built a similar levee who encountered similar problems and solved them without incurring an additional $800,000 in time and expense and delays. It may well be that somebody had reason to expect that the levee wasn't adequate...but these documents have no bearing whatsoever on that question.

RE: GeoBandy.Fair ... (Below threshold)

RE: GeoBandy.

Fair enough. I only looked at the quote, not the original papers.

Still, there is no evidence the corporation didn't meet spects, is there?

If thats the case, unless the spects themselves were set by the contractor, its still a problem of poor government leadership.

Admittedly, government-business interface lacks natural market mechanisms, and poor design or performance is often the result.

Some recurring offenders of this dynamic are:
Public Schools that are not locally controlled.
Large labor union/corporation interfaces.
HUD housing.

All the same dynamic. So I'm not really defending the corporations here. Just pointing out that these systems require constant attention if you expect anything but crap from them, and therefore we should strive to avoid creating those systems.

Any facts that come out now... (Below threshold)

Any facts that come out now that discredit New Orleans politicians are to be treated as minor events and irrelevant.. The media has successfully excoriated Bush and blamed him for the failures of the response to Katrina. Their task is complete and a hugh success. They have no use anymore for that issue. Gotta keep running -they have the conservative right wounded badly, Cindy, Katrina, Iraq, budget malfeasance, Delay, Bennett, Bull Connor! Like a good boxer they persue aggressively, throwing lightweight but wild swings that is presently fooling the viewers into thinking Bush is incompetent. that's what those poll numbers represent.

Live Free or Die has hit ex... (Below threshold)

Live Free or Die has hit exactly my point. There's nothing in these documents that indicates anybody ever claimed the contractor (or the completed levee) didn't meet specs, resulting in a "weak" levee (or wall). The only spec the contractor didn't meet was being out of plumb more than the "tolerance" (ie margin of error) in the contract. The argument is the contractor claiming soil conditions and the existing sheet piling was too "weak" to support its concrete framing, causing the walls to be out of plumb. The government position was that they shouldn't have been supporting their framing with the sheet pilings and could have waited a few days for the soil to firm up. How to do the framing was a part of the contract left up to the contractor, which backs up Live Free's point about company-government interaction. But there's NOTHING in these documents that says ANY party ever said the levee as completed was "weak" or in any way inadequate or defective. It may have been defective in some way, I obviously don't know that. But these documents certainly don't lead to that conclusion.

And what kind of endangered... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

And what kind of endangered speices stood in the way of the repairs under BABBLING BABBIT and his DEPT OF THE INFERIOR?

[Rocks and Glass Houses Dep... (Below threshold)

[Rocks and Glass Houses Department]

Will someone get spurwing a Spel Checker?

I dont need a spell check e... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

I dont need a spell check epador you do i mean what i said when i said DEPT OF THE INFERIOR and BABBLING BABBIT






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