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New Orleans Floodwalls Stuffed With Newspaper?

If you're under the mistaken belief that another Hurricane Katrina disaster won't happen again in New Orleans, this report from WWL-TV might make you reasses...

A St. Bernard Parish resident reported seeing a Army Corps of Engineers contractor filling the expansion joint in a floodwall with newspaper. The Corps doesn't seem to think it's a problem, but an engineer contacted by the station says the use of substandard materials "could be very serious."

They'd have been better off just dumping the federal dollars sent for levee and floodwall repairs right into the expansion joints...


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Comments (42)

Blatant Paulbait.... (Below threshold)

Blatant Paulbait.

What a waste of newspaper!<... (Below threshold)

What a waste of newspaper!

Actual, <a href="http://www... (Below threshold)

Actual, a report the next day has a quote from the Corps saying they did it themselves.

Remember the government pro... (Below threshold)

Remember the government project to hire locally, brains optional.

As the need to diversify it... (Below threshold)

As the need to diversify its appeal becomes ever more apparent, the newspaper industry finds yet another use for its products . . .

Yo! Paulie! What's da story?

The plans for projects such... (Below threshold)

The plans for projects such as these are not top secret. It is sad that the writer didn't get copies of the actual engineering detail that was supposed to be installed. The name of the building inspectors should also be public record, at least they are in California, and nothing should be written about construction without checking with the inspector. I am going to reserve judgment until the 2 week rule is in effect. There are lots of throw away materials used in construction that are not needed after the concrete cures. Getting quotes from bystanders about construction methods is like asking baseball players about heart surgery. You might get an educated opinion, but probably not.

The company was out of Lafa... (Below threshold)

The company was out of Lafayette, LA and the contract specifically called for expanding foam filler. The Corps said due to time pressure they were OK with the newspaper filler. It was suppose to be replaced later with the right material, but like so much of this government, incompetency won out. I don't know very many people in SE LA that trust ANYTHING the Corps says. They have lied to us over and over again. And what person in their right mind would OK paper filler in termite infested,subtropical south Louisiana. Our government, that's who.

Doctor J-I am an Arc... (Below threshold)

Doctor J-
I am an Architect and the contract documents probably said "expanding foam or equal". Just because a material was substituted is no reason to assume that there has been massive corruption. As I said, wait until someone who knows what they are doing examines the allegation, the reporters methods of investigation stink.

tyree, did you click throug... (Below threshold)

tyree, did you click through and read the links? The article says the material in the contract is "sponge rubber" and what was used was newspaper. The video shows them taking a hunk of newspaper out of the wall, and the contract that says "field molded sealant." While the first article names a Lafayette company as the culprit, the one I linked to in my comment clearly states that the Corps admits they personally did it, not the contractor:

"After initially telling Eyewitness News a Lafayette based company did the work on those joints, the corps now says the work was done by laborers hired by the corps.

"Stuffing newspaper in that joint should not have been done," Bedey said. "In the very near future we will repair all three joints and put the proper backing next to the waterstop.""

But this is par for the course for the Corps, who knew 15 years before Katrina that the levee designs were faulty and didn't bother to change them.

Laura:I am a little ... (Below threshold)

I am a little puzzled by your response. Once again, wait for some analysis from someone who knows what they are doing. Construction is a very difficult process that can easily be mismanaged, but almost everything in a construction contract has an "equal" that can be used instead. I am not going to take the word of some "journalist" that this is a big deal until somebody who knows what they are doing looks at it. "Expanding foam filler" can be chewed through by ants and has no structural integrity. It blocks air. Until the details and specifications are analyzed everyone needs to calm down and wait for the inspectors. The walls are not going to walk away.

Also, keep in mind that there is a tremendous amount of union/non-union competition in the construction trades. Sometimes that competition leads to bloody fistfights outside the construction site, sometimes there is sabotage. Just remember the two week rule and look into this case when there is some perspective given by truly independent experts.

I will reserve my opinion about what it means until then.

tyree, you needn't take the... (Below threshold)

tyree, you needn't take the opinion of the journalist. Take the word of the head of the Corps:

"Stuffing newspaper in that joint should not have been done," Bedey said. "In the very near future we will repair all three joints and put the proper backing next to the waterstop.""

I'm perplexed why the Corps' own statement doesn't persuade you that there's a problem here. But then again, you did say that you wanted to hear from someone who "knows what they are doing," and that obviously isn't a representative from the Corps of Engineers.

Perhaps, Laura, but perhaps... (Below threshold)

Perhaps, Laura, but perhaps it is just CYA now that some "journalist" is trying to turn this into a major story. As I said, without seeing the detail, there is no way to know if the substitution is a problem. There are all kinds of ways to handle things in the field. We need more information.
I am no fan of the Army Corps of Engineers, the house my father helped my grandfather build was two blocks from where the water came in in Metairie, LA. I am related to about 20 families who had to evacuate. But I understand construction and we need to wait until the details can be reviewed until we know if this is a big deal or not. The media messes up stories all the time. Remember the Duke Rape Case? Or Dan Rather and his fake George Bush memos? Or the fuel tank "explosion" caused by fireworks?

Just to sum this all up. Almost everyone in construction is tied to significant assets that can be taken if they do anything illegal. Try to imagine what a crane costs. I am not saying that nothing was done wrong, I am saying wait until a credible source says this is a big deal before you think it is a big deal. Journalists need to

tyree - are you not paying ... (Below threshold)

tyree - are you not paying attention??? The corp said 1) they did it and 2) it shouldn't have been done. What exactly are is missing for you?

The levee wall that I can see form my very own home here in Kenner has sunk, and is not level. It has a significant dip in it. We have given the ACOE many chances and they keep proving themselves untrustworthy.

"substandard materials"<... (Below threshold)

"substandard materials"

Isn't that a bit of an understatement? Unless they added flour and water and the plans called for a paper mache wall...

And seeing that they did this two years ago, then maybe it's not unreasonable to give tyree two more weeks :)

Laurie, I will correct you ... (Below threshold)

Laurie, I will correct you on one point: The Corps and our government sent many millions for levee repair that was used for other things by the locals. ww

Keep drinking the Kool-aid ... (Below threshold)

Keep drinking the Kool-aid WildWillie. It doesn't change the truth, even if you are willing to excuse incompetence and the putting of American lives at risk because of it.

I have to agree with tyree ... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

I have to agree with tyree here. While I understand what the Corps representative said, it doesn't mean that he (she) knew anything at all about the actual situation or that the statement was anything other than a mea culpa. Normally, a PR person is going to say what he has been told to say by the organization. However, that doesn't mean that he said what he was supposed to say.

I can see in this case where, as tyree suggested, the laborer thought that the newspaper would work. The specifications set out by the Corps may well have allowed it, in fact. A novice observer saw something that he didn't understand fully that looked wrong to him. He started the ball rolling and the media picked it up. What is the Corps supposed to do? If they say that the newspaper was perfectly acceptable, they will face a barrage of criticism over what people who don't know any better will think is wrong. The only position they can take is that it was incorrect and that they will fix it. Any other response would have only made things worse.

Just because a PR flack says something, that doesn't mean it's the truth.

J-Ho:I am not missin... (Below threshold)

I am not missing anything.
"The Corps said they did it" - Yes, they can't deny it because, as I wrote above the information is public record.

"They shouldn't have done it" - The article doesn't say why. "expanding foam" is a temporary, non-waterproof product. Rolled newspaper is a temporary non-waterproof product. There is a possibility they admitted that they "shouldn't have done it" because it looks bad to the media and people who don't know about construction. I had a conversation just last night with a building inspector about how aggravating it can be to have people who don't know anything about construction who try to tell you they know how things should be done.

The journalist, political activists and construction workers who wanted the contract to go to them all have a motive for making the Corps look bad. There is a possibility that is all that is going on here. Please wait before you jump to conclusions.
I gave other examples in previous posts, but remember the Al Dura case before you believe a single news report. Look up Muhammad al-Durrah in Wikipedia. Hundreds have been killed in a battle started by doctored video footage. Or what about "Remember the Maine"? The media have ruined more than one life for a headline.

Doctor J said: "...p... (Below threshold)

Doctor J said:
"...putting of American lives at risk..."

Until we see the plans and specifications, we don't know that any lives are at risk.

This can be a learning experience. If you know anyone in the construction trades, ask them about material substitution on a construction site. It is done all the time and it is usually done in a proper way with adequate regard to life and safety. I am not defending the Corps. Read my post above, the substandard work they did caused billions in damage after Katrina. I just want more information from a reliable source before I form an opinion.

What this actually shows is... (Below threshold)

What this actually shows is the typical methodology of the Corps. Let's review the chain of events and see if it matches a pattern....

1) Use substandard building material; when the correct stuff was available.

2) When caught by the media; lie and blame it on a contractor.

3) When that lie is exposed, admit the Corps did it and that it should not have been done.

4) Make sure you have a big press event at a new floodwall miles from the one stuffed with newspaper to distract everyone.

5) Reassure the public that even with the newspaper in the walls, "the risk of leaking is minimal." - Sure like the time they said the town wasn't flooding, the water just "spilled over" the levees a little bit.

6) And make sure when caught the very first thing you do is blame congress for not sending enough money.

Why would anyone doubt the Corps now?

The journalist, po... (Below threshold)
The journalist, political activists and construction workers who wanted the contract to go to them all have a motive for making the Corps look bad. There is a possibility that is all that is going on here. Please wait before you jump to conclusions.

If my eyes roll any further back in my head, I'll be viewing my own brain. Comparing this to al Dura is specious, to say the least. Your defense of the Corps is far more like the media's response to reports of "civilian" deaths in Gaza. (remember the Jordanian bankers?) Uncritical acceptance of the word of people who consistently act in bad faith; every allowance given. But please yourselves...

Laura-You have compl... (Below threshold)

You have completely misrepresented what I wrote.

I did not defend the Army Corps of Engineers. I did write that I was not on their side, and gave the reasons why in posts on this thread. By asking for more information, I am conceding there is something to investigate. I fail to see how that can be interpreted as defending the Corps

I did not "Uncritically accept" the Corps word. I mentioned in many posts on this thread that we need more information, which is readily available, before we assemble a mob with torches and pitchforks.

This morning I checked with a State Fire Marshall and a Senior Project Manager about this issue. One said the newspaper might work as good as the foam in an exterior condition and the other said he would never have it on any job he was part of. So among people who have even more experience than me we have mixed opinions. I will wait for the final report before I ask for anyones head on a platter.

I think what bothers me mos... (Below threshold)

I think what bothers me most is this, "Kulkarni says it's not a short term risk, but over time that missing rubber joint could weaken that waterstop."

What is "short term"? Two years? And whose fault is it? Well, it seems to me that while we were adding a room to our house the inspectors were there on several occasions to inspect every step of the construction. Pour the slab - inspect. Build the frame - inspect. Put in hurricane straps - inspect. And so on and so forth.

I would venture to guess that if we had stuffed newspapers in any gaps, we wouldn't have passed inspection. I guess the standards are different for a levee.

Oyster has it right. The wo... (Below threshold)

Oyster has it right. The worst part about the allegation is how if reflects on the entire inspection process. If the inspectors missed this, if it was not an approved equal, the what else did they miss? I waited 20 years for data on how earthquakes affect modern concrete structures, I can wait a few months for data on this one.

tyree, as far as I'm concer... (Below threshold)

tyree, as far as I'm concerned, "needing more information" than what the admission the Corps themselves has offered IS giving them a pass - and one that they haven't even asked for, which makes it even more ridiculous. If there are any experts on levees and floodwalls in this country, that would be the Corps, charged by Congress since 1965 with building those very things.

The Corps themselves put the newspaper in the floodwall, and the Corps themselves admitted they were wrong for doing it.

I simply cannot understand why that's not good enough for you and why you would seek the opinions of those even less qualified - a fire marshal? A project manager? It makes no sense at all.

It's like your spouse admitting she's cheated on you and you interviewing the desk clerk at the hotel to see if she really did check in.

I thought I would add this ... (Below threshold)

I thought I would add this link to the headline story of the New Orleans Times Picayune. "Two Floodwalls at Risk, Corps Says". These are the kinds of stories you never hear about in the Great Elsewhere.

Laura-You have made ... (Below threshold)

You have made my point for me,
"I simply cannot understand why that's not good enough for you and why you would seek the opinions of those even less qualified - a fire marshal? A project manager?"

I said a State Fire Marshall. On a construction project of any size, he can shut it down. Period. He is MORE qualified than the person who spoke to the media. Unlike your example, what I did is more like asking General Schwarzkopf what is going on in Iraq, as opposed to some minor flunky who gets paid to talk to the media. If you don't think a State Fire Marshall is like the General, block a legal fire exit and find out.

As far as the Corps "admitting they were wrong" that is not an admission that the detail was flawed, it could just as easily be an admission that the political climate is too toxic to allow it because it looks bad.

One thing the State Fire Marshall told me during our conversation made an impact one me. He said that many times he would ask his buddies after a fire if they read the newspaper account of that fire. They all said the same thing, every time, "I wonder which fire the news people were reporting because that isn't he one I was at."

Whatever, we are going to have to agree to disagree, but please look into this story a few months from now and see what facts are revealed.

Doctor J- Good artic... (Below threshold)

Doctor J-
Good article. Notice there were no quotes from concerned bystanders who don't know what they are looking at. Compare it to the WWL-TV article and note the differences. You will see why I am not piling on, yet.
The Time Picayune is a good paper. My father worked there at night while he was putting himself through medical school.

tyree, I'm more than famili... (Below threshold)

tyree, I'm more than familiar with state fire marshals; my husband is a NICET certified professional who works with them every day.

The man who admitted fault wasn't a PR flunky, as you would have learned if you'd just, as they say at Fark, RTFA I linked: " The Army Corps head of the Hurricane Protection Office, Col. Jeffrey Bedey"

Where levees and floodwalls are concerned, a state fire marshal (or even THE state fire marshal, if you happen to know the top guy in your state) is certainly NOT more qualified than Bedey even if he happens to also be a civil engineer - which many if not most are NOT. Give me a break. Also, marshal is spelled with on "L."

For example, check out <a h... (Below threshold)

For example, check out the bio of the top guy here in LA:

Has served in all levels of the fire service profession including being the past Fire Chief of the City of Gonzales and East Baton Rouge Fire Protection District #6, he has served as a fire inspector and Chief Arson Investigator. His accomplishments include being an Eagle Scout, Past President of the Louisiana State Fireman's Association, Past President of the Louisiana Arson and Fire Prevention Association, Graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program, The Commission on Professional Credentialing Chief Fire Officer and certified Emergency Medical Technician. He is certified in many fire administration, fire suppression, fire prevention and fire education levels at the National Fire Academy and Oklahoma State University. He has instructed at LSU and holds a Fire Science Degree from LSU-Eunice.

Quelle surprise. He's certainly capable of moving me from in front of a fire exit, but I wouldn't hire him to build a levee. Nor has he been given that job. For a reason.

Whatever, we are going to h... (Below threshold)

Whatever, we are going to have to agree to disagree, but please look into this story a few months from now and see what facts are revealed.

I won't be moved. One article from one TV station is not enough for me to condemn an entire operation of hundreds of people. I have read way to much about the corners the news people cut to get their headlines to give them the much credibility.

Col. Jeffery Bedey may be the top guy, but he may still be admitting there is a problem when for purely PR reasons. I have seen it happen many times, personally, on construction sites.

One article from one TV ... (Below threshold)

One article from one TV station is not enough for me to condemn an entire operation of hundreds of people.

LOL - I guess this means nothing to you also then. The facts about the Corps have already been revealed, repeatedly. Lucky for you that you're not here and you have the luxury of extending the benefit of the doubt to an organization that patently doesn't deserve it. I'd be surprised if the current owner of that house your father helped build (and if it was two blocks from the 17th St Canal break it wasn't in Metairie, where I live, it was in New Orleans) and your extended family here is as generous as you are.

Actually, my uncle and his ... (Below threshold)

Actually, my uncle and his family currently live in that house. Like I said, two months. After I read up on what happened in Engineering News Record I'll let you know what I think.

Here in California a company wanted to build 300 low cost apartments across the street from Disneyland. The Associated Press wrote about it. They got is all wrong. I live here, I know they got it wrong. That kind of thing makes me very leery of the press.

That kind of thing makes... (Below threshold)

That kind of thing makes me very leery of the press.

Just imagine if the press's shoddy work cost hundreds of lives and billions of dollars. What if they paid for and influenced the investigation into their work? And what if they engaged in a coverup with the assistance of Congress, suppressing video and threatening the jobs of witnesses while continually asserting that it wasn't their fault! And then after having been forced to admit the truth, kept on doing exactly what they've always done, right in your face! It might make you cynical and suspicious. Leery, even. And distinctly disinterested in the opinions of a trade magazine that evidently didn't report the extremely newsworthy and well documented malfeasance by the Corps.

tyree, if you seriously want the truth about the Corps, do some research.

Laura-I have 12! pos... (Below threshold)

I have 12! posts on this thread. I have consistently stated throughout that the press gets things wrong all the time. I am right about that.

I have not defended the Corps in one of those posts. I have explained construction processes and explained that I will wait to make a judgment until I get the facts. Doesn't that imply "research" to you? With family in New Orleans what did I say to get you to believe that I am not going to look into this? As an experiment, re-read posts 6, 8, 10, 12, 18, 19, 22, 24, 27,28,31,33. In which of these did I defend the Corps?
I am attacking the shoddy reporting by the television station. You are stating that the Army Corps of Engineers doesn't deserve to be defended. Fine, I am not defending them.
On Sept 1st, 2005 I canceled my annual dove hunt and spent the day with my father, pouring over the newspapers and talking about what he had heard about the folks back in Louisiana. Most of the reporting was full of errors, exaggerations and hand wringing about global warming. At the time, most reporters were saying that the walls had been overtoped by the surge. However, based on some diagrams of the floodwall situation and some "back of the envelope" calculations, my father and I figured out at his kitchen table that the walls had failed. I still don't know why we were able to figure this out and the big newsrooms couldn't. It wasn't until months later that I was able to read (in Engineering News Record) the full story of the Corps failure and all of the reasons the walls came down. My stance on this article is not out of ignorance, but out of knowledge. There is a lot of emotion tied into this subject, for me as well as you. Heck, my friends at work gave me a sympathy card because it was so obvious that this hit me hard. One day there will be another serious earthquake in California. Hundreds, if not thousands will be killed. We have levees in California, too. However, I am a professional and this is a subject about which I have 30+ years of experience. I can't let my emotions get in the way of the truth. Given what I do for a living, that would be dangerous.

I am attacking the shodd... (Below threshold)

I am attacking the shoddy reporting by the television station.

On what basis do you accuse *this* report of being shoddy, other than you simply decline to believe it? The Corps didn't even make that accusation. I have consistently stated that the USACE gets things wrong all the time. I am right about that. The fact is they got a lead, interviewed a witness and an expert, went to the site and filmed the proof, got the contracts to verify it, and got the Corps on record admitting fault. That's shoddy?

The immediate aftermath of Katrina was chock full of bad reporting, just as war reporting is routinely bad. Coincidentally, the work of the Corps in New Orleans is chock full of bad process and bad engineering. The undisputed, thoroughly proved fact is THE CORPS were the ones telling the media that the walls were overtopped, and Congress suppressed the video that proved the Corps are liars! Now you want to criticize the media for accurately reporting what the Corps said for nearly a year? That's priceless.

My stance on this article and the entire issue is not based out of ignorance, but out of knowledge. Be as patronizing and demeaning as you like, but I have not blown up at you or been "emotional" in my comments.

Bad acts on the part of the media do not cancel out bad acts on the part of the Corps, and in fact my expectations of the ARMY Corps of ENGINEERS are considerably higher than my expectations of the jschool grads in the media.

For you, it seems to be just the opposite. I find that perplexing, foolish and frankly bizarre.

Laura- I am sorry if I came... (Below threshold)

Laura- I am sorry if I came across as patronizing or demeaning. I didn't write anything about you, personally and I certainly am not trying to make an enemy out of someone from Mardis Gras country.

Specifically: Whats shoddy?

"It's like putting a Band-Aid on the hole of a gas tank of an airplane," the resident said.

Instead of an airplane, it's a floodwall, and instead of a Band-Aid, the witness says two years ago, he saw the contractor filling the expansion joint or opening between the floodwalls with newspaper.

"The whole length of the wall was stuffed with newspaper."

The length of the wall has no joints. The joints are vertical, in the height. Is he talking about joints along the whole length of the wall? The newspaper stuffing problem, according to the reports I have seen, are in some of the joints, not all of them along hundreds of miles of wall as this quote from "a resident" seems to imply. Good reporters name their sources. You have no problem with that part of the article? I have no complaints, not surprisingly, about the the testimony from the local engineer.

I will look into this and make my opinion about the seriousness of this situation when I have results from trained professionals with experience. That hasn't changed, and it won't change.

I will look into this an... (Below threshold)

I will look into this and make my opinion about the seriousness of this situation when I have results from trained professionals with experience. That hasn't changed, and it won't change.


I have no complaints, not surprisingly, about the the testimony from the local engineer.

along with this quote from the second article from a man with a master's degree in defense and strategic studies, a Master of Science degree in construction management and a Bachelor of Science degree in construction engineering; a top dog in the only organization whose specialty it is and which has been charged by Congress to build levees and floodwalls:

"Stuffing newspaper in that joint should not have been done," Bedey said. "In the very near future we will repair all three joints and put the proper backing next to the waterstop."

are why I am having a hard time just letting this slide on "agree to disagree" and "waiting for trained professionals." We've already heard from trained professionals. What you'll get a few months from now is the patented Corps spin Paul described upthread; we've certainly seen enough of it to know what to expect. You're not unintelligent, and you're a civil, reasonable sounding person. I simply don't understand why you don't "get" this.

Instead, you focus on the witness, a civilian to whom the news did not give more credence than necessary. It's not like the recent "recession" meme where they're focusing on how economists "feel" rather than the fact that not only have we not had negative growth at all, much less for two quarters, but we've actually had slight positive growth. This reporting is not at all like that reporting; it's balanced, fair, and factual. Although they let the source conceal his identity, the story does not hinge upon his word alone, it's thoroughly backed up. They could have left him out entirely and still had the same story.

So yes, I'm beating this horse even though it died some time ago... but it's because I don't like unsolved puzzles, and your attitude has certainly provided one. I understand I can't change your opinion, but you are certainly an engima.

Laura- OK, I never said you... (Below threshold)

Laura- OK, I never said you should have my opinion. I will not be moved. One article is not enough to form an opinion. You ask that I respect your opinion on this matter because it is formed from knowledge, yet you refuse to accept that my experience with the media and engineers also comes from knowledge. I was taught to learn math from two textbooks, to get the explanation of the theorem from two different perspectives. I will not condemn the Corps based on one article. Note that this does not mean I will never condemn the Corps. They are currently working on a plan to work on the Santa Ana river, which only occasionally contains water in these parts. I will be watching them very carefully.

". They could have left him out entirely and still had the same story." you wrote.

Exactly. The "residents" statements dilute the value of the expert testimony given by the engineers, it can't support it, so why include it? Especially since the "resident" wasn't named so the can be interviewed again. It's like the writer added those parts to stir up an ant's nest, not add substance to the facts. That makes it a shoddy article, and suspect. Just like the newspapers make the inspection process on the walls suspect. You will note that I have no problem making that statement, and I supported Oysters observation on that point way back in post 24.

"you are certainly and enigma"
Thanks. After 50+ years, I would hate to be called "shallow".

I will not condemn the C... (Below threshold)

I will not condemn the Corps based on one article.

Good Lord, tyree. If the long and well documented history of USACE malfeasance in the NOLA area - amply documented here at Wizbang by Paul and in a multitude of other places, including public admissions of wrongdoing from the Corps - isn't enough to convince you, nothing ever will. You're hopeless. Nitpick away at the MSM if it entertains you. I'm done.

As for your professional expertise and education; whatever, brah. I didn't list mine (or my husband's engineering and construction CV) because my argument is dependent on the public record which is easily checked, not my personal assertions which you have no way of knowing to be true.

As to the Corps in CA... good luck with that, and the upcoming Santa Maria River debacle. You'll need it.

Oh, and have the last word,... (Below threshold)

Oh, and have the last word, while you're at it...

I think I get it now, I wil... (Below threshold)

I think I get it now, I will amend my statement.

I won't condemn the Corps in regards to this one incident based on one article. I thought it was clear that I was no fan of the Corps and was speaking only about this one newspaper incident.






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