Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Blackened Crow With A Side Of Humble Pie

The Corps of Engineers has finally acknowledged that it is responsible for the failure of the 17th Street Canal floodwall during Hurricane Katrina.

Lt. General Carl Strock told a Senate committee that the corps neglected to consider the possibility that floodwalls atop the 17th Street Canal levee would lurch away from their footings under significant water pressure and eat away at the earthen barriers below.

“We did not account for that occurring, Strock said in an interview after the Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. “It could be called a design failure.

A botched design has long been suspected by independent forensic engineers looking into the levee failures. A panel of engineering experts confirmed it last month in a report saying that the I-wall design could not withstand the force of the rising water in the canal and triggered the breach.

But until Wednesday the corps, which designed and oversaw the construction of the levees, had not explicitly taken responsibility for the mistake.

“We have now concluded we had problems with the design of the structure, Strock told members of the subcommittee that finances Corps operations. We had hoped that wasn't the case, but we recognize it is the reality.
It's good to see the Corps realizing, if belatedly, that there was a design failure at all.

We further find out in this article that there is a class-action law suit over the levee failures.
A lawyer who has filed a class-action suit over the levee failures said Strock's statement may mean little for his case because the corps is generally immune from legal liability by virtue of a 1928 law that put the agency in the levee-building business.

"The words are heavy and important," Joseph Bruno said. “The problem is legal impediment called immunity. It was tort reform that began in 1928."

However, lawyer Mitchell Hoffman said it could help his case, which seeks to sidestep the corps' immunity by alleging the levee failure amounted to a massive government seizure of peoples’ homes and land.

"It simplifies the case significantly because we don't have to have a battle of experts" Hoffman said. "Now the judge can say because of the enormity, it was a taking and the government needs to pay these people for their property."
So I'm not sure who the lawyer is suing but I hope he is successfull and is not engaging in the type of law suit that has made so many lawyers filthy rich while giving a pitence to the victims.

I also hope that this admission sheds light on the government's role in this disaster that public pressure can be put to bear on the government to make ammends for its failure.

What was also mentioned in the hearing is that the additional costs associated with rebuilding the levee system will further delay the the ability for residents to rebuild their homes.
Strock also told the committee that the stunning $6 billion increase in the price of levee protection announced last week was prompted by a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to certify the levees to national flood insurance standards.
It looks like the Corps of Engineers had originally planned to rebuild the levees to their pre-storm levels, which was inadequate to begin with, and that is what Congress is currently funding. When they realized that a higher level of protection is needed, they upped the price.

But why wasn't the Corps planning to adequately rebuild the levees in the first place? Bureacratic inertia is to blame is guess.

It gives new meaning to the phrase "Good enough for government work."


Mark said...

The Corps' customer is not us, it is the US Congress. They will build what they are told, and spend what they are given, and do no more. Than can do this safely because of sovereign immunity, something you and other design or construction profesional do not have. If what you build falls down, you cannot say, "but it's exactly what you asked for and paid for. What did you expect," shrug and walk away.

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