A delegation of public officials from Harris and Galveston counties visited New Orleans last week to tour the Greater New Orleans Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System that was installed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers following Hurricane Katrina. Lynda and I were on the tour.
ARCADIS, an international company providing consultancy, design, engineering and management services to the project, was a host of the tour along with Texas A&M University at Galveston.
Falcolm Hull, the deputy program manager for the work that ARCADIS did in New Orleans, welcomed the delegation. Listen (3:42)
Brian Ohri, the construction manager for the project, presented an overview of the facilities that would be on the day’s tour of surge barrier projects at Seabrook, Lake Borgne and the West Closure Complex. Listen (35:42)
“What you’ll find is those three projects not only represent some of the highest profile premier projects that the Corps had associated with their $14 billion system, but each, which ARCADIS had a key role,” Ohri said, noting the similarity of risks on the Louisiana and Texas coasts. “I’m sure being in Galveston, being in Texas, everybody is keenly aware of the risks associated with hurricanes.”
Anwar Zahid, the design engineer of record for the New Orleans project, noted that the Louisiana city provided a challenge that the Texas Gulf Coast does not have.
“New Orleans is like a cup,” Zahid said, explaining the need to pump rising water out of the city, as well as to block the storm surge from coming in.
“The ironic thing is that you are pumping into a surge,” added Dr. William Merrell of TAMUG, the founder of the Ike Dike concept, noting that the Texas coast is above sea level and such pumping is not necessary.
Merrell called attention to another problem posed by the topography of New Orleans; the impact of ring levees on communities outside the protected area. Listen (15:51)
“The beauty of the Ike Dike is we’re not going to have to have this discussion, who’s in and who’s out,” Merrell said. “Everybody will be in.”
Merrell compared the proposed Ike Dike to the Delta Works project that the Dutch put in place in Holland.
“New Orleans is a ring,” he said. “The Ike Dike and the Delta Works are coastal barriers, so they are a little different in concept. We don’t have to do a ring because we are on the coast. We would have to do a ring if we were New Orleans, because we would have to circle the city.”
The first visit by the delegation was to the Seabrook Floodgate Complex, which operates in tandem with the Lake Borgne Surge Reduction Barrier to reduce the risk of storm surge damage to New Orleans East, metro New Orleans, the Ninth Ward, Gentilly Parish and St. Bernard Parish. Listen (3:00)
Dwayne Bonner, project engineer in charge of construction for the Corps, described the system.
“This particular project, the gate, has about 24,000 cubic yards of concrete in the gate itself, and in the total project we poured just under 35,000 cubic yards,” Bonner said, adding that the structure includes a railroad gate and a concrete wall supporting the gate.
The next stop was Lake Borgne. Listen (10:46)
Jason Ragolio, resident engineer, explained his project, which he said is about 12 miles from the area where floodwater devastated New Orleans during Katrina.
“The storm surge out here is some of the tallest storm surge we see in the entire system,” Ragolio said. “That’s why this section of the wall is higher than the others you are going to take a look at. When (Hurricane) Isaac came through it was at thirteen and a half feet at this location. Isaac didn’t have a lot of wind, so there weren’t many waves above around 15-16 (feet) but if this wall wasn’t here we would be over-topping the interior protection.”
The final stop of the day was at the West Closure. Listen (36:39)
“You have the whole system, which is the Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System, but it’s divided basically into two components,” said Tim Connell of the United States Corps of Engineers, who is project facilitator for the complex. “You have the East Bank System and the West Bank System, and it’s divided by the Mississippi River.”
Connell continued his narrative as the visitors toured the structure itself. Listen (4:10)
Among the delegation from Texas was Galveston County Emergency Management Coordinator David Popoff. Listen (0:21)
“We should have the same project in Galveston,” Popoff said. “It should have already been started.”
Galveston County Commissioner Kevin O’Brien agreed. Listen (0:12)
“Anything I can do to help Galveston County, I want to do,” O’Brien said.
Houston City Council Member Dave Martin said surge protection is important for the Gulf Coast Region. Listen (0:30)
“I think it has a lot of applications to what we need to do down in the south part of Harris County, as well as Galveston County and all of Brazoria County; and everybody down there in the six county area,” Martin said. “We need to look at this and be more proactive than reactive.”
Galveston City Council Member Marie Robb was enthusiastic about the visit to the New Orleans project. Listen (0:47)
“It’s amazing to see the surge protection they were able to put here so quickly,” Robb said.
Texas State Senator Larry Taylor said he is encouraged by what has been accomplished in Louisiana. Listen (1:47)
“I think when you look at this compared to what we need to do in our area, ours is simpler,” Taylor said, also pointing out the importance of the petrochemical complex along the Houston Ship Channel. “Ours is less expensive and frankly I think it has a much bigger national implication.”
Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell said surge protection is vital to the Texas Gulf Coast, and he said the Louisiana tour was helpful. Listen (0:33)
“I think it’s a great trip,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s about time that we’ve got the interest of a lot of our elected officials, to get them to pay attention to the importance of what this is.”
Dr. Merrell said he is encouraged by the support being shown by the elected officials in Texas. Listen (2:16)
“It’s been a good trip,” Merrell said. “I think we’ve seen the types of barriers, especially flood gates, that can be put in; and how quickly they can be put in, if we really have the political will to do it.”
Merrell noted that the New Orleans project was completed in just two and one-half years.
“It’s just remarkable to give this kind of protection to the city of New Orleans that was tested under Isaac and found to be good,” Merrell said. “So, we know it works. It’s just time for us to start thinking about protection instead of always thinking about recovery.”
Merrell said that recovery will always be necessary, but advance protection would reduce that need following future storms.
“I think it’s time for the United States to take some serious looks at that,” he said. “After Sandy in New York, Ike, and of course Katrina here.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has produced a video about the Greater New Orleans Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System Click Here