Corps has to be more truthful

Published 3:20 pm Thursday, October 26, 2006

A new independent appraisal of the work to restore and analyze the catastrophic failure of levees during Hurricane Katrina says engineers have not been candid enough with the public about the risks of living in this low-lying city.

The report also said the Corps needs to do a better job of establishing the parameters for what it will take to build a system to buffer New Orleans against future big storms.

Engineers with the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council released their observations Wednesday after sifting through a 6,000-page interim report commissioned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the deluge of New Orleans.

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That report, while remarkable for its meticulousness and scale, is still lacking, the review said.

The public is looking toward the Corps, the new report said, “to help inform resettlement decisions for New Orleans and the region.”

Developers, residents and officials have complained repeatedly that they cannot make decisions about what to do with areas flooded by Katrina because it’s unclear how safe they’ll be if another major storm strikes.

The Corps has repaired, and in many places improved, the region’s flood defenses since Katrina, but overall there are weaknesses and a repetition of Katrina could happen unless even stronger levees and flood walls are erected and natural defenses, such as cypress forests, are maintained and expanded. The Corps and state officials are drafting a strategy for a system to protect New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana’s Cajun coast from monster storms like Katrina.

Ed Link, an engineer with the University of Maryland who is leading the Corps’ analysis, said the Corps is still gathering data on storm surge, wave heights and other factors that go into making a yardstick on how risky New Orleans and the region is. Upcoming Corps reports will outline those findings, he said.