Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Corps of Engineers: It's Your Bill, Not Ours

Posted By on Wed, Dec 9, 2009 at 11:13 PM

During a meeting today with the New Orleans City Council's Recovery Committee, Colonel Sinkler of the Corps of Engineers said the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the proposed permanent pump stations at the three outfall canals. The annual cost of these two items is expected to be approximately $10 million. S&WB is funded through property taxes, and council members say the $10 million is not in S&WB's budget.

"They're already broke," said Councilwoman Shelley Midura, adding that it didn't seem fair to place the burden on SW&B.

Sinkler, commander of the Hurricane Protection Office that oversees corps' projects, said that when the U.S. Congress appropriated funds for the construction of the permanent pump structures, it did not include a line item for operation and maintenance, and that the Corps is legally prevented from requesting a change in the funding.

The proposed pump stations with floodgates have already been the center of controversy, regarding the three design options that have been examined. The Corps has said it only has congressional authorization to build Option 1, which is the cheapest of the three options at $800 million, but, as the Corps has itself admitted, doesn't provide as much flood protection as the other two, Option 2 and Option 2A. Under Option 1, the pumps would be used only when the gates are closed due to a storm or a heavy rain event, and the newer pumps would work in tandem with SW&B pumps to drain rainwater. Numerous critics of this option have said the plan still relies on pumping water through the poorly designed and storm-weakened floodwalls of the outfall canals.

Option 2 would create permanent, all-purpose pumping stations, used when the floodgates are open or closed. Under Option 2, outfall canals would be deepened and paved, so water would gravity-flow to the pump stations, and some of the SW&B pumps would no longer be necessary. Option 2A, or “Pump to the River,” would provide all of the improvements of Option 2, and would include a plan to add a pumping station in Old Metairie to send water directly to the Mississippi River. According to the Corps' estimates, Option 2 would cost $3.4 billion and Option 2A would cost $3.5 billion.

Councilmember At-Large Arnie Fielkow told Sinkler that SW&B does not have an additional $10 million in its budget to accommodate the maintenance and operation costs. Fielkow, who sits on the board for SW&B, says the money would have to be raised through a property tax millage increase.

Sinkler responded that when the Corps designs and constructs a project, the maintenance and operation typically becomes the responsibility of the local government.

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