Corps Of Engineers: We're Not Sole Cause Of New Orleans Levee Breaks

Thursday, March 22nd 2007, 1:35 pm
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ The Army Corps of Engineers disputed Thursday a state-commissioned report that said the agency was solely responsible for the decades of mistakes that led to the devastating floods after Hurricane Katrina.

The corps worked with local and state groups ``throughout the planning, design and operation of hurricane protection in New Orleans,'' the agency said in a news release.

``The point is that all levels of government are part of the team that is responsible for the flood protection of the New Orleans area,'' corps spokesman Vic Harris said. ``No one entity can do this by themselves.''

The response came a day after a group of engineers and storm researchers called Team Louisiana said in a report that the corps used obsolete research to design flood-control structures that were built too low and improperly maintained. The report was commissioned by the state Department of Transportation and Development.

The system was intended to be strong enough to handle a Category 3 hurricane like Katrina, which devastated New Orleans when levees broke.

Two major studies last year looked at the engineering problems that caused the 2005 breaches, but the new study also examines whether the problems could have been foreseen.

The report said the errors date to the original plans in 1965, which relied on land height measurements from 1929. Because the city had sunk over the years, the plans called for levees that were 1 to 2 feet too low.

``This mistake was locked in'' for continuing construction by a policy adopted in 1985, even though scientists knew how fast New Orleans was sinking, the report said. By the time Katrina hit, the levees were as much as 5 feet too low.

The report also said corps engineers never used a storm surge model released in 1979 by the National Hurricane Center. ``If they had, they would have realized that their levee system wasn't high enough for a Category 3 storm at all,'' said team leader Ivor van Heerden, a Louisiana State University professor, deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center and a corps critic.

Harris said a corps-commissioned study that reviewed decisions made at all levels over 50 years found many of the problems described by Team Louisiana.

He said that chronology probably will be released this spring or summer _ possibly within weeks of a report about the current state of flood protection, looking at risks in different parts of the New Orleans area from storms of different strengths and approaches.