Army Corps Working on New Orleans Pumps
Thursday, March 15, 2007; 7:06 PM
WASHINGTON -- The head of the Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that excessive vibration problems with defective pumps at three major drainage canals in New Orleans will be fixed within seven weeks, before the 2007 hurricane season opens.
"By the end of April, we will have those pumps operating effectively," Lt. Gen. Carl Strock told members of a Senate subcommittee. "We know what the problems are and we have the solutions in place."
The Associated Press, citing an internal memo, reported Tuesday that the Corps went ahead with installation of the 34 pumps last year in a rush to fix the city's flood defenses before the 2006 hurricane season despite warnings from one of its experts that the machinery was defective and likely to fail in a storm.
Because of the pumps' size, there was no protocol for testing them in the factory, Strock told the Senate Appropriations Committee's energy and water development subcommittee. "We chose to accept a calculated risk with something that would have an effect at the beginning of the hurricane season," he said.
The pumps also have been plagued with other problems in tests, including overheated engines, broken hoses and blown gaskets, but have yet to be tested in a storm.
"We experienced significant vibrations in the pumps," Strock said. "We know why that occurred. We're making fixes to that."
He said he was not aware of a Corps mechanical engineer's misgivings about the pumps as outlined in a 2006 memo but added, "His concerns, I think, were valid." The engineer, Maria Garzino, is, in fact, a woman.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said news stories suggest the pumps were a waste of the taxpayers' money and "an unwise decision in contracting."
John Paul Woodley, Jr., the assistant Army secretary who oversees the Corps, said the challenges of installing the pumps shouldn't be minimized.
"They were accomplished in time for the beginning of the 2006 hurricane season on a schedule of unprecedented speed and scope," he said. "I do know that a great deal of technical expertise and scrutiny has been given to this."
Meanwhile, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., asked the Government Accountability Office on Thursday to investigate the Corps and the contract it entered into with Moving Water Industries Corp.
MWI is owned by J. David Eller and his sons. Eller was once a business partner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a venture called Bush-El that marketed MWI pumps.
The 34 pumps for taking water from New Orleans and pouring it into Lake Pontchartrain were added as a new ring of flood protection for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.