By Ann Sanner
Friday, March 16, 2007
The head of the Army Corps of Engineers said yesterday that vibration problems with pumps at three major drainage canals in New Orleans will be fixed within seven weeks, before the 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 subcommittee on energy and water development. "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 have been plagued with other problems in tests, including overheated engines, broken hoses and blown gaskets, but have yet to be assessed 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 misgivings about the pumps voiced by a mechanical engineer with the Corps, Maria Garzino, but added that the concerns "were valid."
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) said news stories suggest the pumps were a waste of taxpayers' money and "an unwise decision in contracting."
John Paul Woodley Jr., the assistant Army secretary who oversees the Corps, said the challenge of installing the pumps should not 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."
The 34 pumps for moving water from New Orleans to Lake Pontchartrain were added as a ring of flood protection after Hurricane Katrina.