After SLABBED published the first few posts on Jefferson Parish, I realized I needed a map and when I found a map, the only thing I knew with certainty was that I needed to know more about the Parish before I could understand the map. Little did I think I’d find a familiar name common to both the flooding following Hurricane Katrina and the unfolding story of corruption in Jefferson Parish – the name, Aaron Broussard.
Flooding on the east bank has been frequently attributed to the decision by parish leadership to deactivate the stormwater pumping systems and evacuate the operators during the storm. Katrina’s substantial storm surge may have swamped even operating pumping stations but Broussard’s activation of the parish’s “Doomsday Plan” is the most frequently cited reason for the flooding in all areas of the east bank except Old Metairie and parts of Harahan.
A “doomsday plan” indeed! “Water resulting from the backflow through the non-operating pumping stations, as well as storm-related rainwater, remained on the streets and in the homes of residents of Metairie and Kenner for a day and a half…The resulting flooding of Jefferson Parish has been estimated by insurance industry sources at $3 to $5 billion.”
Logically,then, the cost of repairing and/or rebuilding could also be estimate at “$3 to $5 billion”. However, those billions do not include the cost of building what wasn’t there to be lost – an effective flood control system that would add untold millions more to the estimated cost resulting from the flooding of Jefferson Parish.
The water that flooded Jefferson Parish created a rising tide – lifting the ship of opportunity for contractors, sinking the Parish leadership with related conflicting interests.
Traditional thinking associates flooding with water without considering the water is full of trash – and even more trash than usual if pump stations are disabled during a flood. The higher the water and the longer it stands, the greater the damage and amount of trash resulting from the flooding.
Because much of urban Jefferson Parish is below sea level it relies upon forced drainage (pumps) to remove excess water during storm events. A series of pump stations (21 in total…) are located on both the east and west banks of Jefferson Parish. These pump stations collect storm runoff that gathers into the drainage canal network, and discharges the storm water over levees into adjacent water bodies, including Lake Pontchartrain on the east bank and several tidal estuaries on the west bank.
Diesel-powered electric and hydraulic pumps move storm water at each pump station. In order to run the pumps during storm events, operators are needed to remove trash and debris that can clog pump intakes, and monitor the number of operating pumps to remove storm water efficiently.
As I read the USACE report Jefferson Parish Pump Station Stormproofing Activities, Final Environmental Assessment Ea# 454, Churchill came to mind:
“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”
History was kind to Aaron Broussard in the report but others did not take his decision to disable the Parish pumping system and order the operators offsite kindly at all. EA#454 states:
Jefferson Parish is responsible for the safety of pump operators during major tropical storm events. Without the appropriate stormproofing measures at manned pump stations, pump station operators must be evacuated to a location that would help ensure for their safety during and immediately following the storm event.
However, the Parish responsibility for the safety of pump station operators is to make provisions for their safety before a major tropical storm event. This responsibility is established in the regulatory law governing flood control at 33CFR208:10 and includes these and other related requirement:
(3)A reserve supply of materials needed during a flood emergency shall be kept on hand at all times… (10)(2) During flood periods the levee shall be patrolled continuously…Appropriate advance measures will be taken to insure the availability of adequate labor and materials to meet all contingencies…(f)(1)…[and ensure]…Sufficient materials are on hand for the erection of sand bag closures and that the location of such materials will be readily accessible in times of emergency…(v) Adequate supplies of lubricants for all types of machines, fuel for gasoline ordiesel powered equipment, and flashlights or lanterns for lighting shall be kept on hand at all times. Telephone service shall be maintained at pumping plants…(2)Competent operators shall be on duty at pumping plants whenever it appears that necessity for pump operation is imminent… The operator shall be familiar with the equipment manufacturers’ instructions and drawings and with the ‘‘Operating Instructions’’ for each station. The equipment shall be operated in accordance with the abovementioned ‘‘Operating Instructions’’ and care shall be exercised that proper lubrication is being supplied all equipment, and that no overheating, undue vibration or noise is occurring.
When, how and why and related politics-as-usual-implications of Jefferson Parish assuming local control of the pumping system aside, it was the Parish that had responsibility to operate the system and the concomitant responsibility to be prepared to do so before “the necessity for pump operation is imminent” at the time of Hurricane Katrina.
Although the requirement to 33CFR208.10 require “appropriate advance measures…to insure the availability of adequate labor, there is no regulatory law mentioning, much less mandating, the construction of “safe rooms”. However, according to EA#454:
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, through the allocation of local funds, Jefferson Parish had started stormproofing by constructing safe rooms at five pump stations. At the time Hurricane Katrina made landfall, those safe rooms were only approximately 35 percent complete. Since Hurricane Katrina, Jefferson Parish has continued with the stormproofing of existing pump stations. By borrowing $40 million, Jefferson Parish has completed some stormproofing activities such as the construction of safe rooms at eight pump stations…and completed some automation projects that allow for mechanical trash and debris removal at pump screens with limited operator intervention and pump operation information feedback…The eight safe rooms funded and constructed by Jefferson Parish are prefabricated buildings placed on foundations immediately adjacent to the pump stations, and provide safe refuge and automated operation capabilities for pump operators during large tropical storm events.
Although EA#454 continues with yet another reference to safe rooms – “safe rooms replace the need to evacuate these pump operators to inland location(s) prior to the landfall of large tropical storm events” – the controlling regulatory law provides no related authority to evacuate pump operators and, in fact, requires a “competent operator” to be “on duty”.
In today’s Jefferson Parish News Miscellany, Sop opined:
…it is clear the current meme that the current state of affairs is mostly Aaron Broussard’s fault remains alive and well though they did mention the Parish council. With few exceptions, given the campaign cash these “evergreen” contractors tossed to the members of the Parish council I have a hard time branding the contractors with the scarlet letter in isolation. Simply put the system would not exist if there weren’t corrupt pols on the other end of the transaction.
In that context, this additional text from my the introductory description of the flooding of Jefferson Parish adds insight on the Parish-funded construction of “safehouses”:
The original “safe-house” project was severely modified due to rising costs and was further delayed due to a conflict of interest revealed by the original contractors. There are also plans to add manual closures on the pumping stations due to the failure of the compressed air systems during Katrina’s storm surge.
Construction projects are held as the engine of economic recovery and stability. Consequently, it is no surprise that by November 2006, Jefferson Parish was considered a Boom Town “With its population back, its stores bustling and its streets jammed” that could “arguably claim the title of ‘epicenter’ of the local post-Katrina rebound”.
The unfolding story of conflicting interest in Jefferson Parish government suggests it may also be the ‘epicenter’ of corruption as well as the possibility the two epicenters are related to the flooding of Jefferson Parish following Hurricane Katrina.
Slabbed reports you decide.