Thursday, August 2, 2007

Houma Plans To Sink Ship To Stop Flood

This is so embarrassing that it is, well, sad...Perhaps we would be well-served to procure a bunch of these de-commissioned hulks, and build a "wall", instead of levees in Terrebonne Parish. (I am only kidding.)

In recent weeks, a powerful confluence of events have been shaping up to portend a grim future in Southeast Louisiana. Pres. Bush now threatens to veto the WRDA bill--a pork-laden public works bill that is designed to allocate 20% of its funds to projects in Louisiana. Paramount among the bill's projects are levee works in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, as well as other projects like the closure of the MR-GO. Congressional delegates believe they have the support to override a Bush veto, but the override would be precedence-setting in DC, particularly for a Congress who could not get a handle on the President's war strategy and his veto of their war-funding bill.

Additionally, the Army Corp of Engineers announced last week that it is backing away from support of a CAT-5 levee system for New Orleans. Instead, they contend that a complex array of less-structurally superior levees (like those being vetoed en masse by the President) will better serve the region and the city. Unfortunately, residents and business owners in New Orleans remain unconvinced, and more notably, the insurance markets are even less so.

And lastly, adding to the attack, a stinking piece in the August issue of the National Geographic called into question the rationality of our rebuilding in this region. The authors cite subsidence, weak levees, rising sea levels, hurricanes stoked by global warming, and even inept leadership as reasons that a city like New Orleans--and to a lesser degree, much of South Louisiana--might not need to be rekindled. On page 61, a map of Louisiana depicting a 3-foot rise in sea levels (rendering Houma an island, while making the Northshore and Hammond the new coastline) prompted one client to tell me, "Surely, [rebuilding] cannot be worth it." Well, if you followed the line of thinking from Oliver Houck, an environmental law scholar, you would be inclined to also think this way. In the article, he ponders, "So why protect it? Why protect a piece of history that's a cross between Williamsburg and Sodom and Gomorrah?" It's compelling words written in a periodical read by the thinking class of this country, and it is bound to affect the way that those people think.

Altogether, these factors seem like the signing of death warrants for our beloved region, be/c they leave our towns and cities tremendously insecure to future perils. That means the people must face some seriously cold realities about the sustainability of life on this fragile piece of earth. Chief among them is the fact that there are not enough super-tankers to forestall the inevitable. Consequently, if we cannot easily ask the rest of the nation to assist in the protection of this region, then we are left with all of two stark choices--remain here and fight alone, or leave.

Unfortunately, the fighting that we need does not rest with rigging up an untested patchwork of solutions like sinking tankers. That might placate a few as a novel idea, but it is not a long-lasting solution. What's more, it is not the degree of security needed to reassure commerce and smart industry...It is, rather, a sad statement about how desparate we are and how far we'd go just to have the illusion of security painted for us, if we cannot have the real thing.

Matt 5:16

Aug 2, 2007

Sinking ship could be key to slowing storm surge

NAOMI KING Staff Writer,

HOUMA -- Plans to sink a ship in Houma’s industrial channel are far from complete, but local levee and parish officials decided this week to move the idea forward.

The ship would serve as a temporary floodgate to block storm surge from coming up the Houma Navigation Canal until a $185-million lock and floodgate is built as part of Morganza-to-the-Gulf, the parish’s long-awaited hurricane-protection system.

Although the lock’s design is expected to be complete by the end of 2008, levee officials say that it would still take at least another five years to finish building it.

Whether the strategically placed ship will do any good is still up for debate. While local officials say it may reduce a storm surge, an engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it needs to be thoroughly studied and would require permits from the corps and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, one of five candidates running for the open parish president’s seat, pitched the ship-sinking plan to the Terrebonne Parish Council and business leaders in July.

In response to Larpenter’s plea to act quickly, the Parish Council formed a committee, made up of levee officials and council members, to investigate the idea of submerging a 50-foot tall ship by filling its hull with water until it sits at the bottom of the 15-foot deep canal.

That committee met this week and unanimously agreed to ask engineers to submit proposals about whether the temporary fix is possible, what it would entail and where it could be built.

Nothing was decided about who would pay for the report, but Parish Councilman Peter Rhodes, who sits on the committee, said he requested that the engineering report stay at or below $50,000.

Because the canal is roughly 700 feet wide and the ship is 600 feet long, the committee considered narrowing the canal by building rock jetties or another type of permanent structure on both banks ahead of time.

At the committee meeting, engineers with T. Baker Smith Inc. proposed putting the ship at one of five spots on the canal, places pinpointed as the most narrow areas with the highest ridges.

The report also should consider the fact that the ship in question won’t be available after this year, committee members said. Owned by Offshore Specialties and anchored in Dulac, the ship is bound for Venezuela by next hurricane season. So the plans need to consider that another size ship or barge may be used instead.

The Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District will compile guidelines for engineers who want to submit proposals, said Jerome Zeringue, Levee District director.

"At this point it’s going to require professional recommendation to achieve the intended result," said Zeringue, who’s also a committee member.

Like most committee members, Zeringue said he thinks the sink-a-boat plan has potential.

"We know for a fact that if you put nothing, the surge will continue unimpeded up the Houma Navigation Canal into Grand Caillou, Dulac, Theriot and into the city," Zeringue said. "It will work toward minimizing the storm surge, and anything we do to minimize the storm surge will be in our best interest."

Carl Anderson, corps’ senior project manager for Morganza, said the main point to this plan is that it needs detailed studies, especially the type that analyze water flow, to prove that the boat will reduce storm surge."They’re going to have to do a lot of analysis. Is it going to stay in place, for one thing? When the surge comes, is it going to knock it over? There’s a lot of unknowns. And then how do you get it out of there after the storm? You’ve got a lot of permits to go through, too," Anderson said.

Though Anderson didn’t completely rule out the idea, he said he’s not sure how effective it will be.

Without levees on either side of the anchored boat, the surge will still travel through nearby marshes. And if the surge is large enough, the marsh will do little to curb it, he said.

"I don’t know how much it’s going to slow down the water," he said. "The amount of water, the depth of flooding, I don’t see it making a whole lot of difference. If the marsh is still open, the water would come up, go around the ship and then the water will find a way back into the canal and continue up the canal."

Larpenter said he thinks the plan is simple and shouldn’t take too long to get an engineering proposal. He said it’s intended for tropical storms and Category 1 and 2 hurricanes.

"Will it stop flooding? No, but it will stop a wall of water from coming up to Houma," he said. "This project, if it works, everyone will be happy. But if it doesn’t, then at least we can say we tried something. … We’re not willing to give up the ship. We’re going to keep trying."


Pettus said...

The problem down there, G., is just part of the broader debate about public infrastructure renewal in this country. The guy in my office and I have been saying that for weeks, right. So the country needs new bridges, new water systems, new utility grids, new levees, new damns--but the country cannot afford to pay for all of this, as it stands. If Bush vetos that bill it is because he is prioritizing the needs of the country, and the number-crunchers around him are probably saying, "What costs more--levees, or moving a few more hundred thousand folks out of there?" I think the answer is simple, but it might not be acceptable for you guys in Louisiana. We cannot keep paying for people to live in harm's way; we cannot fund every project that comes along, especially when there's no economic benefit. In some areas like roads or grids, private businesses have to step in, and in others the government will make a way. And as for that third class of projects (like expensive levees)--maybe someday they will get funded, but we just cannot do it now. How can anyone justify paying for it, when the water is swallowing up that place everyday?

Digger said...

Wow. Desperate indeed. I have one question, though: if the waterway is such a through, has no one thought about shutting it down? Seems like that would work too. How much does it cost to dam it up?

Anonymous said...

You know what is sad? Yes it's bad when our leaders come up with senseless schemes that can be a problem. But it is also sad when our fellow Americans write us off and say we are not a priority. People forget we pay taxes too, we work to supply the world's oil, we serve this country. And now we don't matter. That's what's sad.

Shannon said...

My prayers are with you guys, first thing. I cannot say that I understand the rationale for doing this, but perhaps this will help to bring attention to the plight of Terrebonne Parish. Perhaps if the country sees this, then the president will not be so quick to dismiss that WRDA bill without working on a compromise.

Joe D. said...

Wow. This is pretty crazy. I cannot think that it's going to work, bro. Like you said, an illusion of security.

Mike Carson said...

Personally I am stunned to find out that the leaders of your community are really going ahead on something like this. I mean, we all know something needs to happen out there, but that does not mean you have to try every something...Here's a thought though: let's say the tanker fails, or breaks up with the force of the waves. Now pieces of the tanker are rolling in with the surge. Who will be responsible for that? Are all of these people going to accept liability if those piece damage private property?

Pearla L. (Mom) said...

In today's time, when there is so much knowledge, how can leaders be so ignorant? The suggestions that I have heard in the past sound like they came from the 1920's, when people had not insight and thorough engineering to study the impact on this coastline...So what if we have to move? Maybe then it will give us the opportunity to see the growth and economic development in other areas of the country facing similar problems, but handling them much differently.

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