Col. Michael Clancy, Commander & District Engineer of the New Orleans District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, reflects on the epic hurricane and flood mitigation work the federal government has undertaken in New Orleans since Katrina.
Rosenberg: How would you describe the enormous scope of the work that the Corps has undertaken in New Orleans since 2005 to mitigate the impact of a future Katrina-scale hurricane on the people and city of New Orleans?
Clancy: The $14.5 billion post-Katrina Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System is one of the most robust and advanced storm surge risk reduction systems ever constructed. The system is a 133-mile perimeter defense of levees, floodwalls and complex structures that includes the largest surge barrier in the world as well as the world’s two largest drainage pump stations. However, it would be disingenuous to imply that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertook this work alone. First and foremost, we had the full commitment of Congress and two Administrations. The Corps sought and incorporated the knowledge and insight of local, national and international flood risk management experts and academics; worked hand in hand with our local and state partners; and leveraged the full capability of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers organization. At the peak of construction in 2010, we estimate that approximately 60,000 people were engaged in delivering this system
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Rosenberg: How is this project viewed internally within the Corp? I am told that many of your young engineers view it as an ideal training ground preparing them to deal with comparable mammoth projects in future years. Is that true?
Clancy: Delivering the Greater New Orleans Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s number one domestic priority. In addition to leveraging the resources of districts throughout the Corps, we also set up the New Orleans District Protection and Restoration Office, the Mississippi Valley Division’s Task Force Hope and the Hurricane Protection Office to deliver this mission. Additionally, advantages such as having full up-front funding and environmental alternative arrangements opened a wide range of contract, acquisition, and project management approaches not commonly available for traditional civil works projects. Understandably, the opportunity to be part of the team that will deliver a mission of this magnitude attracted some of the best and brightest engineers, scientists, project and construction managers from around the nation. USACE’s ability to deliver its subsequent missions has greatly benefited from the experience and knowledge these team members gained while working on the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System.
Rosenberg: How much of the Corp’s scope of work to limit the impact of future hurricanes on New Orleans is now completed? How will future tasks like protecting and restoring the Louisiana coast enhance the effectiveness of the work that the Corps has already completed in the city?
Clancy: Today, the system provides the greater New Orleans area with the designed 100-year level of risk reduction. The final major construction efforts will be delivered this spring with the completion of the Permanent Canal Closures and Pumps that will replace the Outfall Canal Interim Closure Structures. Over the next couple of years, we will continue to focus on completing our environmental mitigation requirements and armoring the system to be more resilient against storms greater than the 100-year level.
Regardless of how high or strong we build the system, we will never eliminate the risk of a larger storm overtopping the system. Continuing to buy down this risk will require the efforts of all of our local, state and federal partners. Improving and restoring coastal lands, zoning and construction standards, elevating structures and other non-structural flood risk management approaches are all tools that can further reduce risk. Residents have a role as well by ensuring they have appropriate flood insurance as well as preparing to and evacuating if the order is called