New Orleans — The Army Corps of Engineers, rushing to meet President Bush's promise to protect New Orleans by the start of the 2006 hurricane season, installed defective flood-control pumps last year despite warnings from its own expert that the equipment would fail during a storm, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The 2006 hurricane season turned out to be mild, and the new pumps were never pressed into action. But the Corps and the politically connected manufacturer of the equipment are still struggling to get the 34 heavy-duty pumps working properly.
The pumps are now being pulled out and overhauled because of excessive vibration, Corps officials said. Other problems have included overheated engines, broken hoses and blown gaskets, according to the documents obtained by the AP.
Col. Jeffrey Bedey, who is overseeing levee reconstruction, insisted the pumps would have worked last year and the city was never in danger. Bedey gave assurances the pumps should be ready for the coming hurricane season, which begins June 1.
The Corps said it decided to press ahead with installation and then fix the machinery while it was in place, on the theory that some pumping capacity was better than none. And it defended the manufacturer, which was under time pressure.
"Let me give you the scenario: You have four months to build something that nobody has ever built before, and if you don't, the city floods and the Corps, which already has a black eye, could basically be dissolved. How many people would put up with a second flooding?" said Randy Persica, the Corps' resident engineer for New Orleans' three major drainage canals.
The 34 pumps - installed in the drainage canals that take water from this bowl-shaped, below-sea-level city and deposit it in Lake Pontchartrain - represented a new ring of protection that was added to New Orleans' flood defenses after Katrina. The city also relies on miles of levees and hundreds of other pumps in various locations.