First Steps on the Hard Road to Environmental Restoration

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, September 12, 2005 (ENS) - The total environmental impact of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina on August 29 is still unknown, but it is currently being evaluated by the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal and state agencies.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco will meet with President George W. Bush today on the Iwo Jima in New Orleans. Commanding officer of the Louisiana National Guard Bennett Landreneau and former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency James Lee Witt will join her in the briefings. Afterward, the officials plan a walking tour of the French Quarter.


President George W. Bush and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco September 5, 2005 (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
With loads of rocks and sandbags, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard have repaired the broken levees through which the deadly floodwaters poured starting on the morning of August 29. Working with the city of New Orleans and private contractors, the Corps is now making progress on pumping floodwaters out of the city and vicinity.

Through a system of existing and temporary pumps, floodwaters are being pumped into Lake Ponchartrain. The number of operational pumps is continually changing. On average, this system is pumping water at about one million gallons per day, which is equalvant to 432 Olympic-size swimming pools per day.

The Corps has revised its original estimates of 30 to 80 days for completing the removal of flood waters from the city, and now estimates that based on normal seasonal rainfall, "overall un-watering effort will be completed in early to mid-October."

The Corps says its efforts were helped by lack of rainfall, strong easterly winds that have allowed the Lake Ponchartrain levels to recede lower than expected, and deliberate breaches made in the levees that allowed flooded areas to drain faster and improved pump capacity.


A Texas Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter deposits a three ton pound bag of sand and gravel to close the breach in the 17th Street Canal. (Photo by Alan Dooley courtesy USACE)
The un-watering effort will remove most, but not all the water, and the Corps says some isolated pockets of water will remain, but they should not hamper recovery efforts such as debris removal, structural assessments and restoration of critical services.

The fourth of four critical breaches at the 17th Street Canal and London Avenue Canal was closed Saturday. Auxiliary pumps and generators are operating at both locations.

More than 1,600 Corps employees are engaged in recovery efforts, and the numbers are increasing daily.

In addition to repairing the levees around New Orleans and pumping floodwater out of the city, the Corps is working with government and contracting partners to provide ice and water, temporary roofing, temporary housing, power assessment, and debris removal in the affected areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

In Mississippi, more than 18,000 tons of ice and eight million liters of water have been delivered to staging areas. In Louisiana, more than 15,000 tons of ice and 15 million liters of water have been delivered. In Alabama, more than 6,000 tons of ice and five million liters of drinking water have been delivered.

More than 270,000 cubic yards of debris now has been removed from areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

In Mississippi and Louisiana "Operation Blue Roof" is underway in several counties. The Operation Blue Roof program provides temporary plastic sheeting for roofs that were damaged during Hurricane Katrina. Over 3,000 requests for assistance have been received, and Corps estimates that more than 40,000 homes will need plastic sheeting.


Contractors place the first temporary roof on a house in Slidell, Louisiana. The temporary roofs are part of Operation Blue Roof, a program that provides assistance to storm victims in disaster areas through the installation of rolled plastic sheeting on damaged roofs. (Photo courtesy USACE)
In Mississippi, some 200 power assessments have been completed, and 35 sites have power restored. Power assessment teams continue to work in New Orleans with 223 of 256 assessments completed.

Housing needs continue to be identified daily. As of today, eight units have been leased, 80 units are ready for occupants, and 130 units have been identified.

In support of FEMA, the Corps of Engineers will be assessing and repairing public facilities such as schools, libraries, and fire stations for the state of Louisiana. This mission is estimated at $200 million dollars, a small fraction of the $2.9 billion in missions the Corps has been assigned.

The Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Louisiana are working together with local industries to recover spilled oil and mitigate further environmental damage in the aftermath of the hurricane.

From a Coast Guard operating base in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the agencies are coordinating pollution response efforts.

An estimated 16,000 barrels of oil were discharged from the Murphy Oil facility near Chalmette. The agencies say the majority was contained within an existing secondary containment unit located on refinery property. During the hurricane, an unknown quantity of oil escaped the secondary containment and affected the surrounding neighborhoods. The EPA and Coast Guard are working together on ongoing oil recovery operations.

As of Friday, 1,645 barrels were recovered using 12 vacuum trucks and 10 drum skimmers. There are plans for 24 hour operations with two high-volume pumps.


A gas fire burns next to this New Orleans home from underneath the flood water. (Photo by Liz Roll courtesy FEMA)
Shell Pipeline Company LP has confirmed that damage from Hurricane Katrina resulted in two crude oil spills from company facilities in southern Louisiana. In the first incident, crude oil was found leaking from an above-ground storage tank and into a tank dike and surrounding area at the company tank farm in Pilottown. The incident was caused by apparent wind damage. Of the app

About 10,000 barrels leaked in Pilottown, and more than 6,200 barrels have been recovered to date, the company says. Some 2,800 feet of absorbent boom and 2,000 feet of eight-inch hard boom have been deployed. Workers also placed 600 feet of 10-inch hard boom in the affected area.

No further pollution is expected as the water and oil mixture within the secondary containment unit has been pumped to a level below the break in the containment unit.

In the second Louisiana incident, crude oil was found leaking from a 20 inch pipeline in Nairn damaged when a hurricane protection levee was breached. The release was estimated at 250 barrels. There is no further potential for loss of oil as the pipeline has been secured. Pollution response equipment and responders are on scene and are cleaning up the remaining spilled oil.

Bass Enterprises reported that 81,000 barrels of oil from two storage tanks were discharged into the secondary containment system surrounding the tanks. Preliminary tests indicate most of the oil is contained within the secondary containment levee and 7,500 barrels are still in the tanks. Pollution response equipment and responders are on scene and are transferring the oil in the containment system to a barge and have deployed boom to contain a visible sheen on the river. No sheen is visible beyond the booms.


U.S. Coast Guard personnel assess progress made in containing the oil spill at Bass Enterprises. (Photo courtesy USCG)
The Chevron Empire Facility reported 23,000 barrels of oil were discharged into the containment and are being pumped out. The majority of the oil is contained at the facility. Pollution response equipment and responders are on scene.

The Chevron Pipeline Company reported an estimated 200 barrels of oil was discharged into West Bay, near Venice, Louisiana. About 100 barrels of oil has already evaporated, and 100 barrels of oily water mixture has been recovered.

Venice Energy Services Company reported an unknown amount of oil discharged in Tante Phine Pass near Venice. The oil is contained within the facility's secondary containment. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the Coast Guard are working together to oversee recovery operations. Pollution response equipment and responders are on scene.

At the battered port of Gulfport, Mississippi, the Coast Guard Cutter Decisive has been established as a command, control and communications platform for the new Mississippi Coastal Recovery Base Gulfport. The base was set up to provide assistance to local law enforcement agencies, search and rescue capabilities, ports and waterways restoration and humanitarian aid.

The Decisive's crew along with six small-boat crews from Gulfport and Port Clinton, Ohio provided meals-ready-to-eat and care packages to more than 250 Vietnamese fishermen on fishing boats trapped in Back Bay Biloxi, Mississippi. The Popps Berry Bridge was demolished by the storm, trapping the fishermen in the bay. The bridge has been cleared and the fishermen moved out of the bay on Friday.

The Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team from Panama City, Florida, replaced navigational markers in the Gulfport's main shipping channel.

All base units continue to search from Pearl River to Wolf River, Mississippi, including all marshes in Back Bay, for survivors and hazards to navigation.


Damaged sections of the I-10 twin-span bridge over Lake Pontchartrain (Photo courtesy NOAA)
The state of Louisiana has awarded a contract to repair the damaged I-10 twin-span bridge across Lake Pontchartrain, the world's longest overwater highway bridge. Hours after opening bids for emergency repairs to the bridge, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) awarded a $30.9 million contract to Boh Brothers Construction Co. of New Orleans, the low bidder on the job. Work begins today and will continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Officials estimate traffic will be back on the Twin Spans within 45 days.

“Repairing our roads and bridges is a critical step in helping Louisiana citizens get back to normal,” Governor Blanco said. “I have directed the state DOTD and its contractor to work nights and weekends to repair this bridge as quickly as possible. DOTD’s construction schedule reflects my sense of urgency and commitment to getting the job done.”

The project will make one of the spans over Lake Pontchartrain passable for two lane traffic and the other span passable for one lane traffic. Both spans, which connect New Orleans and Slidell, suffered severe damage during Hurricane Katrina, which shifted, damaged or destroyed dozens of pre-cast concrete panels.

All costs should be eligible for reimbursement for emergency relief funds allocated to the Federal Highway Administration upon passage of a special funding package from Congress.

In the first quarter of 2006, state Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny Bradberry said, the agency plans to take bids on a new twin-span bridge to replace the current twin spans, Bradberry said. That new bridge will be a six lane structure built at a higher elevation. Bradberry said he expects construction to take about three years.