METAIRIE, La. - The earthen levees along the 17th Street Canal in Old Metairie contain large chunks of concrete, bricks and other debris.
The Army Corps of Engineers exposed the material in the soil as crews dug trenches to install metal sheet-piles next to the floodwall that runs along the Jefferson Parish side of the drainage canal.
The South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East asked the Corps' project manager if the material in any way compromises the integrity of the levee. "We've seen those," said the Corp's Brad Drouant. "We've looked at it. They're isolated."
Corps critics have been circulating pictures of the debris. Levee advocate Sandy Rosenthal, founder of levees.org, is afraid the material will form a gap between the levee and the floodwall.
"That is why the 17th Street (Canal) breached 9 years ago," said Rosenthal. "If that gap were to form, even a little gap, we're done."
There's also glass debris and glass bottles embedded in the levee structure. The levee board determined that some of bottles they found date back nearly 100 years.
"We actually had one of our engineers go out and take some samples of the material," said SLFPAE Board President Stephen Estopinal. "We pulled some bottles out. We dated the bottles and it looked like it was something from the 1920s, 1930s."
Engineers are not sure how the debris ended up in the earthen levee. "That levee was built prior to the federal, Lake Pontchartrain city project, in 1965 which is when that was authorized," said Drouant. They are confident the levee is safe. "We're confident that it is not going to impact the integrity of the flood wall," said Drouant. "The floodwall will perform as intended."
"Primarily because it's not organic material, it doesn't have the same problem that it could decay over time, create voids in the levee and then create a seepage path," said SLFPAE General Manager Bob Turner.
"There's debris and then there's debris," said Rosenthal. "There's little stones and then there's big rocks. We need to get the big rocks out." The Corps of Engineers plans to remove any material, brick-size or larger.