Corps of Engineers flood project may have added to Desire flooding

$119 million drainage construction project by US Army Corps of Engineers may have helped flood Desire neighborhood during August 5 storm

NEW ORLEANS - A Desire neighborhood that sits in the shadow of a major Sewerage & Water Board pump station took on several feet of water during Saturday's heavy rainstorm. The flood left people cleaning out their flooded cars and business owners trying to dry out and re-open.

Mother nature may be as much to blame for the flood as a drainage construction project by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

“That's a $30,000 sander right there. Gone? Gone,” said Bobby Terese, the owner of Terese’s Top Works, a business run out of a cluster of warehouses half a block from the Peoples Avenue Canal.

Tuesday, Terese scooped out soggy and crumbling particle board, water-logged plywood and tools forever frozen in time by Saturday’s flood water.

Therese estimates the flood will cost him $300,000 after his flood insurance picks up part of the tab.

“I actually knew we were flooded when I saw the Franklin Avenue underpass filled up to the top, you know? It was pretty much a dead giveaway that we had water up into our buildings up in here,” Terese continued, “It's not a good feeling. Because I know what it's going to take to get us back up to operation back here.”

Piles and piles of debris sat outside his warehouses Tuesday right next to the dumpsters ready to cart the inventory-turned-trash away. But Terese said his insurance adjuster won’t get to his business until Thursday. That’s five days of looking at everything his family business lost.

The irony in the tragedy is that a drainage project underway in the streets and canals around Terese’s shop may be partly to blame for the flood.

The neighborhood sits in the elbow of the Peoples Avenue Canal and the Florida Avenue Canal.

Three weeks ago, contractors for the Corps of Engineers removed 70-foot sections of metal sheet piling that flank the low side of the Peoples Avenue Canal.

“Neighbors said the streets were dry until the canal started overflowing where the sheet piles were removed and that's when the water started coming up into our neighborhood back in here. And within a period of time, it was knee deep,” Terese said.

The canals are full of vegetation, which makes drainage more difficult. The Sewerage & Water Board is responsible for keeping the growth cut. They didn’t respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Some people in the area say they believe water gushing through the gaps created by the corps made the flooding much worse than what Mother Nature alone dished out.

“I guarantee you. I'd bet my life. That would have stayed here, it wouldn't have flooded,” said Osmond Caston.

Caston has had a car restoration shop less than a block from the canal for 15 years. He has seen his share of floods in the area, but he lost several cars of his own on Saturday.

Pictures taken by one of Caston’s employees show a neighborhood and a canal still full of water on Sunday, hours after the rain stopped.

Work in the Desire area is part of a $119 million SELA flood protection project to widen the Florida Canal and improve drainage in the area.

The project start date is listed on the Corps' website as 2014, but residents said construction started in earnest this year. 

Massive concrete box culverts stand ready to take their place underground a block from Terese’s shop.

After two days’ of requests for information and comment about the gaps in the canal’s barrier, the commander of the Corps’ New Orleans District, Col. Michael Clancy addressed the situation in front of the city council.

“There were a few parts of the canal that were quite a bit lower than they should have been this weekend. Trying to assess if that contributed to the damage, how much it contributed to the damage,” Clancy testified.

The Corps never directly responded to questions from WWL-TV, instead issuing a press release to all media late Tuesday.

Clancy also told the council that the holes were placed in the sheet piling to connect the underground drainage culverts to the canal.

When asked how he feels about the fact that a flood protection project may have contributed to the flooding of his business, Terese replied, “I'm not too happy about it right now, but I'm hoping once it's all finished it's gonna solve some of our problems. You know? What else can I hope for?”

While business owners said the area has flooded three times since Hurricane Katrina, this was a first: a flood protection project making a flood worse.

While the Corps stopped short of admitting the construction caused the flooding they asked people who believe they were flooded by the corps to call this construction hotline: (877) 427-0345.

WWL-TV reporter David Hammer contributed to this report.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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