NEWORLEANS-- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says cost is one reason they've yet to upgrade to what they've previously described as 'superior' hurricane protection. But now there are serious concerns that the Corps' numbers for not doing so may not actually add up.
Faulty engineering came at a cost post-Katrina, and now so will fixing it.
'In terms of trying to restore credibility and confidence for people in this area,' said Dr. Silas Lee, political pollster.
Up until this point, however, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was the only one crunching the numbers on possible protection solutions. The permanent hurricane protection system the corps' hopes to begin building in 2011 will cost $800 million, according to the Corps. That's compared to the alternatives Option 2 ($3.4 billion) and Option 2A ($3.5 billion).
While the pair of protection upgrades still call for replacing pumping stations, the plans would also deepen outfall canals, eliminating the need for flood walls along the 17th Street, Orleans Avenue, and London Avenue outfall canals.
But the Corps' estimated cost didn't sit well with Jefferson Parish Councilman John Young, who said several months ago Jefferson Parish government, along with the Sewerage and Water Board in New Orleans, Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, and the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority, hired the private firm AECOM to do an outside review of the corps' estimates.
'We always thought Options 2 and 2A, based on the Corps' estimates, were over estimates, higher than they should have been,' said Young.
The firm's findings go public Wednesday, but Young gave Eyewitness News a preview, saying the report will show a drastic discrepancy in cost.
'About a billion dollar difference,' said Young.
Option 2, which the corps says will cost $3.4 billion, would actually cost closer to $2.2 billon, according to Young.
And Option 2a, estimated by the corps to be $3.5 billion, would really by $2.4 billion.
The Corps has long contended that the U.S. Congress only approved Option 1 and only appropriated enough dollars for that specific plan.
'When you can shave off a billion dollars, that helps you make your argument,' said Young.
New Orleans City Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson agrees.
'There's no doubt in my mind Congress will change,' Clarkson. 'The first system already failed us; why are we just reusing it? That's just absurd.'
Clarkson said the drop in price is sure to come off as a bargain to lawmakers in Washington who, she hopes, will see the logic of paying a little more now, rather than forking over a lot more later in the event of another disaster.
'We're essentially just recreating what failed us before in Option 1,' said Clarkson. 'That's an absurdity what people have been through.'
The Corps declined to comment on-camera. In an e-mailed statement, spokesperson Nancy Allen said 'the Corps stands by the cost estimates in the report it provided to Congress in 2008,' but added 'the Corps' risk-based estimates...included many unknowns and were completed in 90 days.'
Allen said a 'complete estimate would require a full engineering feasibility study for Options 2 & 2a, including site work, geotechnical investigations, an environmental impact study and real estate assessment. This study would take two to three years to complete and cost an estimated $15.6 million.'
Lee said it's now incumbent on the corps to review the report and issue a thorough response explaining why their initial estimates differ.
'Maybe when they did it, certain information was not available' said Lee. 'So the best thing is to be up front and get in front of a disaster before they become the victim of the [public relations] fiasco.'