The Army Corps of Engineers paid $4 million in June 2013 to one of four losing bidders for the contract to build permanent pump stations on New Orleans canals -- a public expense Corps officials didn't mention in the project's announcements.On the one hand, $4 million seems like a lot to pay out just to get a project underway. On the other hand, it is kind of an important project. Every hurricane season we go without those pump stations is another season of catastrophic risk for everyone. Guess you just have to credit Bechtel for understanding their position, right?
The payment was intended in part to get the company, Bechtel Infrastructure Corp., to drop a new challenge of the selection of a winning contractor, Bechtel officials confirmed this week.
Spokesman Ricky Boyett, in a statement, said the payment was made to Bechtel "for submitting a satisfactorily rated Phase II proposal for the above mentioned solicitation, in order to settle and amicably resolve all differences, to avoid the uncertainties and expenses of litigation associated with the filing of its agency protest and any other litigation arising out of or related to the solicitation, and for and in consideration of the assignment of all data rights in and to its proposal submissions under the solicitation."Maybe there's stuff going on that I don't quite get. That does happen on a regular basis. But I swear it looks here like Bechtel had been holding the city's safety hostage and the Corps finally decided just to pay the ransom. But, again, this is all complicated engineering stuff and maybe I don't quite get it.
The $4 million payment was first reported by corps critic Matt McBride in an online post criticizing the federal agency for paying millions of dollars to unsuccessful bidders at a time when New Orleans area residents were still recovering from flood damage caused by failure during Hurricane Katrina of corps-designed and corps-built levees and floodwalls in 2005.
On a somewhat related note, here's an interesting article published this week where Richard Campanella looks at resettlement patterns after Katrina. I still need to think on whether I completely agree with this conclusion but Campanella's data suggests that, as people moved back into the city, flood risk of individual neighborhoods did not play a controlling role in their decision making.
When intersected with high-resolution LIDAR-based digital elevation models, the 2010 Census data show that residents of metro New Orleans shifted to higher ground by only 1 percent compared to 2000 (Figure 1). Whereas 38 percent of metro-area residents lived above sea level in 2000, 39 percent did so by 2010, and that differentiation generally held true for each racial and ethnic group. Whites shifted from 42 to 44 percent living above sea level; African Americans 33 to 34 percent, Hispanics from 30 to 29 percent, and Asians 20 to 22 percent.So, yes, some moved from low to high ground. I'm not sure if that's explained by "the trauma of actually flooding" or the headaches associated with rebuilding in place. Maybe it's both.
Clearly, elevation did not exercise much influence in resettlement decisions, and people distributed themselves in vertical space in roughly the same proportions as before the flood. Yet there is one noteworthy angle to the fact that the above-sea-level percentage has risen, albeit barely (38 to 39 percent): it marked the first time in New Orleans history that the percent of people living below sea level has actually dropped.
What impact did the experience of flooding have on resettlement patterns? Whereas people shifted only slightly out of low-lying areas regardless of flooding, they moved significantly out of areas that actually flooded, regardless of elevation. Inundated areas lost 37 percent of their population between 2000 and 2010, with the vast majority departing after 2005. They lost 37 percent of their white populations, 40 percent of their black populations, and 10 percent of their Asian populations. Only Hispanics increased in the flooded zone, by 10 percent, in part because this population had grown dramatically region-wide, and because members of this population sometimes settled in neighborhoods they themselves helped rebuild.
The differing figures suggest that while low-lying elevation theoretically exposes residents to the hazard of flooding, the trauma of actually flooding proved to be, sadly, much more convincing.
In any case, for those who did resettle in Lakeview and Gentilly, I'd wager that confidence that the Corps was fixing the problem with the outfall canals played a major role in those decisions. Nice of Bechtel to pull down whatever it could holding that process up.