I Guess the Contractor’s Off the Hook

Remember Bob Livingstone saying whoever the contractor was who built the 17th Street levee had a big problem?
Not so fast.

They reveal that when the floodwall on the 17th Street Canal was built a decade ago, there were major construction problems — problems brought to the attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A 1998 ruling, by an administrative judge for the Corps’ Board of Contract Appeals, shows that the contractor, Pittman Construction, told the Corps that the soil and the foundation for the walls were “not of sufficient strength, rigidity and stability” to build on.
…Pittman won the contract in 1993. There already was an earthen levee made of soil. Embedded in that was a thin metal wall called sheet piling. The contractor was hired to pour concrete on top of all that to form the flood wall.
But the 1998 documents — filed as part of a legal dispute over costs — indicate the contractor complained about “weakness” of the soil and “the lack of structural integrity of the existing sheet pile around which the concrete was poured.” The ruling also referenced the “flimsiness” of the sheet piling.
The construction company said as a result of these problems the walls were shifting and “out of tolerance,” meaning they did not meet some design specifications. Nevertheless, the Army Corps of Engineers accepted the work.

Wow. This ‘government stuff’ is turning out to be quite a racket! You basically get to wear a bullet proof ‘Bite Me‘ T-shirt. I can do this awfully with my eyes closed. Where do I sign up?

13 Responses to “I Guess the Contractor’s Off the Hook”

  1. The Real JeffS says:

    Not so fast, THS. Yes, this is a serious find. Yes, it’s a major issue. But it’s not the final answer.
    “This is fairly typical of some of the failures we’ve seen,” says Professor Ivor van Heerden, a hurricane expert at Louisiana State University who has examined the wreckage. “These walls underwent catastrophic structural failure.”
    Professor van Heerden has more data than I have. But, note that he specifies catastrophic structural failure. From my own experience, there are other factors to be considered:
    1. Was water flowing over the top of the levee?
    2. What is the maintenance history of the levee system? Trust me — that’s a SIGNIFICANT issue.
    3. Were emergency plans in place and implemented when the hurricane threatened New Orleans? Were any damages due to boils, seepage, or similar problems identified and responded to? Were these problems in or around the failure areas?
    4. As I understand matters, the levees are NOT maintained by the Corps of Engineers; this particular project was a specific improvement for the Levee Board, probably under a cost sharing agreement. If so, the Levee Board had something to say about this decision, although the Corps was ultimately responsible for the work.
    And so on.
    This is a hugely complicated issue. It is entirely possible that this particular piece of the puzzle is critical. But it is by no means unique.
    Still, the Corps is likely digging up all of their files on this particular project right now, in full damage control mode.

  2. AH, but does the contractor maintain the levee? Who, exactly does that? I think (I’m not sure here, but pretty sure) that once a job is done here, on, say a bridge, maintenance is handled by someone entirely different. of course the contractor is responsible froma warranty angle, but everyday maintenance work is handled bysomeone else. Now, Livingston was specifically talking about who built the levee. And, as you said, I’m sure there’s tons yet to come out, but if the firm that BUILT the levee threw a red flag that was ignored, that reduces their culpability immensely, right?

  3. Mr. Bingley says:

    The judge, in her ruling, blamed the contractor for the construction errors and turned down Pittman’s request for more funds.
    Hmm. It seems possible that this company, now conveniently out of business, was at the time involved in a dispute overs costs and/or quality of their work, and it is not unkonown for folks in such positions to fling blame about to cover their butts and obfuscate.
    Like JeffS said, it is a bit complicated.

  4. nobrainer says:

    You basically get to wear a bullet proof ‘Bite Me’ T-shirt.

    Do you happen to have any of those for sale?

  5. Cullen says:

    Well, I think THS is right in saying it reduces the contractors culpability. But Jeff is also right in saying that the blame doesn’t then go squarely to the ACoE.
    I am far more likely to mistrust the Levee Board and their political/financial posturings that I am an independent contractor or the ACoE.

  6. The Real JeffS says:

    Oh, yes, THS, ACoE is squarely in the center of the target. No doubt about it. My real point (not clearly stated), is that said agency is not alone. Ultimately, the courts will settle this, but the levee board and state likely have some responsibility and liability in this as well.
    Of course, any law suits will go against those with the deepest pockets. So place your bets!!!

  7. Mr. Bingley says:

    NO! It’s Evul McChimpy’s fault JeffS!

  8. Do you happen to have any of those for sale?
    Not yet, not yet. The intelligent elves in our design factory are on it.

  9. The Real JeffS says:

    Well, we wants one! Yes, we do, we wants our Precioussssss…………

  10. The Real JeffS says:

    Mr. Bingley, on that matter, I must refer you to Lord Rove. You know the phone number. I suggest that you dial very quickly, you know how displeased He can be with tardiness.

  11. Cullen says:

    Intelligent Elf Design is as funny as FSM.

  12. (As ‘noodley appendage’ is already taken, I guess we’ll have to come up with something else.)

  13. Kelleher, William J. says:

    The Corps is clearly guilty of engineering malpractice in the design of the New Orleans Flood Walls that failed. I estimate the section modulus for the existing sheet piling would have had to been 40 cubic inches. This is far,far from a flimsy sheet piling. I taught statics in college. The overturning moment on a dam is a function of the height of water cubed. I also taught soil mechanics and foundations. One should not depend on a cantilever sheet piling driven into soft soil as a permanent structure. Even the Corps own manual says that the I type reinforced concrete panels used are rarely over seven feet high. The design flaws would not show up untill the height of water exceeded the ability of the sheet pile to act as a cantilever beam. The erosion of the soil fixing the sheet pile is another design flaw.

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