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Floods: Army Corps Says PR Turns Babblers into Spokespersons

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VIEIRA: What do you mean when you say that, General? What do you mean when you say a 500-year storm or a 50-year-old storm?

Brig. Gen. WALSH: Well, what we're looking for is the height of the--height of the water as it--as it comes in off the watershed and goes into the river. What you look at is the design, the river--the levee to a certain height. So a lot of the levees that you--that you're talking about have overtopped. We don't consider that a failure. They've overtopped and inundated the area on the other side of the levee.

On June 22,The New York Times ("Call for Change Ignored, Levees Remain Patchy") put its own spin on the issue of levee management in an article accompanied by graphics supplied by the USACE. The grey lady reported, somewhat ingenuously, that "the levees are owned and maintained by all sorts of towns, agencies, even individual farmers, making the work in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri last week of gaming the flood -- calculating where water levels would exceed the capacity of the protective walls -- especially agonizing."

The language was clear. Protecting the levees was gamesmanship, requiring that old crystal ball. Besides, it was a hodgepodge, the press said, with levees owned by poor farmers. This is very far from the truth. The levee system that failed catastrophically was a system maintained and built by the USACE with help and guidance from the civil engineering sector.

Neglect in Des Moines

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An article in the Des Moines Register describes ten instances of neglect in the Corps database where the Corps was monitoring the need for fixing infrastructure but decided it would not be worth it to spend the money. Apparently USACE did not want to continue studying the known damage so that a report could be produced to help acquire money to fix it. If the agency did intend to acquire money, the Corps seemed to have no sense of urgency and planned to get to it in another year or two.

The public affairs department of the Corps of Engineers has no problem with justifying such neglect.

Fournier, the man behind the "crystal ball defense", said in the same Des Moines Register article, "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inspects only levees that it designed and built, or that it has certified as meeting standards...Many Iowa levees, typically built by farmers or local agencies after flooding in the 1960s, are rows of sandbags covered with dirt. Because they don't meet Corps standards, they aren't inspected regularly and don't qualify for federal repair or replacement projects."

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Who or what determines this policy that if an individual has not built a safe levee he or she is allowed to endanger the lives of people in the surrounding area? Imagine if Homeland Security used this defense to justify not making airport security systems uniform.

Fournier later on in the Register article insinuates that Iowans could have faced "levee terrorism." The Register cites him claiming federal officials feared "an incident similar to 1993, when levee protection was compromised by James Scott, an Illinois man sentenced to life in prison for removing sandbags from a levee" could have been potentially responsible for disaster.

Scott, according to the Register, was responsible for the flooding of 14,000 acres and the closing of the Mississippi River Bridge. Since no known occurrences of "levee terrorism" did take place, Fournier's statement certainly raises eyebrows. In addition, Fournier's statements a few days earlier on FOX News give credit to the Corps for keeping the levees safe--until it rained. Now the blame is being shifted and the truth is being shafted.

Levees are owned by the towns and states where they are located. But, by federal mandate, as is the case in New Orleans, the USACE controls them.

The question that has so far not been answered with any clarity is "Who controls the levees where flooding was severe in Iowa and Illinois?"

What is the American public to believe? The USACE prevents flooding until there is a flood and then it is the fault of "all sorts of towns and agencies;" even "farmers?"

Bubbas with Bulldozers

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Engineer H.J. Bosworth Jr. P.E. responded to the spin that is already on at least fifteen major news outlets.

Bosworth is a native of New Orleans, LA. He has been a licensed civil engineer since 1986 and holds a degree from Louisiana State University. He has worked in the engineering business on local projects as well as projects across the US and abroad from his office in the New Orleans area since 1982.

"The flooding of the Midwest is a failure of the civil engineering profession. Levee overtopping and levee failure is predictable and controllable. Civil engineers have the knowledge and the tools to properly build levees that will do their job," Bosworth said.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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