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LA Sues Army Corps for Corroding Water Pumps

TUESDAY, MAY 14, 2024

The state of Louisiana has filed a precautionary lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect it from costs incurred for repairs of corroding pumps in New Orleans’ hurricane levee system.

Additionally, the suit claims that the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority raised concerns over potential corrosion while the pumps were being constructed. The pumps were supposed to last 35 years, but have only been in operation since 2018.

What Happened

The three permanent canal closures and pump stations at London Avenue, Orleans Avenue and the 17th Street Canal cost a total of $726 million and were constructed as one of the last projects of the $14.6 billion redesign and construction of the New Orleans hurricane levee system following Hurricane Katrina.

The new stations were designed to keep surges from Lake Pontchartrain from entering the city and threatening the interior floodwalls along the canals, while the pumps were designed to match the flow of water entering the canals from interior pump stations in moving it into the lake.

In February 2023, corrosion was discovered on the London Avenue pump after water was removed from the bay and the outer covering was removed. The severity of the corrosion was reportedly “well beyond what was expected during its entire 35-year service life,” said Bradley Drouant, senior project manager for the three lakefront stations.

The pump had previously overheated in May 2022 and was taken out of service. At the time, officials speculated that the overheating could have been caused by the possibility that its equipment became misaligned because the heavy pump station structure was sinking, or that a temperature sensor was faulty.

As a result of the findings, all 16 pumps across all three stations were inspected. The Corps reported that the preliminary findings show the pumps are seeing varying levels of corrosion. A second pump at London Avenue was also targeted for an in-depth inspection because of increased operating temperatures.

Officials said that they had plans to temporarily repair both elements of the flood protection system by June 1, in time for hurricane season. Lakey Inc. was hired to complete the repairs, which are anticipated to cost several hundred thousand dollars.

NOLA.com reported that, in addition to the temporary repairs, the Army Corps was planning a deeper inspection of the city’s combined permanent canal closure and pump stations to determine whether there are design flaws only five years after completion. 

Then, in March of last year, the Army Corps started repair work on the pumping stations.

What Now

All 17 pumps are reportedly now included in a two- to three-year permanent repair program by PCCP JV, overseen by the Army Corps, who worked as a joint venture to initially build the pump stations.

Spokesperson Ricky Boyett said there were plans for permanent repairs for all 17 pumps

“Our focus now is to complete the repairs of the four pumps currently under rehabilitation by the beginning of hurricane season,” he said. “We will not undertake work during hurricane season.”

Additionally, the Army Corps noted that enough pumping capacity will be in place if a storm hits this hurricane season, which starts on June 1.

The Army Corps has also reportedly assured the state that it will not be held responsible for repair costs. CPRA Executive Director Glenn Ledet said, however, that the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the local sponsor for the three stations, filed the suit to protect it if the joint venture fails to pick up its share of the repair costs.

He said the state won’t take action to move the lawsuit forward unless the Corps asks for the state to pay.

The state lawsuit reportedly focuses on two documents outlining the financial responsibility of the state and the Army Corps for the levee system.

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The first includes a 2008 “project partnership agreement” between the Corps and the CPRA, which was amended in 2010 to include the pump stations. This document lists the state as the local sponsor of the entire post-Katrina east bank levee reconstruction project, and outlines the state’s financial responsibility for sharing the construction costs.

The second is a 2018 “notice of construction completion” issued by the Army Corps to the CPRA when the three canal closure-pump station projects were declared to be complete. This governs how the stations were to be handed over to the state, which would become responsible for their operation and maintenance.

A spokesperson for the Army Corps told NOLA.com that the agency does not comment on litigation, and did not address whether the state would be asked to chip in money if the joint venture refused to pay for the repairs.

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According to the suit, CPRA officials repeatedly “expressed concerns regarding the potential for corrosion in the design and construction of the pumps” during the stations’ construction. 

“These concerns included the use of dissimilar metals and inadequate cathodic protection for the electrically continuous pumps, all of which could lead to corrosion,” the lawsuit said. As a result, in 2018, the CPRA formally objected to the notice of completion, saying it did not agree that the Army Corps’ obligations to assure the pump stations were finished had been met.

However, recognizing that the agency didn't have the capability to operate and maintain the stations, the CPRA agreed to take over their operation and maintenance, assigning it to the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

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The lawsuit notes that, in addition to the pumps, screens designed to protect pump intakes from debris are reportedly deficient, sinkholes were found adjacent to some of the pump stations, cracks are being repaired in station basements, and some pump equipment within the stations has tilted. 

“The government‘s design and construction deficiencies continue to render the pumps within the PCCPs insufficient to perform and fulfill the intended purposes,” the lawsuit says. “As a result, the city of New Orleans and surrounding areas, as well as the residents, are vulnerable to future flooding events.”

The suit reportedly asks the judge to find that the federal government breached the partnership agreement with the pump stations’ defective design and construction, and the agreement's implied warranty, and to declare the notice of construction completion to be “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.”

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The lawsuit has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown.


Tagged categories: Corrosion; Corrosion protection; Flood Barrier; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Locks and dams; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Water/Wastewater


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