"The First I've Seen of This Information"

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET

Something important is happening in New Orleans this week. Under the leadership of John Barry (full disclosure: I know this man), the new consolidated levee board has invited Dr. Bob Bea to the city, and, according to today's Times-Picayune, Bea presented his critiques of the Army Corps' post-disaster work to the board, with the head of the Corps' "hurricane protection" operation in attendance. Since Dr. Bea helped head an independent forensic team highly critical of the Corps' pre-disaster performance (identifying the Corps as the prime cause of the disaster, in fact), and is now an expert witness for the team suing the Corps for disaster-related damages, this was a momentous achievement indeed, and Barry (author of the seminal book on the 1927 Mississippi River flood, Rising Tide) deserves great credit.

But the money quote in the article came from Col. Jeffrey Bedey of the Corps. Remember, Dr. Bea co-authored a report (the ILIT report, available in pdf form from UC Berkeley) that leveled severe detailed criticism at the Corps' performance in designing and constructing the levee-floodwalll system that failed. Those critiques received full and complete coverage, if not in the national media, in the New Orleans press and electronic media. Col. Bedey's comment, after Dr. Bea's presentation this week:

"For me, this is the first I've seen of this information, and we've got to put it into the hands of engineers and scientists," he said. "I won't presuppose anything, but I will say again that the commitment of the Army Corps of Engineers is to provide 100-year protection."

Either the colonel is living in a Corps-imposed bubble, where the insiders are rigorously shielded from outside comments and critiques, or he's being disingenuous. As for that commitment, one need only note that, after their disastrous 1953 flood, the Dutch committed to 10,000-year protection as a benchmark for their improved flood-control system. Hey, it's only a matter of a couple of zeros...