Bad News in New Orleans: the Corps says "Trust Us" Again

04/14/2007 12:21 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's not bad enough that insurance rates here in New Orleans are, according to today's Times-Picayune, rising by as much as 400 percent. The same paper also reports the latest attempt by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, architects of the Katrina-related levee and floodwall failures, to reassure citizens that its repair and rebuilding work is better than the work that went before. The gist: sheet pilings along a section of the previously devastated 17th Street Canal are as much as 13 feet shorter than the pilings that failed in the wake of Katrina. More ominous: amid murmurings of reassurance from Corps spokespeople, the Corps is having its work overseen by...the Corps. Dr. Bob Bea, who led a team from UC Berkeley funded by the National Science Foundation to investigate the causes of the last disaster, says this may be a rerun of what his team found to be a "fatal flaw", and "that gives me the heebie-jeebies".

Bea and his colleagues, along with members of the state-fielded Team Louisiana investigators, have said the corps must open itself to true outside collaboration and review -- not just talk about doing so.

"When are these guys going to learn? This is like running into the gang of bullies who beat you up yesterday and having them say, 'Trust us today,' " Bea said. "Nineteen months after Katrina, they're still checking their own work. They should be inviting peer review and welcoming collaboration as a way of showing that they really want to move forward together."

When are these guys going to learn? When Congress forces them to. One start, Bea suggests, is forcing the Corps to raise the "safety factor" it builds into its calculations, currently set at the same level for levees that protect dairy farms and big cities.