The New Orleans levee system, with its pumps and floodgates, is the subtext to every post-Katrina worry. That's why Brig. Gen. Robert Crear of the Army Corps of Engineers has repeatedly said the repairs will be finished by the start of hurricane season on June 1.
“We will make the deadline,” Crear said on April 26.
And that’s why President Bush repeated those assurances to NBC's Brian Williams on April 27, saying, “We've said we'll have, by June first, the levees up to pre-Katrina or better. And that will happen.”
But Friday's headline: It won't happen. The new floodgates and auxiliary pumps won't be operational at the 17th Street and London Avenue canals — two locations where the levees breached after Katrina — until mid-July.
“It's not going the way we wanted, to be ready 1, June,” says Col. Richard Wagenaar with the Corps of Engineers. “But we do have a plan to provide that protection.”
That plan is using steel sheet piling to do the same job as the floodgates in controlling storm surge, and portable pumps to deal with any flooding, though not as efficiently as the bigger pumps that aren't ready yet.
Residents of the adjacent Lakeview neighborhood, waiting to start rebuilding their homes, had their confidence shaken again.
“We just want to see good construction,” says Greg Pembo. “Bring it to the standard, not shoddy construction. Do your job right.”
“I think I'll feel better when there is a pumping station out there,” adds resident Thomas Do.
Last summer, two hurricanes aimed for New Orleans in early July, losing steam or veering off at the last minute. What happens if a Katrina-scale storm hits before this work is finished?
Wagenaar says don't worry. “If a strong [category] 3 hits, the repairs we've made and the system that's here, we believe is reliable.”
But in these neighborhoods, in this shattered city, belief remains elusive.