Outside experts will review work at a canal where one of the New Orleans area's worst levee breaks occurred during Hurricane Katrina, and where water is seeping through the mushy ground despite $22 million in repairs, the Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday.
"I have agreed with southeastern (Louisiana) levee authorities as well as the state to go ahead and do an independent peer review, to put to rest what the issues are with the seepage," said Karen Durham-Aguilera, director of the corps task force responsible for restoring levees in the five-parish area.
Who will conduct the review has yet to be determined, she said.
Outside experts have told The Associated Press that the type of seepage spotted at the 17th Street Canal in the Lakeview neighborhood afflicts other New Orleans levees and could cause some to collapse if water in the canals gets within a foot of Katrina's 7-foot levels.
The repairs included driving interlocking sheets of metal 60 feet into the ground, 43 feet deeper than before the storm. However, there is evidence that canal water is seeping through the joints.
The corps has defended its work, but also has been digging a trench to find the precise source of wet spots inside the levees.
"Bringing in what we hope is a truly independent review to look at the leaks at the 17th Street Canal — that is commendable," said Sandy Rosenthal, founder of Levees.org, a group that has lobbied for overhauling the Corps.
Aside from that, Rosenthal said in an interview, "I'm not aware of anything that was presented that would give the citizens of this area any reason to feel safe."
Aguilera spoke during a half-hour teleconference with General Douglas O'Dell, the federal coordinator for Gulf Coast rebuilding, and Brig. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, commander of the corps' Mississippi Valley division, as the June 1 start of hurricane season neared.
O'Dell and Walsh said the New Orleans area's hurricane protection is better than it has ever been, but that parish or neighborhood risk estimates are not available.
"This is a very complex system, so to be able to talk in specific terms of neighborhood protection versus parish protection versus the entire system, probably defies the amount of time we have left on this call," O'Dell said.
The corps' goal, set by Congress, is protection by 2011 from a 100-year storm — one so strong it's likely to hit only once in a century.