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Corps Misses Deadline To Repair Salty Levees

In Plaquemines Parish, vast stretches of levee topsoil are still barren, rutted and cracked from erosion despite assurances by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the problem would be fixed by the middle of this hurricane season.
/ Source: WDSU.com

WDSU .com

In Plaquemines Parish, vast stretches of levee topsoil are still barren, rutted and cracked from erosion despite assurances by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the problem would be fixed by the middle of this hurricane season.

The problem is salt in the soil used to repair the levees three years ago following Hurricane Katrina. The salt keeps the grass from growing and it is the grass that armors the levee, preventing levee failures in the event of over-topping during a hurricane.

Raw Video: Corps Official Discusses Missed Deadline

The Corps says it did not test for salt in the soil and did not realize why the grass was not growing despite previous problems with salty soil in adjacent parishes.

P.J. Hahn, the head of Coastal Restoration for Plaquemines, said the parish has been trying to get the Corps to fix the problem for the past three years.

"President (Billy) Nungesser has been very patient and in a spirit of cooperation working with the Corps to get a resolution to the problem, but obviously his patience is getting thin," Hahn said.

Hahn said the Corps told the parish the problem would be fixed by the end of August.

According to the Corps, they have grass growth on 25 percent of the problem area after hauling in dirt, but 75 percent remains barren. According to John Grieshaber with the Corps, bad weather and funding have hampered their efforts to get the grass to grow.

Meanwhile, in many areas the Corps has had to erect hay-bale barriers to keep the topsoil out of people's yards and parish streets as it washes off the levees.

The borrow pits from which the Corps took the soil to repair the damaged levees was at one point under 25 feet of salt water after Hurricane Katrina. WDSU asked Dr. Grieshaber why it did not occur to someone at the Corps that may be a problem.

"Well, I think that nobody really thought through it," Grieshaber said.

Grieshaber said the Corps now anticipates having grass on the levees by the first of the year, well after Hurricane season.

As a result of the problem in Plaquemines Parish, Grieshaber said the Corps now requires all soil used in levee construction to be tested for the presence of salt.

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