Thursday, September 15, 2005

Our work... seen on CNN

Picture lifted from the Associated Press... Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, Commander of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, gives an update on his agency's work on the fractured levee system in New Orleans during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005. (AP Photos/Heesoon Yim)

So, here we are in the Coast Guard Atlantic Area Incident Management Team for Hurricane Katrina operations. We spend most of our time gathering and collating and synthesizing information. We feed the beast. And most of the time, we wonder "why bother?"

((Don't be content with only a teaser of this post; read more of this musing.))

So, today, we put out our usual situation report (SITREP) and then our slides, all of which provides a detailed look the Coast Guard's current operations.

And then, when it slowed down, we're checking the message board, answering questions, and trading sea stories; CNN is playing in the background. And all of sudden, someone jumps up and yells, "That's our slide!"

It's a Pentagon briefing, and Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, Commander of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers is briefing the press with our slide. A product we developed!

We're not sure how he got it, but I guess some people actually use the, er, stuff we sent out.

Anyway, the ten of us broke into applause; we're famous. Ok, not really, but it was still a good feeling.

The watchstanders in the command center next door wondered what was going on.

And, as to the brief, well, check it out for yourself here.
Let me shift now to what we're doing for our own inherent Corps of Engineers missions. We are responsible for maintaining navigation in federal channels and harbors. The two big factors there are the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway, which runs from Texas all the way to Florida -- a very important commercial artery that had to be opened up very quickly.

We were able to open that for the most part, except for in the inner harbor here in downtown New Orleans. We have to go around a lock that's located there. The lock's operational, but the bridges that you -- have to be lifted to move traffic through that inner harbor are not operational. And we also have some obstructions inside the harbor that need to be moved. So we've actually created a bypass that goes down the Mississippi River to a place called Baptiste Collette, out Baptiste Collette and back up through the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, and then back into the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway. So that waterway is now open to full depth for traffic moving east and west.

The other very important artery here is the Mississippi River itself. That is now open for full service to 45-feet draft day and night, except for one point down here at the southwest pass as vessels actually enter or depart, they can only do that in daylight right now because the Coast Guard is still in the process of placing aids to navigation down there. But for all practical purposes, the Mississippi River is now open for both deep-draft and shallow-draft traffic.

Keep in mind, New Orleans sits at mile marker 116, so it's over 100 miles from the Gulf and open water up through the Mississippi River to New Orleans, and that's all open down to full depth.

The Mississippi Gulf Outlet is a 36-foot channel that receives some shoaling. It's open to 22 feet now. And then we have various ports along the Gulf Coast that we're responsible for channels in, and you can see by the indications here which ones are open: Mobile is open with no restrictions, and then the ports at Pascagoula, Biloxi, and Gulfport have restrictions on them. I understand that just yesterday, the captain of the port in New Orleans has declared the Port of New Orleans also open. That's not to say it's at full capacity, but the captain of the port will say that we can now move traffic in and out of that port.

A very import port down here is Port Fourchon, which supports the offshore oil industry. We have that port operational with some restrictions, but that has been a critical effort to make sure that port was up and operating.

In addition to our navigation mission, under Public Law 8499, the Corps of Engineers can operate as an independent agency. And what we will do is go and conduct surveys of all the structures in the area, both navigation and flood control, and then begin to make repairs on those. So we're working under those authorities with the local parishes to repair the levee systems that were damaged during the event.

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