The Calm After the Storm

Protecting St. Bernard Parish

When Hurricane Katrina passed through St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, on August 29, 2005, it left a once thriving community in ruins. In less than a half hour, the parish towns were submerged by up to 11 feet of stormwater.

CDM Smith chose to work with area businesses during the construction phase, helping to create jobs and rebuild the local economy in St. Bernard Parish. 

A 21-foot wave ripped buildings from their foundations and damaged the parish levees. With no electricity, water or sewage services—and in many cases without a home—thousands of residents fled to find sanctuary in other parts of Louisiana and surrounding states.

Picking up the Pieces
Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began a program to address damaged levees and protect surrounding areas from future flooding. With federal funding, USACE hired CDM Smith to evaluate and repair damage done to three pump stations in St. Bernard Parish. Steve Thanner, CDM Smith project manager, was part of a special team assembled for the task. He recalls the scene when they first arrived: “The combination of wind and flood damage had done a number on the area. We saw sailboats sitting in people’s yards and in the streets, siding blown right off of houses, big signs missing where their poles remained, and holes torn out of building walls.”

USACE’s goal was to secure the parish from future floods as quickly and efficiently as possible, so a design-build delivery approach was chosen to save time and streamline the process. In addition, CDM Smith used an innovative technique for surveying storm damage at the beginning of the project. Instead of hiring divers, which regional contractors had traditionally used to investigate the integrity of pump station pipes, CDM Smith opted for a combination of sonar technology and remote-controlled underwater cameras. The idea saved money while reducing overall safety risks to investigators.

Security in Uncertain Times
The pump stations, originally built in the 1980s, were intended to move water past the Lake Borgne Basin Levee during all storm events, from light rains to flooding caused by hurricanes. CDM Smith collaborated with USACE and the owner, Lake Borgne Basin Levee District, to design a restorative solution that would help the system meet this wide range of operating conditions and its intended level of performance. The firm developed specifications for replacement pumps, drives, and intake pipes, and provided engineering oversight during installation of the 850,000-gallon-per-minute pumping stations—which move enough water to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in 47 seconds.

“We determined that in addition to replacing broken equipment, it would be prudent to install pumps of uniform size at each station,” explains Geoff McKenzie, CDM Smith client service manager. “By doing this, we ensured that future maintenance would be straightforward and cost-efficient.” Additionally, CDM Smith designed raised platforms and metal housing for pump drives. These modifications will protect this critical equipment from wind and flood damage during operation, and will help the facilities perform through extreme conditions expected over the next 100 years.

CDM Smith chose to work with area businesses during the construction phase, helping to create jobs and rebuild the local economy in St. Bernard Parish. “We hired a local general contractor and local electrical subcontractor, and found nearby sources for concrete,” says Thanner. “The local touch helped us gain credibility in the area.”

Testing Safety
Still in the process of rebuilding, parish citizens steeled themselves for another blow when news broke of Hurricane Gustav in 2008. The project had been expedited earlier that year in anticipation of the coming storm season. New pumps in one of the stations—delivered ahead of schedule—were connected to temporary drives. When Hurricane Gustav arrived, the emergency system proved its worth, protecting St. Bernard Parish from flooding. “It was such a relief when the new pumps pulled through, and made a difference for so many people,” says McKenzie.

A commitment to safety and protection was evident in every area of the pump station rehabilitation. Despite the advanced schedule and challenges of managing a civil project of this scale, CDM Smith maintained an excellent safety record. Chester Ashley, USACE administrative contracting officer, recalls, “CDM Smith provided quality safety oversight to ensure that all aspects of the project were completed without incident or injury.”

The facilities were officially opened at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in October 2009. Thanner says, “With this protection in place, St. Bernard Parish can focus on other reconstruction, and ultimately, growth.”

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers