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Martial law declared around New Orleans

UPI | August 30 2005

NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Martial law was declared in New Orleans midday Tuesday as the city continued flooding from at least two levees damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

WWL-TV, New Orleans, which evacuated its studios earlier, reported airlifts of sandbags had been ordered as water flooded along the city's landmark Canal Street. No one but emergency personnel was being allowed into the city, whose two airports were under water. Looting was reported.

Mayor Ray Nagin said bodies have been seen floating in floodwaters, although neither city nor Louisiana state officials had issued a preliminary death toll.

Nagin said the city's Twin Span Bridge is "totally destroyed" and that 80 percent of the city is underwater. New Orleans is 6 feet below sea level, and reliant on levees to hold back water from Lake Ponchartrain.

He also predicted there would be no electricity in the city for four to six weeks. Natural gas leaks were also reported throughout the city, CNN reported.

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Flashback: Bush Held Back Funding On Hurricane Defense

New Orleans City Business

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has identified millions of dollars in flood and hurricane protection projects in the New Orleans district.

Chances are, though, most projects will not be funded in the president's 2006 fiscal year budget to be released today.

In general, funding for construction has been on a downward trend for the past several years, said Marcia Demma, chief of the New Orleans Corps' programs management branch.

In 2001, the New Orleans district spent $147 million on construction projects. When fiscal year 2005 wraps up Sept. 30, the Corps expects to have spent $82 million, a 44.2 percent reduction from 2001 expenditures.

Demma said NOC expects its construction budget to be slashed again this year, which means local construction companies won't receive work from the Corps and residents won't see any new hurricane protection projects.

Demma said she couldn't say exactly how much construction funding will be cut until the president's budget is released today. But it's down, she said.

The New Orleans district has at least $65 million in projects in need of fiscal year 2005 funding. In fiscal year 2006, the need more than doubles to at least $150 million.

Unfunded projects include widening drainage canals, flood- proofing bridges and building pumping stations in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. The Corps also wants to build levees in unprotected areas on the West Bank.

Demma does not expect the Corps to award many more projects before fiscal year 2005 ends.

The New Orleans district already owed about $11 million to construction companies after funding dried up last July, well before the end of the fiscal year. By paying its debt, the Corps lost money it could have spent on other projects in 2005.

Boh Bros. Construction Co. LLC of New Orleans waited until November for the Corps to pay off a nearly $2 million debt, said Robert S. Boh, company president.

When the Corps doesn't pay its bills, companies like Boh Bros. either use internal funds or borrow money to continue work.

That is a tough burden that is placed on us, Boh said.

Boh said his situation was not as bad as construction companies working the Corps' Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes.

The burden that reduced funding puts on us is that funds are not necessarily available in each fiscal year to pay for the construction work that we might be able to do, Boh said. They're running out of funds and presenting the contractor with a real dilemma.

The most urgent work being delayed by funding shortfalls involves levee construction on the West Bank.

The West Bank doesn't have the first level of protection completed. So, that's the really critical one, Demma said.

On the bright side, the West Bank work has been receiving higher funding than usual in the past few years to get this work done, she said.

Still, $3.5 million in West Bank construction contracts have not been funded in fiscal year 2005.

SELA has a backlog of $35 million, according to the Corps' 2005 budget.

Our progress is definitely beginning to slow, said Stan Green, SELA project manager.

Green said SELA has 14 project plans that could be awarded if funds were available. SELA's highest priority, he said, is completing an intake culvert for Dwyer Road in eastern New Orleans. The culvert, an underground concrete box that carries water to a pumping station, would improve the flow of water to the Dwyer Road pumping station, where construction should be completed by October, he said. A roughly $18 million contract for the culvert has been not awarded due to lack of money, he said.

Fourteen SELA projects worth $114 million could be awarded, he said. But SELA's 2005 budget is only $28.5 million, he said.

The last time a SELA contract was awarded was early in fiscal year 2004, he said.

We're just continuing work that's been under way for some time, he said.

Green said the 14 projects consist of widening canals and replacing bridges, such as the West Esplanade Avenue bridge at Elmwood Canal, which restricts water flow in area canals.

I think the projects are of critical importance in reducing rainfall flooding, Green said. I'd say in the last two or three years, the work that we've already done under SELA has made a significant difference. We have a lot of benefits yet to be realized from this work we haven't built yet.

The 2006 SELA budget has also been cut, Green said.

Corps projects are important to companies such as Boh Bros., which is in the middle of a $36 million contract to install floodgates for the Harvey Canal.

Boh said the unpredictable pay pattern will make him scrutinize Corps contracts more closely before applying for work.

Well, we're going to have to look at each one now, he said. We'll have to make a judgment about the likelihood of funding being adequate to pay for the work.

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