GEN. STROCK: Good morning. What I'd like to do here today is about three things: first, to review the role of the Corps of Engineers in responding to natural disasters in general and then specifically what we're doing here in response to Katrina. I'd like to talk a bit about how those various missions are unfolding. And I'd like to spend a bit of time on the dewatering mission, the unwatering mission of New Orleans, which I know everyone's interested in and also on the navigation -- the state of navigation across the coast of the Gulf there, a very, very important part of what the Corps does.
Well, to begin with, we respond really in three ways here. First of all, we respond as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We also respond as part of the Department of Defense in support of military response that goes in. And finally, we have our own inherent mission responsibilities which have to do with flood control and navigation, principally, in the area there.
So to work through each one of those sequentially, in support of FEMA, we are Emergency Support Function 3, one of 15 Emergency Support Functions that comes together, actually, prior to and during a disaster. Under the National Response Plan -- which is a revision of the old Federal Response Plan which used to only cover natural disasters with the inclusion of FEMA in the Department of Homeland Security -- that response plan has now been broadened to include response of terrorist attacks. And the name of that plan is the National Response Plan. Our role is to remain essentially the same. Regardless of the cause of the catastrophe, the consequences are always the same where the Corps of Engineers is concerned. We have displaced people in need of food and water and shelter and that sort of thing. And so we respond regardless of the cause of the catastrophe.
Under Emergency Support Function 3, we have a number of missions. We have the mission to provide ice, water and temporary power. We also provide temporary roofing and debris removal. And normally, we have the temporary housing mission, but because of the size of the mission in this case, FEMA has elected to stand up a task force called the Housing Area Command, and that's under the specific, direct control of FEMA. We'll continue to support that with technical expertise and execution, but FEMA is actually handling the temporary housing mission now.
Each of these missions is performed by groups of Corps of Engineers employees who are trained and ready prior to the advent of a disaster and know that when they -- when the disaster occurs, they will be called in to respond. We have them standing in various stages of readiness. So for example, we know that a team in Portland, Oregon, might be the next team up to go and handle ice.
We also know that where a disaster occurs, we have a district, and typically that district can be a victim of the disaster as well. So we flow in people from around the Corps of Engineers to respond to a specific location.
In the case of New Orleans, they were really at ground zero on this event. And so the Memphis district of the Corps of the Engineers took over these Emergency Support Function 3 requirements in this area, which would normally be the responsibility of New Orleans. We're also flowing in teams from around the country to support Memphis district in their response.
We also provide technical assistance, things like structural surveys and that sort of thing, on an as-needed basis. Of particular interest in this disaster has been the impact on water and sewage treatment plants across the impacted area, and the Corps of Engineers will go in and provide advice and assistance in bringing those systems back into operation.
We also have a very visible mission in the unwatering of the city, and I'll talk to you at length about that later on.
Let me just explain very quickly -- if I have the first slide up here, please -- our missions going into the disaster. We have what are called pre-scripted missions. We have standing contracts with certain contractors -- ice, water and temporary power. And prior to landfall, we actually move these capabilities forward.
We have two major mobilization sites: at Barksdale Air Force Base and at Craig Field --
Q General, I'm sorry.
GEN. STROCK: I'm sorry.
Q You're supposed to be near the microphone, sir.
GEN. STROCK: I understand that mikes were catching me -- hooked on --
Q Oh, I see. All right. Thanks.
GEN. STROCK: Okay. Okay.
GEN. STROCK: Barksdale Air Force Base and Craig Field, our mobilization sites. We select these sites that are hopefully outside of the impacted area, so we can begin staging commodities there. So ice and water were moved into there several days before landfall.
From there, we have operational support areas that are throughout the disaster area, where we -- and flow the commodities when they're needed. And that's the way the system normally works and did work, in fact, in Katrina.
We also provide levels of leadership, command and control and so forth, as we man various operations centers in preparation for landfall.
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.
Now let me turn to the unwatering, which I know is of great interest right now.
May I have the next slide?
What you see here on this slide in the pink-shaded areas is the extent of flooding that we had immediately following the overtopping and breaching of the levees. In the blue is the current status of the drainage. So the blue are those places which still have water on them that we're not prepared to give access to.
We're having very good success, and just yesterday afternoon, we adjusted our estimated timeline on when we would have these areas dewatered. And you can see here in the Chalmette area, Saint Bernard's Parish -- by 20 September we should have that dry enough that we can begin and go start recovering in earnest.
The same thing down here on the Chalmette extension. We're estimating about 30 September on that one. Here in Orleans East, the bank project and the city, the French Quarter, and so forth, is right in this area here. We're looking at 2 October there, and then 30 September up here on the east -- New Orleans East section of the levee. And these are all accelerated over previous estimates, so we're very encouraged by that. We've been blessed with no rainfall, which would have had a factor here. And also, as we're watching the storms coming out of the Atlantic, we could take a little more risk in how we do this. The most effective way to do the initial unwatering is to actually do deliberate breaches in the levees and let gravity move the water out because the lake level has receded low enough now we can do that. But when we do that, we have to be very careful not to make them so wide that we expose ourselves to hazards of additional storm fronts coming in. So we've been fortunate enough that we've been able to use a lot of gravity drainage here. And then once we get the water down, the pump stations are brought back on line.
New Orleans has a series of fixed pumps, which you can see are throughout the area here. These are designed to handle precipitation and rainfall events for interior drainage. They are not designed to have the full capacity to unwater the system. And so those pump stations are now coming back on line. These are very large capacity pumps. In fact, in the city of New Orleans itself, about 62,000 cubic feet per second of total pump capacity is available. And we were running yesterday about 18,000; it's down a little bit now as we're getting water away from those pump stations. But we've got about 20 percent or so of the pumping capacity of the city up. And what you'll actually see over time is that pumping -- the amount of water we're pumping is actually dropping off because as we dry up areas, the pumps that do that are no longer in service. So don't be alarmed as you see pumps coming off line and the actual discharge of water slackening off. It's not because we've got a problem, it's just the way the system works.
Most of these pump stations rely on gravity-fed canals to get the water to them, and in a couple of cases they will pump water to other pump stations for discharge into the lake.
One of the questions that we are dealing with now is the status of the levees. It's a very important question for two reasons. Number one, we want to make sure that if there are weakened portions of the levee or there are breaches that we haven't identified yet, we know about those. Because as the decisions are made to move back in to these parishes, we need to understand the level of vulnerability that our citizens have moving back in. So we've got a very intense effort going out to assess the condition of the levee systems and put in repairs where it makes sense.
The other thing, of course, is we're looking down range a little bit and we realized when we get through our response and the initial stages of recovery, we've really got to understand exactly what occurred here. So part of our project condition survey is to capture the conditions as the water recedes so we can do the analysis later on to ensure we have the right engineering and we're doing the right steps to protect the people in the future.
So that's it. It's a sort of a forensic aspect of the effort now, principally for operational and safety purposes, but also so we can go back and understand what happened. And that's an ongoing effort.
As we do that, we are identifying some breaches in levees we did not see initially. Our attention was really drawn to 17th Street and London Avenue canal in the inner harbor. But now we're finding some levee breaches in places like the National Wildlife Refuge up here. So there are other sections of the levee which breached. We also have levee breaches down in Plaquemines County. If I could go to that one real quick.
This is Plaquemines County, which is -- which is south and east of New Orleans. They have breaches down there which we're working as well. Plaquemines has been kind of out of the news, but clearly, it's an important area, it needs to be brought back up. One of the reasons for that is a lot of the support for the oil fields moves up and down this corridor here, so we need to bring -- bring that area back up as quickly as we can.
There is concern over the quality of the water that is being moved into Lake Pontchartrain. We are working very closely with the Environmental Protection Agency. They have an on-site coordinator down there, and we are hand-in-glove with them. We are doing real-time monitoring of the quality of the water that is being discharged. We are also -- we're doing that before it gets into the pumps as well as what comes out of the pumps. So they are working very closely with that so if we see a hazard, we can intervene, and we can reduce pumping levels or stop pumping if it's felt like it's more important to keep those discharges from the waterway. But we're -- it's a -- an hour-by-hour effort, very, very closely done with EPA.
And also, really, it's the locals as well. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is involved in that, and the local parish officials are right there with us trying to understand this.
There will be unavoidable ecological impacts from Katrina as a result of moving this water. We don't have those quantified yet, but a big part of what we're doing now is gathering data so we can try to understand what we have done and then how to mitigate it in the future.
I think that's probably about it as far as the water quality is concerned. I might add that so far we -- we do not see alarming rates of -- alarming water quality concerns here. We do have some elevated levels that we're concerned about. For example, dissolved oxygen levels, we are exceeding the minimums for those in some cases, but we are taking measures to correct that by installing aerators on pumps so that we can put more in as we -- as we discover that's an issue. We're also floating booms, absorbent booms, across the intakes of the pumps and across the discharges of the pumps to try to catch as much of the pollutants as we can as the water is discharged.
So in summary, we have a pretty good plan here, I think. And every day it gets a little more focused in terms of our ability to predict how well we're doing and what the consequences will be in the long term. We are turning now, though, to reconstitution of our New Orleans district, and we're also reconstituting our entire response and recovery process for the next event.
I can tell you this - for Ophelia, we watched that very closely. FEMA stood up the command and control centers. We prepositioned ice, water and other commodities along I-95 ready to respond, if necessary. And fortunately, the eye of the storm has not made landfall yet. But we are prepared to respond to Ophelia, should that storm develop in a more significant fashion.
With that, I will be happy to take any questions you have about anything I've covered or about anything in general that the Corps of Engineers is involved in.
You know, before I go there, let me, again, emphasize that while I am the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as -- I'm a soldier -- 34,000 people in the Corps of Engineers, most of them are civilians. We only have about 600 soldiers in the Corps, half of whom are in 249th Prime Power Battalion, which provides emergency power generation.
But when you talk about the Corps of Engineers, it's not soldiers out on the ground there. It's civilian public servants that come from all over the country to respond in this way.
And we do respond through FEMA. So when we're talking about the unwatering plan of New Orleans, that is a FEMA operation that is conducted by the Corps in conjunction with the local parishes and with private industry to get that done. I want to underscore that, that we are part of FEMA in most of the work we're doing here.
Q General, a couple of questions, one now and one more to the future. Number one, you speak of other levee breaks. Have those been repaired?
GEN. STROCK: Sir, not all of them. What we're doing is a risk analysis and determining where to focus our attention. The ones in Plaquemines Parish are being repaired now. Certainly the ones that we've been focused on here in the city of New Orleans, 17th Street and London Canal -- those are repaired.
Q So water is no longer flowing into New Orleans itself - these are in outlying areas. Or is water still flowing into New Orleans?
GEN. STROCK: No, no water is currently flowing to New Orleans. I think we have one breach that's open, that water is still flowing out of. As I said, we did some deliberate breaches. But no water is currently flowing into New Orleans from any breach sites. But we have to get those back in place, so we understand the level of protection that is still there. That will be an important consideration. When the parish president and the mayor make the decision on when to move back in, it'll have to do with health and human safety, and a part of the human safety is the level of protection we have remaining after Katrina.
Q And more to the future, there's obviously been a decision to rebuild New Orleans, as much of the Gulf Coast would be done. Do you have any idea, any ballpark figure, in terms of cost and time, if the levee system has to be rebuilt or you decide to rebuild it or redo it, to protect the city from a storm like this in the future, a Category 4 or a Category 5 storm -- any ballpark figure on what it might cost and how long it might take to do that, sir?
GEN. STROCK: Sir, there's a ballpark figure out there. We have been doing a study of what it would take to provide Category 4 and 5 protection to the city. That study has been going -- ongoing since about 1999. And without getting into the esoterics of how we do these things, we have completed the reconnaissance phase of that study, and that looks at the general engineering feasibility, the economic justification and the potential environmental implications, and also whether there's a federal interest, because we do these projects with a local sponsor who pays part of the cost of these projects.
The results of that reconnaissance study indicate that there is a federal interest and that we think we should move into the next formal stage of the study, which is going into the actual engineering, economics and environmental aspects of this in a deliberate way. So we're right at that tipping point of going into the deliberate study. And the ballpark that I think I recall was about $2.5 billion to raise to [Category] 4 and 5, but if I've got that wrong, I'll correct that. But it's something along that order. Now, with this storm, the approach we take may change, and it may be a more costly activity than that, but I think it's something along those lines that we talked about.
Q Well, how long could that take, sir?
GEN. STROCK: Well, the study could take actually -- just the study itself could take years, and the actual implementation of the study could take many more years. Just to put this in context, the current hurricane protection system around New Orleans was first authorized in 1965. It went through a series of litigations. It really only began in earnest, in a modified form in 1975, so we've been about 30 years building these levees to get to this level.
When you build a levee, you have to understand that the soils in the area -- and in the area of New Orleans the soil's very compressible. So the way we do these levees is we lay a section of the levee on it, and they will compress the soils and you'll get settlement; the levee itself settles, and then we'll go back in and put another lift on there. We can't put it all down at one time because you can have catastrophic results in the foundation. So it's a very long process. Typically, four or five years we wait between each segment of levee, so these don't happen overnight. It takes a number of years to put these kind of things in place.
Q Thank you.
Q General --
GEN. STROCK: Yes, sir?
Q One of the challenges you faced with this storm was repairing the levee under extremely difficult conditions with the massive flooding that's taken place. We were told that part of the problem was the -- just the logistics of getting things there, assessing what was going on. I know this is a once in a 200-year or 100-year event, but if it were to happen again, what could you do in terms of -- what have you considered about the challenge of emergency levee repair in the midst of a disaster? Is there any consideration of prepositioning more helicopters, doing more of these massive sandbags, and having them ready to go, since that, apparently, turned out to be the most effective way of affecting emergency repairs? What are you thinking about in terms of the next time, how you might be able to accomplish that even quicker than you were able to do this?
GEN. STROCK: Well, clearly, we need to learn from this experience that the fundamental approach to flood fighting, it deals with exactly that approach. We preposition the materials that we think we'll need in a flood fight, and this is a flood fight. So we position sandbags, generators, plastic screens -- all the things you need to stop small problems before they become big problems, and that's essentially what happened here.
The challenge in New Orleans is that we knew that this system would not protect against a Category 4 or 5 event, and the answer to reduce risk to the population is to evacuate the city. Part of that evacuation is to have everybody back, and so, the people who would normally be up on the levees looking for weak spots and respond immediately were gone from the city. So that was one of the things that made it difficult for us to respond here. So certainly, if we anticipate that you may have an evacuation scenario in this or other places, we need to make sure that we have the ability to respond that's prepositioned and ready in an area that's outside the impact zone. So I'm sure there'll be things like that are -- that are put into place.
Q Well, but could you or should you have had, in retrospect, perhaps, more helicopters, more sandbags all ready -- of the giant 3,000-pound sandbags ready to go so that you could have moved maybe a few days earlier than you were able to?
GEN. STROCK: Could we or should we? In retrospect, I would say -- in retrospect I would say yes, we could have, we should have in anticipation of this. It should have been part of the overall response plan, recognize the city would be evacuated. In fact, it may have been. There's a plan, and then there's the execution of that plan, and I'm not sure about that specific detail. There was a plan to evacuate the city. That may have been a component of the plan, but I'm not sure if it was or not. But it clearly should be.
Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
Q Yes. General, can you talk a bit about the east flank of Bernard parish levee right now, which, I guess, that -- that levee is really seriously damaged. Some of your engineers have been saying that it could be months and months, well beyond the two months that are remaining in the hurricane season, before that can be repaired. And in relation to that, what risks are there in these last couple of months of the hurricane season to the city of New Orleans?
GEN. STROCK: Well, that's what we're trying to figure out right now. I can't give you specifics on that particular east bank levee. I've seen some rather extensive writings about it, but I haven't seen summaries which would be able to give me -- able for me to give you a short answer to that. That's one of the most important elements of whether to move people back in. I think clearly the city would like to allow people to certainly access it on a temporary basis to retrieve belongings and that sort of thing. But the long-term reoccupation of areas will be founded on those kinds of analyses. And that's what we're doing right now. We recognize the urgency of doing that. I don't have a specific answer on level of protection afforded by the levees today. But we're working very hard to do that.
Q Would you -- would you say you're worried -- I mean, are you worried about even a mild storm, not even a hurricane, just a tropical storm coming into that area?
GEN. STROCK: If people -- if people were still in the city, of course I'd be worried about it. But the fact is that we have evacuated the city except for very small numbers of people. And so -- and we would see those hurricanes coming. There's certainly not going to be a hurricane that's going to hit New Orleans in the next week. So we feel like we have enough warning time to evacuate people if we need to. But that'll be a very careful consideration. And it's a very urgent mission for the Corps to go back in and -- and do that analysis now.
Q Statistically, how much of a risk is that? And is that a one-in-a-million, one-in-a-billion, is that --
GEN. STROCK: Of another storm of this magnitude?
Q Or any magnitude. Of a mild storm, even.
GEN. STROCK: Of a less than Category 4? You know, I don't know. That's up to the weather service. We rely on them to do the statistical analysis. And once they give us the predicted frequency and intensity of storms, we use those as design parameters to design protection systems.
Q One of the things that's happening right now, the city is bringing their water system back up. The Claiborne plant is up and running, but they're finding high lead levels. Do you have any idea what is causing that, how they can prevent it, and is this having a similar impact to like the outlying parishes, Jefferson parish and that sort of thing?
GEN. STROCK: No, I mean that's really a question for the EPA, but as I work with the EPA, the toxic concerns we have, the heavy metals that we're seeing in the water are lead and chromium, but it's the analysis of the EPA that that was probably the residual chemicals in the soil of the city anyway and that's not due to some spill or exposure from an artificial source. Beyond that, I couldn't comment. So it may be as we're flushing the systems that those levels of lead that are in the storm waters will just take some time to get through the system. But don't know the answer -- right answer to that question.
Q General, can you estimate or give us a ballpark on how much money the Corps has spent to date on the repairs and the work in the city, and about how much more, including private contracts that you've brought on?
GEN. STROCK: Yeah, I can a little bit. First of all, under the supplemental appropriation, we have been -- we have set aside $400 million; $200 million to do the flood control and emergency response and rebuilding levees, and another $200 million to do the operation and maintenance that's necessary for things like the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway. So about $400 million has been made available to us through the supplemental account.
In terms of actual dollars spent, we have spent so far about $440 million in response to this disaster. A very large part of that has been the commodities we procured for ice and water. That amounts to about $270 million. One of the very important aspects of this is how we utilize small business and local contractors in the response and recovery, and so far, of that $440 million, over -- about 320 [million dollars] has gone to small businesses, and many of those are local businesses, to respond. I'm sorry, let me back up. Not local businesses, because it's the ice and water guys that spent most of that. But we're very carefully considering opportunities for small business and local business.
We are in the process now of awarding larger contracts, so over time, those numbers would change. I would expect that certainly over time, much more large business will be involved than small. Our agency has, targets, about 40 percent to small business. So when you're talking billions of dollars, that's quite a bit of opportunity for them, and it's very important in this response.
But that's where we are now. This afternoon we will announce the award of four very large debris contracts at $500 million each, and that will really get into the business of our largest anticipated mission of debris removal across the entire area. Our model showed us early on we could expect about, oh, 50 to 70 million cubic yards of debris, and right now we've adjusted those quantities considerably downward, to about 27 million cubic yards. It's still a lot of debris when you look at Andrew, which had 17 million and took nine months to clean up. But debris, I think, will be the largest cost in terms of the Corps of Engineers mission to recover from this disaster.
Q Speaking of contracting, your agency -- you know, you've gotten in trouble in the past about sole-source contracts on an emergency basis. What steps are you taking this time to make sure you're insulated from that criticism by way of competition? And, you know, this $1.5 billion you're going to be announcing today, these are all competitive I take it, but what steps did you go through?
GEN. STROCK: Well, they are competitive. We have the Federal Acquisition Regulation, which we must follow. And part of using that is somewhat in conflict with our interest in using small and local, because when you acquire federal contracts, it must be full and open and available to anybody who can comply.
What we have done, though, is we have put contract clauses that permit and encourage the contractors to use small and local business. The Stafford Act, the Emergency Response Act, allows us to put that clause into that contract.
So we will have them report. If we get a large business that wins the contract, they must report to us -- first of all, part of the competition selection was based on a small and local acquisition process. Within seven days, they have to show us what they're actually doing, and then they have to report to us on a weekly basis, I believe, for the first 90 days of the contract, how they're doing. We have the option to turn that contract off if we're not satisfied with the level of local engagement. The local authorities also have the opportunity to contract on their own for debris removal. And we work that directly between FEMA and the local authorities about how much to do that. So as time goes on and we get away from the emergency situation, we'll look at more tailored solutions that bring more local and small business in.
Now, how am I ensuring we don't do sole-source? Well, I don't see a need to do any sole-source from this time forward. We had some emergency responses that we had to fulfill early on right in downtown New Orleans, and we used some existing contract mechanisms. So, for example, the Navy gave us some capability on a contract they have, which was awarded through a full and open process, but was applied on behalf of the Corps of Engineers.
We have done a couple of letter contracts. We did a letter contract with a firm called Beau Brothers that did the actual levee repairs on 17th Street. They were literally onsite and it made sense to do that because they were the first at hand.
Just to let you know how important this is to me, I carry around spreadsheets that show all of the contracts and all of the task orders, whether they are full and open, whether it's large business or small business. So I'm personally engaged in making sure that we do this in the right way. And as I look at this -- (flips through spreadsheet pages) -- that's all full and open, that's all full and open. We have some prepositioned contracts there. These are all full and open, all full and open. A small-business set-aside there. I'm getting to where you're trying to get to here. Sole source. We do have some sole-source contracts. Just to give you an example of that, we rented a five-ton service for 30 days from a firm in Mississippi - sole source. So we're very careful that when we do it we do it in a very tailored and specific way.
Q One quick follow-up. How much money has FEMA roughly allocated to the Corps to manage and put on contracts over the next year, or whatever? You've got $1.5 billion coming out to you. Is that pretty much the high point, or do you expect larger contracts of that magnitude for other subjects coming on?
GEN. STROCK: We would -- I think some of the missions will grow. Right now, we have a total capacity of $2.8 billion of work, of that, $2.5 billion is for debris. That's the amount FEMA has set aside for us to use, and we may use more or less than that. We may use less because if counties decide to go in alone, then the Corps won't do that. That funding will go directly to the county to reimburse them for their activities.
So some of these areas could grow. In the area of technical assistance, we're seeing some growth in some of those. We were just turned on to go do some schools down in Mississippi, so we got a task order, a mission assignment, to go do that. But right now, it's a $2.8 billion level of capacity for the Corps of Engineers.
Q But the 1.5 you're going to announce today is part of that 2.8. It's not on top.
GEN. STROCK: No. That's part of that. That is how we would execute that 2.8.
MR. WHITMAN: We've got time for about one more, if you've got one.
Q General, do you have an idea of what they'll be doing debris moving? Just like kinetically, will we see like the trucks plowing things and then setting them on fire, or what --
GEN. STROCK: Well, there are different aspects. We have the actual move of the debris, the disposal of the debris, the reduction of the debris. So for example, vegetative debris, we generally try to reduce it and recycle it, rather than burn it, so we don't cause air quality problems. So there are a lot of different approaches. We are looking at 50,000 pounds of rotted meat in a warehouse in New Orleans. How to handle that? My solution now is to freeze it and then probably incinerate it later to remove the initial hazard. So those are the kinds of things that we're dealing with right now.
There's other -- a unique aspect of the New Orleans disaster is normally the storm passes and it's mostly tree blowdown and some structural debris. In this case, we've got a city with some possibly contaminated muck or solid residuals that we need to handle in different ways. But we're working very hard to make sure that each category of debris, we handle in a responsible way. Recycling is going to be a big part of this. The Highway 90 bridge over -- in Gulfport, for example. Components of that bridge need to be used to armor shoreline or to create artificial reefs in the Gulf for fish propagation. All those kinds of things will be considered as we talk about how to handle this debris.
Ma'am, you had one. I'm sorry. You've been very patient.
Q The mayor of New Orleans plans to open up the French Quarter as early Monday. How realistic is that timeline? And do you have an idea of when the rest of the city may be open for residents?
GEN. STROCK: Well, there are a lot of factors that go into a decision like that. First of all, health and human safety, the habitability of the structures, the presence of water and sewer and those kinds of things. Someone mentioned earlier a priority for water and sewer. One of the real focuses that we have right now is to get a particular lift station that moves sewer out of that area, so the city can re-establish government and then eventually open commerce.
The French Quarter was relatively unscathed in the flooding. It stayed above the level of inundation. I don't have the map up there now, but the French Quarter stayed fairly dry, and the reports I have was there was very little looting in the French Quarter. I think the looting was mostly after commodities and not antiques and that sort of thing you'll find down there. So I -- you know, I -- I would think that the mayor would not make that kind of commitment unless he felt very comfortable with the safety of his citizens and its ability to support commerce again.
Q One fact question. You've mentioned the additional levee breaks. Do you have a number on the total number of levees that broke?
GEN. STROCK: We're working nine levee breaks right now, sir. And I -- I must say, I'm not sure if that includes the deliberate levee breaks we made. But nine -- I had heard a report of up to 17 at one time. And these are -- these take various forms. If the levee's not up to its final profile, we consider that a break. So some of them may be completely open and exposed, and some may be just slightly degraded. But nine is what we're working right now.
Q General, how soon will the rest of the city be available for rehabitation?
GEN. STROCK: Well, again, it’s a lot of factors involved in that. First, we've got to make sure there are no residual hazards that might have to do with the storm protection --
Q Do you have a timeline?
GEN. STROCK: No, I don't. I think in terms of what we see and the condition of the levees around the Orleans east bank projects and here, we think -- we feel like we've got those back up to their final profiles, or close enough, with the exception of the London and 17th, the floodwalls are not quite where they were before. I think the grade of those levees is about 11-1/2 feet. With floodwalls, they get to 17-1/2 feet. So there's still about 6 feet of surge that we would not be able to accommodate there. So I think we'd have a tough time dealing with a class 3 right now, a cat 3 hurricane. So those -- those kinds of decisions are -- we'll -- or, those kinds of factors will be considered in the decision. And the other, then, is the ability to have clear water and sewer and the structural stability -- we don't want to put back in homes that have a danger of collapse and all that. So it's going to be a deliberate process.
As I understand it, the parish president and the mayor in some parts of the city has the final call on whether it's ready to go. So the Department of Environmental Quality from the state of Louisiana and various agencies that are with FEMA will help inform that decision by the locals on when to do that.
Q As for the unwatering portion of that, you said you adjusted some time lines for some of those areas. Do you have an overall when the city would be unwatered, whether or not it's habitable yet?
GEN. STROCK: In terms of habitability, I can't give you an answer on that. This is strictly --
Q Well, just a question of when the water will be gone.
GEN. STROCK: Yeah. Well, for example, here, we think that by the 2nd of October the remaining areas in Orleans East will be dry enough to go back in and really begin the assessment and the recovery. And as the water recedes, we have military forces, Guard and active, both Marines and Army, moving through the area, still in the recovery mission, still looking for people that can be rescued or evacuated, and also looking for victims of the flooding. So they're moving ahead as the water recedes to do that. And then we'll go back again, and it'll be turned over to the Guard and local police authorities to do deliberate searches of facilities. And then that process will lead to an eventual decision on when to re-occupy.
Q General, just -- just one more question on rebuilding the levees -- improving the levees to a four or five capacity. The Corps of Engineers has for years asked for more money, and -- and you haven't gotten it -- to improve the levees. Do you think that this storm will press federal and state officials to, in fact, improve those levees to a four or five capacity?
GEN. STROCK: Well, certainly I think that the decision will be brought to the table perhaps quicker than it might have been. So -- but, again, that's a call for the local, state and federal officials. My job in this is to -- if they want to raise it to Category 4 or 5, I need to say if it's engineeringly feasible, technically feasible, is it economically justified when we look at what's being protected by the levees, and whether it's environmentally acceptable. So I answer those questions, and then present them to the decision-makers on whether or not to do it. And if they decide to do it, then the Corps of Engineers would go in and execute the work. So, certainly, if -- we've made the decision, if the mayor and the governor have made the decision that New Orleans will be brought back, then, certainly, we need to make sure we have the appropriate level of protection for the citizens there.
Q And -- and again, you said, you were careful to say it would take a long time to do this, because you'd have to lay a level, and then let -- let the soil be compressed, and then lay another level, you said five years between them. How long, realistically speaking, would it take to complete this if you started now with -- how long will it take you to --
GEN. STROCK: No, I'd be reluctant to give an answer on that. And part of the reluctance is, we're going to look at all possibilities. The original project for this storm protection really had to do with putting a barrier system at the head of Lake Pontchartrain.
Could I have the navigation slide, Dan, please? And I know we need to move on here, Brian, but let me just explain it real quick.
Right down here there are two passes that come into Lake Pontchartrain. Lake Pontchartrain is actually connected, and it's essentially at sea level. There's a place called Rigolette and a place called Chef Monteur. Our original proposal was to put barriers there which could be raised as hurricanes approach, much like you see in the Netherlands and on the Thames River in England. For environmental concerns, the health of the estuary, we were enjoined not to do that. And we moved to a high levee approach. And I'm not saying that in a -- you know, in a defensive way, or questioning those decisions. That's just what happened. And so, we went to a levee system to protect the Lake Pontchartrain shore lane.
So how long will it take? I'm sure that we will, again, have a look at whether that would have been a better solution to handling storm surge in Lake Pontchartrain. And if they decide to do that, there's the dimension of how long that would take to get the environmental part right, and then the actual construction. So I'd be reluctant to say it's simply a matter of raising levees or floodwalls. We're going to look at all sorts of things. And we'll get a lot of help in that, too, I'm sure. There'll be a lot of discussion about state of the art.
The other thing is our understanding of these systems has increased since this project was authorized and constructed. So we'll be able to do a lot more sophisticated analysis. And I'm sure that whatever we select, there will be an element of urgency in putting that protection back in at a higher level as quickly as we possibly can.
Q Thank you, sir.
Q So this approach can be quicker, these two --
GEN. STROCK: Sir, I don't know. I really don't know. To say it's quicker, that was the plan in 1965. It took us 10 years to get through the litigation to actually begin what we're doing. So, quickness is determined in many ways. The NEPA clearance and all that stuff can consume sometimes as much time as actually placing structures in place. So it's an open question. But we're going to look at every possible solution, using a broad range of people, to really provide what we think will be the best approach that answers those three questions that I'm charged with answering.
Q Thank you.
GEN. STROCK: Thank you all very much.
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