Hot, Humid and Vulnerable
Given that the entire construction process was taking place in and above water, project safety
took center stage. “Nobody could get complacent,” Mr. Ragolia says. “It was heavy construction for about three years; a lot of the materials were over 100 tons.” Engineers had to consider, for example, how such heavy objects might impair a crane operating on a barge.
Louisiana’s notoriously hot and humid summer weather was another safety factor to
Racing Against Time
consider in work shifts. “We built some of the barrier components and three major gates in
a coffer dam”—a watertight enclosure pumped dry to permit construction below the water-
line—“so there was no air movement,” he says. “That heats things up pretty fast.”
The project team set up three daily shifts so that work progressed around the clock with-
out compromising safety.
Creating a storm surge barrier providing a 100-year level of risk
reduction normally requires 10 to 15 years to design, obtain permits and construct. But after its levee system failed to stand up to
Hurricane Katrina’s storm surges, the New Orleans region didn’t
have that kind of time. More hurricanes would be on their way.
The project’s four-year schedule, covering construction and
hand-off to the state, was executed against three major deadlines. One-hundred-year level
protection through manual control had to be achieved by June 2011 (the “interim project
completion” deadline). The barrier had to perform by the push of a button by December 2012.
Finally, the Army Corps had an end-all project date, to hand over operations to the State of
Louisiana’s Coastal Protection Restoration Authority Board, by December 2013.
In August 2012, the
barrier went head-to-head with Hurricane
Isaac. “Most components were done, but
it was a real test,” Mr.
The LBSB passed:
The Army Corps
closed the barrier’s
gates, as well those
in another surge barrier in the area, to
stop a 15-foot ( 4.5-
meter) surge of sea
water that otherwise
would have funneled
its way toward New
The gates at the surge barrier were
installed over several days.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed the barrier
for the first time during a storm in August 2012.