An empty lot adjacent to a London Avenue Canalfloodwall that failed during Hurricane Katrina will be unveiled Saturday (July 11) as an outside museum and rain garden aimed at explaining how New Orleans flooded during the storm.
Sponsored by Levees.org, Growing Green and theFilmore Gardens Neighborhood Association, the Levee Exhibition and Garden at 5000 Warrington Dr. in New Orleans includes six museum-quality panels that detail the history behind the failure of segments of the New Orleans levee system during Katrina, said Sandy Rosenthal, founding director of Levees.org.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday. More information about the museum and garden will be posted at Levees.org web site at that time.
Rosenthal and her organization have led a national campaign since soon after the storm to insure that accurate information is available to the public explaining that the levee and floodwall failures that resulted in the city flooding were part of a man-made disaster, rather than the natural effects of a hurricane.
Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversaw the design and construction of the hurricane levee system, eventually admitted in 2006 that poor design, improper construction materials and other construction decisions by the corps and its contractors were behind most of the breaches in the system.
But Rosenthal and her group have led a campaign to correct misstatements nationwide about cause of flooding, often demanding corrections from newspapers and other media that refer to the city's flooding as a "natural disaster."
"I won't be able to stand out on a soap box forever," Rosenthal said. "These six exhibit boards will be able to tell the story, even if I'm run over by a Mack truck tomorrow.
Rosenthal said the information on the boards has been peer-reviewed for accuracy by four independent reviewers for Water Policy, the official journal of the World Water Council; by Ivor Van Heerden, former director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center; and by Stephen Nelson, a geology professor at Tulane University.
A research paper including information used for the exhibit is being published in August in Water Policy.
The panels also include 40 photos, as well as locator maps designed by Tulane University geography professor Richard Campanella.
The panels are aimed at responding to the most popular myths surrounding flooding during Katrina.
Included are the accurate reasons behind the decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to abandon plans to build gates across the Rigolets and Chef Menteur passes to block storm surge from entering Lake Pontchartrain.
While a federal judge did order the corps to halt work on the project, that order specified that the corps was only required to look at other alternatives, and that its decision to build the gates might be acceptable.
The corps, however, did not return to the court with a more comprehensive plan. In 1980, it instead concluded that higher levees to block storm surge would be less costly, less damaging to the environment and more acceptable to local interests.
Other panels review the history of inspections by local levee district employees of levees and floodwalls before Katrina, and how 34 people died at St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish.
The London Avenue Canal floodwall failed when surge water pushed through organic soil on the canal bottom and entered a layer of sand, the remains of an ancient course of the Mississippi River.The water in the canal never rose high enough to overtop of the wall.
The water flowed through the sand beneath the floodwall in a process called "pipelining" that left the wall unstable, and it eventually collapsed, allowing water to flow into the Filmore Gardens neighborhood.
Investigators eventually concluded that the I-shaped wall should have been built as a much stronger T-wall, using longer sheet pilings to block water flow beneath it and much longer, diagonal batter piles to keep the wall from falling if it were undermined.
"I'm hoping these exhibits will help the people of New Orleans throw off the cloak of shame" caused by those outside the area questioning why they live in an unsafe city, Rosenthal said. "When enough people tell you something, you tend to believe it. But this exhibit is part of our efforts to get people to don a mantle of pride."
Rosenthal said the idea for the exhibit began a year ago when Gloria Decuir Robert, president of the Filmore Gardens Neighborhood Association called her to point out that the city owned the empty lot and was offering to rent it for $250 a year as part of the Growing Green program.
"Two days later, I hand delivered the application to the Growing Green organization," she said.
"Through the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority's Land Stewardship program we have been proud to develop creative projects for alternative land use," said Jeff Hebert, NORA's executive director. "But this is possibly the most important use of land left vacant after Katrina, honoring lives lost, property damaged, and the resilience of people that drives our city's recovery."
The rain garden accompanying the exhibit is designed by Master Gardener Calla Victoria, who used native plants. The garden will be maintained by the Master Gardener program. The garden is designed to manage stormwater on the site and to reduce runoff into the city's drainage system.
Parkway Partners also has assisted with the project.
Rosenthal said that before construction of the exhibit began, the city of New Orleans carted away 19 dumpsters of debris that had remained on the lot in the aftermath of the flood.
Under the terms of its agreement to use the land, Levees.org is paying rent of $250 a year, and if the garden and exhibition pass muster, after two years, it may be allowed to buy the property from NORA.