Wednesday, April 15, 2009

LSU Chancellor Petition-Ivor van Heerden

Here's an excerpt from the editorial in today's TP about the canning of Hurricane Expert Ivor van Heerden

photo from nola dot com

In the days immediately after Katrina, the world thought New Orleans had been ravaged by a huge storm simply too large for the high-tech flood protection system built at great cost by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And according to some members of Congress and many media commentators, that's just what we deserved for living here, below sea level.

photo from wikipedia

In fact, that was the official story being put out by the corps.

But about a week after the storm, as van Heerden and engineers on his staff began inspecting the deadly breaches in that system, the story began to change. They were expecting to see evidence of over-topping, signs Katrina was just too big for the system, the very scenario the center had predicted the day before the storm came ashore.

What they found was something else: Signs of catastrophic engineering failures.

In other words, the floodwalls and levees failed not because they were too small, but because they had been either poorly designed, poorly built -- or both.

But van Heerden's real danger to LSU was his threat to funding.

The federal government is the largest source of research funding for universities, and LSU was lining up tens of millions of dollars for coastal and wetlands work -- much of which might be partnered with the corps. Having one of its professors lobbing bombs at the feds made some at the university fear for the LSU pocketbook.

That's why members of Team Louisiana, as well as researchers from other universities, were warned to shut up or risk their careers. Fortunately for all of us they decided their ethics -- as professors, engineers and citizens -- compelled them to continue to work for the public good.

The decision has been brewing ever since van Heerden agreed to head the forensic investigation team in the days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. Within days of the team's formation, van Heerden was frequently quoted in national newspaper and television reports, and most of his comments were highly critical of the Army Corps of Engineers' levee and floodwall construction policies and designs.

In November 2005, he was called to a meeting with two LSU assistant chancellors who van Heerden said told him to stop talking to the press, because it threatened the university's ability to get research dollars from the federal government.

Levees dot org has a petition to LSU Chancellor Martin urging him to reconsider his decision.

1 comment: said...

Very worthwhile piece of writing, thank you for your article.