Gulf Watch: NOLA levee investigator charges engineer group, Army Corps with unethical behavior

Raymond Seed, a civil engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has sent a 42-page letter [PDF] to the head of the American Society of Civil Engineers alleging that the organization colluded with the Army Corps of Engineers to undermine his and other independent investigations into the failure of New Orleans' levees after Hurricane Katrina:

I would never have imagined that I would live to see select elements of two of the world's pre-eminent civil engineering organizations, two organizations with tremendous public trust and responsibility, be caught behaving so badly. These past two years, both the USACE and ASCE have been dishonored by the unacceptable, and even unfathomable, actions of a few. These are two of the most important civil engineering organizations in the world. If that cannot be reversed and repaired, and if recurrence cannot be prevented, then the ethics and the very soul of the Profession are in peril.

Among Seed's allegations are that the Corps' investigation was flawed and attempted to let the agency off the hook for its role in the levee failures, which in turn led to mistakes in the rebuilding of those levees and other protective structures. He also criticizes the close relationship between the Corps and ASCE, calling the Corps' $2 million funding of the ASCE investigation a conflict of interest.

In addition, Seed documents a number of attempts by the groups to prevent independent investigators from gathering evidence at the site of levee failures and from speaking publicly about their findings. He describes a meeting his investigative team had during their first week in Louisiana with ASCE Deputy Director Larry Roth and Corps Senior Scientist Paul Mlakar, alleging they tried to prevent them from speaking at a news conference the next day. During the four-hour argument that ensued, one of Seed's team members passed a note around the table:

It was handwritten by one of the two foreign representatives, and contained a single word: Coverup!!

An editorial in today's New Orleans Times-Picayune calls the charges "deeply troubling" and says they "deserve serious attention." We would agree.