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Wednesday, March 14, 2007 - Page updated at 02:02 AM

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Complete hurricane coverage

Complete hurricane coverage

A special section

Faulty pumps knowingly put in New Orleans

The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — The Army Corps of Engineers, rushing to meet President Bush's promise to protect New Orleans by the start of the 2006 hurricane season, installed defective flood-control pumps last year despite warnings from its expert that the equipment would fail during a storm, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The 2006 hurricane season was mild, and the new pumps never were pressed into action. But the corps and the politically connected manufacturer of the equipment still are struggling to get the 34 heavy-duty pumps working properly.

The pumps are being pulled out and overhauled because of excessive vibration, corps officials said. Other problems have included overheated engines, broken hoses and blown gaskets, according to documents.

Col. Jeffrey Bedey, who is overseeing levee reconstruction, insisted the pumps would have worked last year and the city never was in danger. Bedey said the pumps should be ready for the coming hurricane season, which begins June 1.

The corps said it decided to press ahead with installation on the theory that some pumping capacity was better than none. It also defended the manufacturer, which was under time pressure.

"Let me give you the scenario: You have four months to build something that nobody has ever built before, and if you don't, the city floods and the corps, which already has a black eye, could basically be dissolved. How many people would put up with a second flooding?" said Randy Persica, the corps' resident engineer for New Orleans' three major drainage canals.

The 34 pumps represented a new ring of protection added to New Orleans' flood defenses after Katrina. The city also relies on miles of levees and hundreds of other pumps.

The drainage-canal pumps were custom-designed and built under a $26.6 million contract awarded after competitive bidding to Moving Water Industries (MWI), of Deerfield Beach, Fla. MWI is owned by J. David Eller and his sons. Eller was once a business partner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a venture called Bush-El that marketed MWI pumps. Eller has donated about $128,000 to politicians, mostly Republican, since 1996, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Because of the trouble with the New Orleans pumps, the corps has withheld 20 percent of the MWI contract.

Misgivings about the pumps were chronicled in a May 2006 memo provided by Matt McBride, a mechanical engineer and Katrina flood victim .

The memo was written by Maria Garzino, a corps mechanical engineer overseeing quality assurance at an MWI test site in Florida. The corps confirmed the authenticity of the 72-page memo.

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