Friday, August 23, 2019

BOOM: Federal official tells Fox10 that there is no federal requirement to elevate the Bayway to 100-year protection

ALDOT has been stubbornly consistent that as part of the proposed Mobile River Bridge & Bayway Project, raising the Bayway is required by Federal Law. Not so, says an unnamed federal official to Fox 10's Tyler Fingert.

My question is: How long did they think this charade would last?

Two things need to be digested here.

One, while we have no good reason to doubt the veracity of Fox 10's reporting, it's an unnamed source. We don't know the agency the official works for, or where he is on the agency's food chain. Typically, unnamed sources dine on the lower end because they're at risk of retaliation from higher ups. That doesn't mean he doesn't know policy. Just that he (she?) probably doesn't make policy.

Two, Fingert says the source tells him that "ALDOT is using other specifications to address risk which is acceptable to the federal government." So, it's not required to meet government standards, but since it does, we're good?

Umm, no. We can't afford Taj Majal projects anymore.

The failure to properly address risk has been one of my chief complaints about the plan to replace the perfectly functioning Bayway. The coastal engineering team did an acceptable job of finishing half of a coastal storm damage risk analysis. All they did was tell us what we already knew: that the Bayway is vulnerable to really bad storms.

About two weeks ago, I wrote the following in this space:
[The] plan calls for the new structure to be elevated and built to "withstand the 100-year design storm including the 100-year sea-level rise." (SDEIS Vol I, p. 32)  In layman's terms, this is a structure built to hold up in a hurricane with a 1% chance of occurring in any year and driving a water level that is only going to occur sometime between now and 100 years into the future. (Assuming of course that one accepts the United Nations' climate change projections.)
This was the only alternative that was modeled by ALDOT's coastal engineering team. There were no other alternatives considered. In fact, Appendix G (SDEIS Vol II) didn't model the existing Bayway to determine what combination of storm surge and sea level rise would cause enough damage to it to render the expected risk unacceptable. That is, we don't know the expected annual risk of leaving the existing Bayway as it is. So how can we know whether the expected annual risk of the proposed structure is acceptable?
Why shouldn't we demand it be built to a standard that survives the 200- or 500-year storm with 200- or 500-year sea level rise?  Why is the 50-/50- standard not acceptable?
For that matter, will a modified, storm-armored and expanded 6-lane Bayway reduce expected annual risk enough to be economically feasible? Economically feasible without a toll, perhaps?
Emphasis is mine.

There are less costly alternatives that have not been evaluated. There is a level of storm surge vulnerability that we are willing to accept.

With the public revelation that the old deterministic method of establishing risk isn't actually a federal mandate, we may finally see a new probabilistic process that clearly communicates risk and allows those who pay for it decide how much risk we're willing to accept.


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