Corps of Engineers Must Pay



Judge: Corps must pay full $3 billion cost of restoring MR-GO wetlands

Eroded wetlands along the MR-GO
Eroded wetlands along the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet in St. Bernard Parish, Thursday, August 13, 2015. A federal judge has ruled that the federal government should pay the full cost of a $3 billion plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to restore wetlands along the now-closed shipping channel. (Photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-

Mark Schleifstein, | The Times-PicayuneBy Mark Schleifstein, | The Times-Picayune

on August 27, 2015 at 1:40 PM, updated August 27, 2015 at 5:59 PM

The Army Corps of Engineers must pay the full $3 billion cost of restoring wetlands destroyed by the agency’s improper construction and maintenance of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a federal judge in New Orleans ruled Thursday (Aug. 27).

In a major victory for Louisiana, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk ruled the corps improperly tried to stick the state with 35 percent of the restoration cost. When the state declined to pay, the corps refused to begin the restoration program, all in violation of Congressional intent, Africk ruled.

“Ten years after Hurricane Katrina vital ecosystem restoration remains incomplete,” Africk wrote. “Rather than abide by the clear intent of Congress and begin immediate implementation of a plan to restore that which the corps helped destroy, defendants arbitrarily and capriciously misconstrued their clear mandate to restore an ecosystem ravaged by the MR-GO.”

MR-GO restoration mapSchematic of the Army Corps of Engineers plan to restore wetlands along the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet.

The ruling said Congress “unambiguously expressed intent does not require the state of Louisiana to pay for the shortcomings of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

Africk added that the corps’ refusal to begin work on the restoration project “has compounded the problems that MR-GO caused.”

But he also noted that his ruling was likely to be appealed by the U.S. Justice Department and the corps. If they are successful, Africk said, Louisiana officials “may be forced to decide” whether to spend nearly $1 billion to repair damage caused by the federal government.

“We are very pleased with the Court’s decision in this matter, which will provide substantial benefits to coastal Louisiana and will protect important state taxpayer dollars,” said Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.  “With this ruling, I am confident the project will be completed to protect our state’s fragile ecosystem, which is essential for the safety and well-being of Louisiana residents.”


NOTE:   The United States Army Corps of Engineers  is a U.S. federal agency under the Department of Defense and a major Army command made up of some 37,000 civilian and military personnel, making it one of the world’s largest public engineering, design, and construction management agencies. Although generally associated with dams, canals and flood protection in the United States, USACE is involved in a wide range of public works throughout the world. The Corps of Engineers provides outdoor recreation opportunities to the public, and provides 24% of U.S. hydropower capacity.

The corps’ mission is to “Deliver vital public and military engineering services; partnering in peace and war to strengthen our Nation’s security, energize the economy and reduce risks from disasters.”       Wikipedia



Congress ordered corps to restore wetlands 

In 2007, Congress passed legislation de-authorizing the 72-mile MR-GO, a shortcut from the Gulf of Mexico to the Industrial Canal in central New Orleans, and ordered the corps to come up with a plan to restore wetlands damage caused by the canal. In his ruling, Africk said the intent of Congress in that legislation was clear in requiring the corps to pay for the full cost.

He wrote the corps never produced “a single statement by any legislator, or any other item within the legislative history” supporting its view that Louisiana had to pay for a share of the work.

The only statement in the Congressional Record that was germane, Africk said, was by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who served on the House-Senate conference committee that reconciled different versions of the bill. Vitter said one section of the bill clarified that all authorized work “shall be performed at full federal expense.”

MR-GO then now graphic

In 2012, Lieutenant Gen. Thomas Bostick, commander of the corps, approved a $2.9 billion plan for restoration. But he ordered it put on hold because the state refused to pay a 35 percent share the corps said was required under a 1987 law that said all corps water project should be cost-shared, with the corps paying only 65 percent.

The 2012 plan called for a three-tier restoration project, with the first tier costing $1.3 billion. The second and third tiers were expected to require additional research before they were implemented.

Tier 1 listed 21 features, including 11 shoreline protection projects, a ridge restoration project, eight wetlands restoration projects and a recreation feature. Wetlands adjacent to the Rigolets in St. Tammany Parish and in open water areas south of the MR-GO and Shell Beach in St. Bernard Parish were included.

Projects also would stabilize wetland edges at Proctor Point and on the east and west sides of Lake Borgne, and the planting of 5.8 miles of artificial oyster reef on the Chandeleur Sound side of the Biloxi Marsh.

In the aftermath of the corps’ decision to halt work on the project, the state has included some of the projects in its requests for funding with BP oil spill money or through the spill’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment program.

The plan’s Tier 2 projects, totaling $325 million, will require reduced salinity along the path of the MR-GO. But they may work without having to build a $1 billion freshwater diversion that makes up Tier 3 of the plan. In closing the MR-GO to shipping, the corps dammed its southern end, which has already reduced the salinity along its course.

Tier 3 also would include restoration of segments of the Central Wetlands Unit in St. Bernard Parish east of the Paris Road Bridge, which would require freshwater from the diversion, and restoration of Golden Triangle wetlands on both sides of the Lake Borgne hurricane surge barrier, parts of the East Orleans Land Bridge along Lake Pontchartrain, and additional restoration of portions of the Biloxi Marshes on the southeastern edge of Lake Borgne.

Again, some of those projects have been proposed for funding with BP oil spill money or through the spill’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment program.

If Africk’s ruling is appealed and upheld, Congress would still have to appropriate money for the restoration program.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., praised the decision Thursday, calling it a first step in controlling decisions by the corps’ legal staff that are at odds with the will of Congress.

Graves, who was elected to Congress earlier this year, helped draft the 2007 Water Resources Development Act that included the MR-GO closure and restoration language while on the staff of the Senate Environment Committee, and later became chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, where he oversaw the authority’s decision to file the suit against the corps.

“The attorneys, not the law, the attorneys are making all the decisions,” Graves said during an interview. “The internal joke in the corps about their legal office is that it’s the office of no.”

But Graves said there likely is still room for negotiation with the state over the cost of the restoration project. He said it might make sense for the state to use the approximately $150 million of projects – mostly funded through BP spill payments – that are proposed by the state along the MR-GO as a voluntary “in-kind” payment to match corps funding.

“It would be a show of good faith, that they want the project to be built, while also preserving the role and decision-making of Congress on the project.


Fired Professor Who Criticized Army Corps of Engineers Files suit

Van Heerden alleges in a 32-page suit that LSU officials waged a campaign of retaliatory harassment against him after his Investigative Team looked into levee failures after Hurricane Katrina. The expert team concluded that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to properly safeguard metropolitan New Orleans.

Louisiana State University receives large federal grants from the Corps.   Story



Corps in Katrina:     That the catastrophic flooding of this city was caused not merely by a powerful storm but primarily by fatal engineering flaws in the city’s flood protection system has been proved by experts, acknowledged by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and underscored by residents here to anyone who might suggest otherwise.   Story

Inca Road Builders–Extreme Terrain No Obstacle


For Inca Road Builders, Extreme Terrain Was No Obstacle


The Inca were innovators in agriculture as well as engineering. Terracing like this, on a steep hillside in Peru’s Colca Canyon, helped them grow food.  Doug McMains/Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

One of history’s greatest engineering feats is one you rarely hear of. It’s the Inca Road, parts of which still exist today across much of South America.

Back in the day — more than 500 years ago — commoners like me wouldn’t have been able to walk on the Inca Road, known as Qhapaq Ñan in the Quechua language spoken by the Inca, without official permission.

Fortunately, I have Peruvian archaeologist Ramiro Matos by my side. He is the lead curator of an exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian called “The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire.”

A suspension bridge made of twisted plant fibers stretches high above the Apurimac River in Peru. Local residents, descendants of the Inca, have been making bridges like this for some 500 years.  Doug McMains/Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

That’s “Inka” with a K, as it’s spelled in Quechua. And today, we’re taking a virtual journey down what was once more than 20,000 miles of road traversing some of the world’s most challenging terrain — mountains, forests and deserts.

The Inca road began at the center of the Inca universe: Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes, said to be built in the shape of a crouching puma. It actually was not a single road but a network of royal roads, an instrument of power designed for military transport, religious pilgrimages and to move supplies.

“As far as the road stretches, the empire stretches,” says Ramos.

The road spanned modern-day Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. The museum exhibition’s photographs of it are vertigo-inducing: Massive pathways wind up tall mountains and touch the clouds; sturdy staircases unwind into lush, green valleys, as if the brutal nature of the landscape had been just a small inconvenience to work around.

Families walk from the center of Cusco to a temple site at Sacsayhuaman to celebrate Inti Raymi, the Inca Festival of the Sun.  Doug McMains/Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

“The highest part of the road crosses from Argentina to Chile, nearly 20,000 feet high,” Matos says.

How did they build this?  “Local experience.  The Inca were master engineers. But like most conquerors, they also tapped local experts. The exhibition highlights a long bridge made of woven plant fibers, still in use today.

“There’s an inventory of over 100 bridges in all of the empire — this is one of the few which remain. It’s made with icchu or puna grass,” Matos says.

The Inca Empire only lasted about a century. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, that intricate road made it easier for them to move around and access precious mines that the Incas themselves had been exploiting.

Today, most of the old road has been destroyed — both by the Spanish conquest and by modern highways. Some parts remain and are still in use.

Schoolchildren around the world learn about the ancient Roman roads and the Great Wall of China — but most people have heard little about the great Inca Road. Kevin Gover, the director of the National Museum of the American Indian, says the road is largely forgotten because it just doesn’t fit into a typical Western narrative.

“Indians play one of two roles in that narrative,” he says. “They are either the opponents of civilization or they are literally part of the nature that was there to be settled and conquered. We’re not taught that some of these were very advanced civilizations, because that means this wasn’t a wilderness. And that means somebody had to be displaced. And it wasn’t necessarily a noble endeavor.”

The National Museum of the American Indian’s exhibition, “The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire,” will run until June 1, 2018.  Paul Morigi/AP Images for Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

That’s why the museum created the exhibit, which is on display till 2018.

The great Inca Road reminds us that, once upon a time, all roads led not to Rome — but to Cusco, Peru.

Segway Wipeout


Just after Jamaican Usain Bolt won the 200 meter race, a cameraman on a Segway rolled into him, knocking him off his feet.  VIDEO


Usain Bolt

On 23 August 2015, Bolt won the final of the 100 metres with a time of 9.79 seconds at the 2015 Beijing World Champions.  On 27 August, Bolt won the 200 metres with a time of 19.55 seconds.  Wikipedia  VIDEO 2

Bolt holds world records of 9.58 and 19.19.

They Raised a Chimp As a Human Baby

Four radio shows about relations between humans and other great apes with focus on Lucy, a chimp taken from her mother shortly after birth and raised as the child of a human family.  She learned sign language.  Website has photos.

Listen here


Washoe–Chimp taught sign language  VIDEO

Book:  Growing Up Human; A Chimpanzee Daughter in a Psychotherapist’s Family, by Maurice K. Temerlin, 1976.

Twin Pandas Born


source with video

Advances in panda breeding mean twin cubs at National Zoo have good chance of survival

The Associated Press

In this photo provided by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, one of the giant panda cubs is examined by veterinarians after being born at Smithsonian’s National Zoo on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Washington. The National Zoo in Washington says its adult female panda has had twins. (Becky Malinsky/Smithsonian’s National Zoo via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Associated Press

By BEN NUCKOLS, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — In more than three decades of trying to breed pandas at the National Zoo, there’s been plenty of heartbreak. More cubs born in Washington have died than survived, and news of a birth has often been greeted warily.

But on Sunday, zoo officials were nearly giddy. They don’t just have an apparently healthy pair of twins, born Saturday night to panda mom Mei Xiang. They have a template to follow that gives the cubs a strong chance of survival.

Pandas won’t usually nurse twins if left to their own devices. They’ll care for one and allow the other to die. But in the past decade, Chinese breeders have come up with a system: Every several hours, they swap out the cubs, giving each one the critical time it needs to nurse and bond with its mother. Meanwhile, the other one is kept in an incubator.

Panda keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo will continue performing these delicate swaps as long as it’s needed and as long as Mei Xiang lets them. By late Sunday afternoon, the twins had traded places three times without incident, with Mei Xiang cradling them in turn.

“If she gets aggressive toward us, we’re not going to get that close,” giant panda biologist Laurie Thompson said Sunday.

The swapping technique helped twin pandas born two years ago at Zoo Atlanta to survive. That was the second set of panda twins born in the United States. The first, born at the National Zoo in 1987, both died within days.

Scientists in China have learned much more about panda breeding since then. Two decades ago, the survival rate for panda cubs was under 20 percent. Now, it’s more than 80 percent, zoo director Dennis Kelly said.

“We’ve all been involved in events that don’t go so well, so we are ecstatic that things are going great,” said Don Neiffer, the zoo’s chief veterinarian.

Kelly doesn’t expect interest in the slow-moving, cuddly looking bears to subside even if successful breeding becomes routine.

“The birth of an animal like a giant panda or a critically endangered Sumatran tiger is always special,” Kelly said.

Nursing twins doesn’t appear to come naturally to pandas, which are endangered, with roughly 1,800 living in the wild and 350 in captivity.

“It’s very rare, obviously, for them to manage two cubs. If she were able to do it, we would certainly let her,” Thompson said. “She couldn’t figure out how to hold both of them. She couldn’t get ahold of one and have the other one under her arm and pick it up at the same time. She just kept fumbling with them.”

The cubs have squealed loudly when taken away from Mei Xiang — one of several signs that they are strong and healthy. Although one weighed in at roughly 4 ounces and the other was just 3 ounces at birth, both are considered within the healthy weight range. They are blind, and pink in color, with wispy white fur.

The second cub was given a serum drawn previously from Mei Xiang’s blood because it hadn’t gotten a chance to nurse. Keepers are prepared to bottle-feed the cubs if necessary, but they won’t do it unless one of the pandas is underweight or has other health problems.

Mei Xiang has given birth to two surviving cubs: Tai Shan, a male born in 2005, and Bao Bao, who turned 2 on Sunday and put on a show for hundreds of delirious panda watchers as she devoured her “birthday cake”: a frozen concoction made with honey, apples, carrots and bamboo.

Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the pandas pair lent to the United States by China after Richard Nixon’s historic visit in 1972, successfully mated five times, but none of the cubs lived longer than a few days.

Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub in 2012 that died after six days.

The new additions mean that for the first time the zoo has five pandas in residence. In addition to Bao Bao, Mei Xiang and the new cubs, the zoo is also home to an adult male panda named Tian Tian. In the past, the zoo has never had more than three pandas at one time.





Dogs Trained to Spot Cancer


For Cancer-Detecting Canines, The Nose Knows

Dr. Claire Guest, co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs, says one of her dogs sniffed out her own breast cancer.

Janine Warwick

A new clinical trial is set to begin in the United Kingdom using the powerful noses of dogs to detect prostate cancer in humans.

While research has been done before, these are the first trials approved by Britain’s National Health Service.

The trials, at the Milton Keynes University Hospital in Buckinghamshire, will use animals from a nonprofit organization called Medical Detection Dogs, co-founded in 2008 by behavioral psychologist Claire Guest.

“What we’ve now discovered is that lots of diseases and conditions — and cancer included — that they actually have different volatile organic compounds, these smelly compounds, that are associated with them,” Guest tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “And dogs can smell them.”

The dogs offer an inexpensive, noninvasive method to accompany the existing blood tests for prostate cancer, which detect prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, Guest says.

“It’s a low false-negative but a very high false-positive, meaning that 3 out of 4 men that have a raised PSA haven’t got cancer,” she explains. “So the physician has a very difficult decision to make: Which of the four men does he biopsy? What we want to do is provide an additional test — not a test that stands alone but an additional test that runs alongside the current testing, which a physician can use as part of that patient’s picture.”

Interview Highlights

On how the trials will work

The samples come to the dogs — the dogs never go to the patient. At the moment, our dogs would be screening about between a 0.5- to 1-ml drop of urine [or 1/5 to 1/10 teaspoon], so a very small amount. In the early days, of course, we know whether the samples have come from a patient with cancer or if the patient has another disease or condition, or is in fact healthy.

They come to the dogs at our training facility. They’re put into a carousel, and the dogs go around smelling samples. If they come across a sample that has a cancer smell, they’ll stop and stare at the sample and wait. They won’t move on.

On dogs’ sense of smell

Dogs, as we know, have got this fantastic sense of smell. They’ve got 300 million sense receptors in their nose — us humans have a sort of poor 5 million. So they are fantastic at smelling odors at very, very low levels.

On how a dog detected Guest’s own breast cancer

I had a dog who was — and still is — our most reliable prostate cancer detector dog. She was working on a project with me, but she started for a short time to be a little bit anxious around me, and one day kept jumping and staring at me and nudging into my chest. I found a lump which I hadn’t been aware of.

I sought medical advice. Actually, that particular lump was fine, but I had very, very deep-seated breast cancer. I had surgery and treatment, and I’m glad to say I’m fully recovered.

But it happened at a time when there was a huge amount of skepticism about whether dogs could in fact add anything the future of the diagnosis of cancer. It kept me focused on the fact that I knew that dogs could offer something, if we can diagnose for cancer by screening noninvasively, screening for volatiles. And of course, this could save thousands of lives in the future.

Looking Up …

Joe and Jenifer went out in the middle of the night to see the recent Perseid meteor shower.  They found a darkish spot and Joe saw three “shooting stars”.  From their front steps in Maryland, Patrick and Jenny saw a full shower, 2 or three per minute ! It’s fun to realize  that the bright light zooming across the sky is a particle the size of a grain of sand,  burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.

We’ve looked skyward at various times for various things with varying success.  We’ve seen eclipses, lunar and solar, partial and total, meteors, and a meteor shower.  We have failed to see some things, too.

When I was a small boy, before Orchard Field (ORD) became O’Hare International Airport (still ORD),  it was exciting just to see a plane in the air.  Then we had the blimp  coming over every night flashing news headlines on its side.

Then we could see the first satellite crossing the sky !

When Jenifer was about nine, she came home with an assignment to find something in the night sky.  She and I went into the backyard and lay down on our backs and looked up.  Jenifer didn’t see much much because of light from the ground, and I saw nothing–didn’t have glasses at the time.  Jenifer was good about our disappointment.

I’m remembering now two meteor showers we have seen/not seen.

One year Alice and I  boarded a boat provided by the Adler Planetarium to escape city lights by going into the middle of Lake Michigan to see the Perseids.  There was an Adler staff astronomer among the 30 or so passengers.  We spent a long time looking up, but only one person saw one shooting star.  No one explained why we did not see the Perseid shower.

A few years later, in the spring, we were on the Penn State campus for an alumni association board meeting.  On our last night there, we crossed the road from the Lion Inn to a golf course to join a lot of people in watching the Leonid shower.  Success! We saw two or three meteors per minute.  Next morning, we headed home not long after dawn and saw meteors even with the sun up.,

         For a total solar eclipse in the Libyan desert,  Our ship docks at Tripoli, and the next day passengers fill 20 busses that run in caravan out of town and into the desert. We see small and large camps, some with a goat or sheep hanging, waiting to turn on the spit. Our group has its own area, protected by little police SUV’s on the perimeter.  People  spread out over the stony sand with telescopes and cameras on tripods, ready for “1st contact” at 11:17.   Eventually, people stop milling around, quiet down . As the moon takes its first bite of sun, there is some cheering. Then people return to visiting, checking on the eclipse from time to time.

We watch through welder’s glass . As the eclipse approaches TOTAL, people become very quiet. There is noticeable dimming of light. A cool breeze comes up. The planet Venus comes out in the darkening sky. The circle of horizon around us glows orange, like sunset.  We note colorful Bailey’s Beads around the disk.

Totality comes at 12:35.Some people cheer–we are too moved to talk. It’s fairly dark, as just after normal sundown. White streamers blaze out all around the black disk. It has a red rim on one side, blue rim on other. We do not see the “shadow bands” expected to slide across the ground.

As totality ends after 4 minutes, we see the “diamond ring” effect— a brilliant blossom of white with a white rim on the opening edge of the moon.

Note “diamond ring” effect and  “Bailey’s beads around the disk.

As totality ends after 4 minutes, we see the “diamond ring” effect– a brilliant blossom of white with a white rim on the opening edge of the moon and “Bailey’s beads”, spots of color  around the rim.

On our return to the boat, there is an army major on our bus, very friendly, pointing out interesting sights on the way, proud of his country.

This was before the revolution in Libya when the cruel dictator Muammar Gaddafi was still in power.  In Tripoli, we saw a three-story building with a Gaddafi portrait filling one whole side.












How 1st Harry Potter Book Came to be Published


After rejection by 72 publishers, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone finally reached the right hands, those of a little girl.                           Product Details

BBC Witness interview with Harry Potter’s publisher


Aug 12, 2015

Posted by: Emma Pocock

You can listen to the episode here.  Video


BBC News said:

‘The Harry Potter series has sold 450 million copies worldwide to date. But before the first book was published, numerous publishers had turned the first book down.

Barry Cunningham was the man who decided to take a gamble on J.K. Rowling after he and his daughter became enchanted by the story.’

Cunningham says in the episode that many people ask how long it is before a publisher knows that they like a story, and in regards to what caught his attention, he says:

 ‘I was gripped by Harry’s situation … The thing that I really liked about the story was the friendship … It was the friendship between the children that really moved me’.

His daughter, Alice, read Rowling’s manuscript the night he had received it, and it was her response that solidified the deal:

‘She couldn’t stop reading

A deal with Rowling’s agent was then made at a ‘relatively low price’, ending ‘the most significant purchase made in publishing in the last fifty years’. Cunningham laughs, saying

‘I laugh about it now, but, you know, I never would have guessed’.

Jo apparently took some convincing before she believed she was being called by a publisher, and was ‘lost for words’ when the realisation finally hit, after so many rejections. Cunningham says he wasn’t aware of this ‘journey’ she’d been on to finally be published. We’re so glad she never gave up!

J.K. Rowling’s stories have reached millions, whether by page or screen, and we definitely recommend giving this a listen! Cunningham goes on to talk about Rowling’s past, her ‘revolutionary’ proposal of turning Harry Potter into a multi-part series, and the overwhelmingly positive response to the books a year after being published. The episode features readings from Stephen Fry, Rowling herself, and snippets from book releases and fan events. Cunningham said:

‘It was at this point that we realised something was changing in the world of children’s books’.

The age of the Potterheads had arrived.

Witness is a World Service radio programme of the stories of our times told by the people who were there.