On September 12, 2016, Professor Emeritus Dr. Paul Zia sat near the front of Stewart Theatre in the Tally Student Union. Having recently celebrated his 90th birthday, on this afternoon he enjoyed the 15th Annual Paul Zia Distinguished Lecture, a lecture series created in his honor. As several hundred guests arrived, a short film illuminated Dr. Zia’s life and career to a new generation of engineers. Preeminent in research, his work continues to be fundamental to modern design and construction techniques in prestressed concrete.
This year’s event, “Protecting New Orleans – Gulf West Closure Complex” featured John Proskovec and Walter Baumy as they described the monumental engineering and project management challenges that came with developing, designing, and building the world’s largest pump station and one of the nation’s largest navigable floodgates. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway West Closure Complex was conceived in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which wreaked havoc on New Orleans in 2005. Katrina was the 2nd costliest natural disaster, and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.
Mr. Proskovec, Vice President, Kiewit Infrastructure South, served as project director for the construction team that had oversight on several major projects in and around the New Orleans post Katrina. Mr. Proskovec worked closely with Mr. Baumy, who was the Chief of Engineering for the US Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans during Katrina as well as the years during which the Gulf West Closure Complex was developed. The $1 billion project was designed and constructed with a tight schedule of 20 months. Constructing such a facility in close proximity to the largest volume shipping port in the western hemisphere only added to the seemingly insurmountable scale of the project.
“Failure is not an option” was the reality and the motto of the project from the beginning. Until the complex was completed, New Orleans, and hundreds of thousands of its’ residents, remained vulnerable. However, such an aggressive project and schedule required unprecedented cooperation and dedication. Early contractor involvement, a highly skilled local workforce, and constant communication at all levels contributed to the success of the project.
Early on, the team recognized the significance of designing for the appropriate flood levels. Over 62,000 hydrographs were used to account for sea level rise, subsidence, and multiple sources of flooding. The team also relied on redundant systems to protect the city from a flood generated by a storm predicted to occur less than once in a century. The resulting structure is the largest pump station in the world:
- 18,300,000 pounds of rebar
- 121,000 cubic yards of concrete
- 3,100,000 cubic yards of earth work
- Gates weighing 740 tons each
- 9,000,000 gallons per minute of pump capacity
Ultimately, this project represents more than a complex engineering challenge; it is a testament to the ingenuity and resiliency of the human spirit.
In order to continue Dr. Zia’s legacy, the Zia Lecture provides funding for the Paul Zia Student Education Endowment to enhance NC State’s student experience. This year, graduate awards were presented to Diego Aguirre, Payel Chatterjee, and Danny Smyl. Anyone interested in contributing to the Paul Zia Student Education Foundation can do so by contacting Lindsay Smith at NC State: email@example.com.