There are few certainties in New Orleans. But one thing everyone here is sure of is that June first will usher in a new hurricane season. And if the experts are correct, the Gulf of Mexico is warmer than usual and could foster another very active hurricane season.
So imagine the pressure on the Army Corps of Engineers, the entity charged with rebuilding the damaged levee system that protects the city from flood waters. At the same time, the Corps is building new floodgates designed to keep Lake Pontchartrain from pouring into the city during a harsh storm.
The Corps is adamant it will finish its critical work by June 1st. But we talked to a scientist and an engineer who are just as adamant that despite a "valiant" effort the Corps will not have its job completed by the deadline. They say there is just too much to do in too short a time.
Yesterday, I toured a massive construction site at the 17th Street Canal with Col. Lewis Setliff, the man in charge of making sure the Corps meets its deadlines.
Setliff can look you right in the eye and say, "We will be ready by June 1st." He knows the world is watching, and that if New Orleans floods again, many people believe it would become a lost city, never coming anywhere near full recovery.
Setliff points out more that than 90 percent of the workers on the project are local guys who have their livelihood at stake in getting the job done.
He also says that even though the most critical work will be completed by the start of the hurricane season that does not mean construction will end. He says upgrades to levees and canals will continue.
It may seem like a huge contradiction, but Setliff says it isn't: "I think the proof will be in the pudding....At some point our work will get tested by Mother Nature."
Here's hoping that test comes later rather than sooner. The last thing anyone here needs is to find out the hard way that the rebuilt levee system would have been better if only workers had gotten just a little more time.