UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
Aug. 30, 2012—Northeastern Wisconsin is as unlikely a place as any to seek expertise on controlling hurricane related flood damage, but this past week, Kevin Kubiak, of Rhinelander, has played a crucial role in protecting Louisiana from Hurricane Isaac.
Kubiak finished his dual degree in applied physics and civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in May and accepted a position with HESCO Bastion Environmental. HESCO specializes in units that are used to stop floods and environmental damage.
"On Sunday (Aug. 26), we visually inspected a wall of our product that is serving as a backup flood wall along Highway 23 in Plaquemines Parish, La., to the levee on the west side of the west bank of the parish," said Kubiak. "Highway 23 is a crucial shipping and trucking route for the oil rigs which is why the parish tries to keep it open as long as possible."
Following a series of repairs to the existing wall, Kubiak said he and his colleagues turned their attention to assisting with the construction of new flood walls. "We then found out that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was planning on using our product to close a gap in a floodwall across Highway 23 a little further north of us because the floodgate was under construction and had not been completed yet. Starting at midnight on Tuesday we assisted the Corps in constructing the gap closure in the floodwall which also happened to be in Plaquemines Parish."
Kubiak and his colleagues braved the initial onslaught from Hurricane Isaac to monitor the integrity of the walls, but eventually had to take shelter overnight when the full force of the storm reached Plaquemines Parish.
In some respects this storm has been more devastating to Plaquemines Parish than Hurricane Katrina was. "The amount of flooding that has been observed in Plaquemines Parish during this storm is the highest water level in a long time and I truly believe the parish did not foresee this type of surge coming in at all," said Kubiak. "During our last inspection there were many downed trees, telephone poles that had been snapped in half, and house debris everywhere."
Despite the extreme conditions, the work of Kubiak and his colleagues has successfully protected portions of Plaquemines Parish from flooding. "The thing about this wall is it will allow the parish to pump the water off of the roadway and open up the highway faster than if there were no protection which will allow for oil rigs to be up and running again with a minor amount of down time," said Kubiak. "An eight mile stretch stayed dry because of a levee raising project done with our product before Hurricane Gustav."
Kubiak said that the project has led to him earning a new nickname. "My coworker has decided to nickname me "Disaster Magnet" because I am potentially going to get hit by Isaac four times. The first time in Charleston (where Kubiak is now headquartered) by a band that broke off when Isaac was still in the Caribbean, the next two in Louisiana, and the potential fourth back in Charleston if the storm gets pushed back south by the jet stream."
For more information, contact Blake Fry, UWRF special assistant to the chancellor, at 715-425-3711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Dual Degree Program
The dual degree program is a "3-2" program in which students spend approximately three years at UWRF, taking science, math, and general education courses in addition to their first several engineering courses. Students finish their junior and senior engineering courses at the University of Minnesota or the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earning two degrees in about five years: a bachelor's degree in applied physics from UWRF and a bachelor's degree in engineering from the University of Minnesota or the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Photo cutline: Kevin Kubiak (center) directs the closure of a floodwall gap in Plaquemines Parish, La., in the hours prior to the landfall of Hurricane Isaac. Kubiak, from Rhinelander, is a recent graduate in applied physics and civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.