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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

City Hall issues call for reports on S&WB failures; repair costs hit $35 million

Posted By on Tue, Aug 15, 2017 at 5:45 PM

Flooding near Banks and Carrollton Aug. 5. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • Flooding near Banks and Carrollton Aug. 5.

As New Orleans officials continue daily updates revealing deep dysfunction at the beleaguered Sewerage & Water Board, the city has put out a call for firms to diagnose the issues leading up to and after Aug. 5 flooding. According to FEMA, more than 800 insurance claims have been filed through its National Flood Insurance Program.

The city is requesting proposals from firms to "deliver a report that details in narrative, diagrams and data the causes of the flood events" and failure of its drainage pump-powering turbines, according to an announcement from Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office.

The statement says "the analysis will provide clear and accurate information to the public from an independent source regarding the system’s capacity and vulnerabilities that can be communicated to the public."

Proposals are due Aug. 21.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Sewerage & Water Board turbine repaired after fire

Posted By on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 6:01 PM

Turbine No. 1 was damaged following a fire Aug. 9. - COURTESY CITY OF NEW ORLEANS
  • COURTESY CITY OF NEW ORLEANS
  • Turbine No. 1 was damaged following a fire Aug. 9.
A turbine that supplies power to New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board's drainage pumping stations has been repaired, according to city officials.

The Aug. 9 fire that damaged the turbine was a "small electrical fire," according to Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Director of Communications Tyronne Walker. The fire followed immense public scrutiny over the S&WB's operations before and after flooding on Aug. 5 that damaged homes, cars and businesses throughout the city.

The city has reminded residents to stay vigilant and keep cars on higher ground, as Landrieu emphasized that the drainage pump power capacity still is not sufficient in the event of heavy rains or major storm. The city also has launched Streetwise, a real-time tracking website that pinpoints traffic and flooded areas.
The city also ordered 26 2-megawatt generators to provide redundancy to a system that's now relying on two working turbines out of five. (Three already were down at the time of Aug. 5 flooding.) Twelve generators arrived today, and eight more are expected to arrive tomorrow. The redundancy will remain through 2017's hurricane season, according to the city.

"More analysis on the cause of the electrical fire and repair efforts are underway and will he shared when complete," according to Walker's statement to Gambit. "Future assessments will be critical to understanding the full capacity and redundancy of our water systems."

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New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board needs accountability, transparency

Posted By on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 1:46 PM

A flooded street in Mid-City during the Aug. 5 rainstorm that inundated New Orleans. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • A flooded street in Mid-City during the Aug. 5 rainstorm that inundated New Orleans.

The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) hasn’t come under this much scrutiny in at least a generation. The Aug. 5 rainstorm that flooded several neighborhoods triggered an unprecedented housecleaning at City Hall and at S&WB. Going forward, the shakeup should include a look at the troubled agency itself.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu sacked city public works director Mark Jernigan for not cleaning catch basins in a timely manner (after the City Council allocated $3 million for that purpose). Jernigan’s termination was justified, but the mayor bears responsibility as well. The buck stops at his desk on the issue of catch basins.

As for the S&WB, that agency is a political nation unto itself. It was created by legislative act nearly 120 years ago and remains a strange admixture of state and local law. The mayor chairs its board, but he cannot hire or fire anyone. Thanks to a handful of 2013 “reforms,” he doesn’t even have a free hand in naming board members. He must choose from a short list proffered by a “blue ribbon” committee.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fire at turbine threatens New Orleans drainage pump system

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 10:30 AM

Street flooding in New Orleans Aug. 5. - PHOTO BY WILL COVIELLO
  • PHOTO BY WILL COVIELLO
  • Street flooding in New Orleans Aug. 5.

A fire at a turbine that supplies power to drainage pump stations on New Orleans' East Bank has threatened the city's ability to pump water out, as another round of rain is expected to dump water on the city.

Speaking at an emergency Sewerage & Water Board meeting Aug. 10, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said a "whole army" of people are working on repairs, and he expects the turbine to be back online soon, adding, "I'll believe it when I see it. I'm hopeful."

The fire damaged one of five turbines on which the S&WB relies for its water drainage pumps as well as its water treatment plant. (According to the mayor's office, the city's drinking water is unaffected.) But there already are three other turbines down for repairs — leaving only one working turbine left.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Editorial: A not-so-dry run exposes Sewerage & Water Board ineptitude

Posted By on Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 6:30 PM

Floodwaters rising on Banks Street in Mid-City Aug. 5. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • Floodwaters rising on Banks Street in Mid-City Aug. 5.

When Joe Becker, general superintendent of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, began answering questions from the New Orleans City Council Tuesday (Aug. 8), it was clear the S&WB’s original story about its performance during the Aug. 5 storm was taking on more water than a Lamborghini stranded in Lakeview. Just before the council’s special meeting, S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant announced he would be retiring by the end of the year. “Some parts of our system did not operate as they should have, which is disappointing because it contradicts information that I was given to provide to the public,” Grant said. That was an understatement.

The information referenced by Grant — that all the drainage pumps were in working order during the storm — was contradicted by statistics that councilmembers tweezed out of Becker during the special meeting. Becker floated the equivocal meme that “all the pump stations were working at the capacity they had available to them.” As it turned out, 14 of the system’s 121 pumps were out of commission. A Lakeview pumping station operating at 100 percent of its “available capacity” was actually working at 57 percent of capacity. Other stations reported similar problems.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

14 pumps down during New Orleans floods, according to Sewerage & Water Board officials; Landrieu calls for resignations

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 5:45 PM

A parked Mercedes-Benz floods out in Mid-City Aug. 5. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • A parked Mercedes-Benz floods out in Mid-City Aug. 5.

As streets across New Orleans began to flood after an afternoon deluge Aug. 5, the Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) assured residents that "all pumps were operational."

But at a meeting called by the New Orleans City Council Aug. 8, the S&WB clarified "pump stations were working at the capacity available to them," making the distinction between a drainage system that's working completely and one that is working with what it has, with several pumps offline and waiting for maintenance.

Moments before the meeting began, S&WB director Cedric Grant sent a press release announcing his retirement from the agency and apologizing for the disinformation. "The information I have learned over the last 24 hours indicate that some parts of our system did not operate as they should have, which is disappointing because it contradicts information that I was given to provide to the public," he said. "Our staff was not forthright, which is unacceptable."

At a press conference held as the City Council meeting was still in progress, a frustrated Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced he's also calling for the resignation of S&WB's Joseph Becker and communications director Lisa Martin, as well as Department of Public Works Director Mark Jernigan, who has been under scrutiny twice over the last week in the City Council chambers for the poor conditions of catch basins — and what the agency has done with $3 million set aside for their repairs.

Landrieu said "it was inaccurate" to suggest the city's drainage system was operating at its maximum abilities. He said the S&WB's "obfuscation" with questions from the City Council was "an insult to the public."

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Uptown Messenger report: Mayoral candidate Scurlock suggests Aug. 5 flood is proof 'God is not happy' with New Orleans

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 2:18 PM

Frank Scurlock, mayoral candidate. - FACEBOOK/FRANK SCURLOCK
  • FACEBOOK/FRANK SCURLOCK
  • Frank Scurlock, mayoral candidate.

In an interview with Uptown Messenger
, mayoral candidate Frank Scurlock said that a disrespect for history is “why God has washed and flooded the City twice in 2 weeks. Maybe he is not happy.”:
“It’s not just the monument issue,” Scurlock said. “Quite frankly, when you look at the crime rates, the poverty rates — I just think there’s a higher power that is looking over everything, and he wants people to remove the hate.

“New Orleans East needs a cleansing in itself,” Scurlock said. “There’s hardly anything going right, except the opening of dollar stores.”
Read the whole interview here.


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Sewerage & Water Board head Cedric Grant announces retirement, walks back statement that all pumps were working during Aug. 5 flood

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 1:25 PM

A flooded street in Mid-City during the Aug. 5 rainstorm that inundated the city. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • A flooded street in Mid-City during the Aug. 5 rainstorm that inundated the city.

Cedric Grant, head of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB), issued a statement today walking back initial claims that "all pumps" were operational during the Aug. 5 rainstorm and flood that inundated parts of New Orleans. He added that he will be retiring in the next few months "rather than be a distraction to the hard work of fixing the system."

the information I have learned over the last 24 hours indicate that some parts of our system did not operate as they should have, which is disappointing because it contradicts information that I was given to provide to the public," Grant said in a statement announcing his retirement. "Our staff was not forthright, which is unacceptable."

Yesterday S&WB General Superintendent Joe Becker confirmed to WWL-TV that though all 24 pumping stations were operational, eight of 121 individual pumps were not operating during a storm that dumped more than 9 inches of rain in some parts of town within a few hours. One of those pumps served Mid-City, the hardest-hit neighborhood during the storm.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Edwards, Landrieu, other officials inspect flood damage in Treme

Posted By on Mon, Aug 7, 2017 at 3:37 PM

Gov. John Bel Edwards, center, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu toured a flooding spot in Treme this afternoon.
  • Gov. John Bel Edwards, center, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu toured a flooding spot in Treme this afternoon.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, various state senators and representatives, along with a few City Councilmembers, stopped at Willie Mae's Scotch House in Treme this afternoon to discuss the weekend's flood.

Landrieu, who arrived in town this morning from Aspen, Colorado, where he was attending a security conference, toured the restaurant with owner Kerry Seaton Stewart and did a walk-through of a flooded apartment across the street, where a drum kit and a keyboard were among the things that seemed to have taken on water.

"You never know what Mother Nature is gonna throw at you," Edwards said, adding that the state was still assessing the situation to determine whether formal emergency aid would be requested. "We're not bashful about asking for assistance when it's needed," he added.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

City and state officials announce meetings to address issues from Aug. 5 flood

Posted By on Sun, Aug 6, 2017 at 6:54 PM

A van drives through Mid-City floodwaters Aug. 5. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • A van drives through Mid-City floodwaters Aug. 5.

One day after a drenching flood that seemed to catch people, politicians, pumps and all of New Orleans by surprise, city and state officials announced investigations into municipal response, while Sewerage & Water Board president Cedric Grant insisted, "We are dealing with 8 to 10 inches of rain in three hours. It is not going to be able to pump that in an hour.”

Six members of the New Orleans City Council held a press conference this afternoon to announce a special council meeting for 1 p.m. Tuesday to "express their concerns and pose questions to the Sewerage and Water Board and appropriate City officials," according to a statement from the council.

City Councilwoman At-Large Stacy Head, who has been openly critical of catch basin and utility maintenance in recent weeks, was not at today's meeting and was said to be out of town. Mayor Mitch Landrieu is in Aspen, Colorado, for a security conference, according to Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni, and will be returning to the city Monday.

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