1. IN THE WAKE OF THE AUG. 5 FLOOD ...
Heads rolled at City Hall and at the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) after widespread misinformation about broken drainage pumps during and after massive flooding in parts of New Orleans Aug. 5.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu terminated city Public Works Director Mark Jernigan and asked for the resignations of S&WB General Superintendent Joseph Becker and Communications Director Lisa Martin last Tuesday, Aug. 8, in the wake of the flood debacle on Aug. 5. The mayor also accepted the notice of retirement of S&WB Director Cedric Grant, who got the job with Landrieu's backing several years ago and was tasked with turning around the troubled agency.
Jernigan is the only terminated employee who reported directly to the mayor. He had failed to satisfy questions from New Orleans City Council members (twice within a week's time) about the status of the city's catch basins and what his department had done with $3 million earmarked in its budget to clean the basins.
Grant announced his retirement moments before he was set to appear before the City Council Aug. 8, though his departure won't officially happen until after hurricane season. "The information I have learned over the last 24 hours indicates 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 prepared statement. "Our staff was not forthright, which is unacceptable."
S&WB officials assured the public and city officials that all pump stations were "fully operational" during the flood. The agency later revealed that 16 pumps were down, including nine major drainage pumps and seven smaller "constant duty" pumps.
Things got worse Aug. 10, when an overnight fire damaged one of five turbines on which the S&WB relies for its drainage pumps as well as its water treatment plant. There already are three other turbines down for periodic repairs — leaving only one working turbine. A forecast of rain forced the city to cancel public schools Thursday and Friday as the mayor and Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency.
Landrieu is requesting a third-party review of the beleaguered agency and suggested hiring a private management group to take over S&WB operations.
2. Quote of the week
"I thought we were on a witch hunt — and we found witches." — District E City Councilman James Gray, expressing disbelief at the testimony of New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) General Superintendent Joseph Becker before the council Aug. 8. Before the meeting had concluded, Mayor Mitch Landrieu held a press conference asking for the resignation of Becker and other S&WB officials.
3. NOAA upgrades chances of a busy hurricane season
Last week, as New Orleanians attempted to dry out from the Aug. 5 flood, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) increased the chances of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, predicting 14 to 19 named storms and saying the season "could be the most active since 2010." The six named storms that had formed by early August were double the number of an average season, with three named storms forming by the end of June.
4. Morrell to hold meeting on hurricane preparedness
State Sen. J.P. Morrell will hold a town hall at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 17 to discuss state hurricane preparedness and the status of flood control structures. Representatives from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and Southeast Flood Protection Authority-East (SLPA-E) will be on hand, and there will be an hour for attendees to ask questions starting at 6:30 p.m. Also invited: reps from the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It takes place in the atrium of the New Orleans Lakefront Airport (6001 Stars and Stripes Blvd.).
5. Flooding gets big play
in national media
Local tourism officials no doubt reached for the antacids Aug. 10, when The Washington Post's widely read daily newsletter First Reads led with the dramatic headline "Can New Orleans Be Saved?"
Those who clicked through got a mostly well-researched story, which delineated the problems and failures leading to the Aug. 5 flood. "The aftermath has thrown the New Orleans government and its municipal water and sewage authority into turmoil, reviving longstanding concerns that natural disasters here have been made worse by inconsistent leadership," the story concluded.
6. Transit study: New streetcars do 'nothing
to increase jobs access'
Only 11 percent of people who rely on public transit in New Orleans are able to reach their jobs within 30 minutes, according to a new report from transit advocacy group Ride New Orleans. The group revealed in its 2017 State of Transit in New Orleans report that the much-celebrated Loyola and Rampart streetcar lines also "did nothing to increase jobs access" and prevented residents living along those lines from reaching more than 1,000 jobs within a half hour.
By comparison, residents with cars are able to reach 86 percent of the region's jobs within 30 minutes. The report also notes that low- or no-additional-cost network changes such as the Regional Transit Authority's reconnection of the No. 15 Freret and No. 28 MLK bus lines to Canal Street — rather than Union Passenger Terminal — had allowed access to more than 5,000 jobs within 30 minutes.
"We have a regional economy but a transit system that stops at the parish line," Ride New Orleans Director Alex Posorske said in a statement. "If we want to make a big difference in access to jobs, we need to break down that invisible wall."
7. Blue Bike-you
Blue Bikes will debut across New Orleans this fall as part of a citywide bike rental program that brings 700 bikes to 70 locations. Last week, city officials revealed the program's title sponsor will be Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. The bikes are provided by bike share vendor Social Bicycles. The program is funded entirely through sponsorships, ads and rental fees, according to the city.
The city previewed the new system as it prepared for NBA All-Star Weekend and gathered input from residents who attended six public meetings and took surveys about the program's plans.
Beginning this fall, the bikes will be available 24 hours a day at kiosks throughout the city. Riders will have to download a smartphone app and start an account to access the bikes. A monthly pass is $15, which covers up to one hour of riding a day. The city also will offer a pass for low-income riders at $1.67 a month ($20 a year). There also is a "pay-as-you-go" rate for $8 per hour of use.
8. Speaking of 'rainy days'
New Orleans voters will determine the fate of a "rainy day" fund requested by Mayor Mitch Landrieu for the city's 2018 budget. The fund is set to be used only in the event of emergencies that threaten loss of life or property, or as approved by the New Orleans City Council following an "economic downturn of serious proportions," or as mandated by the federal government. The fund, which requires voter approval of a City Charter amendment, would comprise at least 5 percent of the city's annual budget, and it can only be tapped via a two-thirds vote of council members.
The City Council agreed to put the measure on the Nov. 18 ballot.
9. Mayoral candidate
Scurlock cleared of charges
Mayoral candidate Frank Scurlock, who was arrested in May on a misdemeanor charge at the site of the former Jefferson Davis monument in Mid-City, was cleared of those charges last week by Municipal Court Judge Donald Johnson, who called the case "a total waste of time." Scurlock also made waves in an Uptown Messenger interview in which he suggested God's displeasure with New Orleans was the cause of the recent floods. "I don't want to call it judgment," Scurlock said. "I'd call it a wake-up call, because there was so much going wrong." He also said he saw a pattern in which parts of the city flooded, saying the tornadoes that struck New Orleans East in February mostly destroyed "prostitution hotels." He added, "New Orleans East needs a cleansing in itself."
10. Ponderosa Stomp
The biannual Ponderosa Stomp has released its nightly lineup of acts for the October music festival, which this year moves to the Orpheum Theater in downtown New Orleans.
Friday, Oct. 6 will feature Roky Erickson performing with 13th Floor Elevators; The Gories; Archie Bell; Barbara Lynn; a swamp pop revue with G.G. Shinn, Warren Storm and TK Hulin; Lil' Buck Sinegal and the Top Cats; and others. Saturday, Oct. 7 will bring The Mummies; Gary U.S. Bonds; Don Bryant and The Bo-Keys; Evie Sands; Los Straitjackets; a honky-tonk revue featuring Frankie Miller, Darrell McCall and James Hand; and more.
Performing both nights: Rockabilly/western revivalists Deke Dickerson and the Ecco-Fonics, along with Austin, Texas-based garage rockers Eve and the Exiles.
A music history conference will be held at the Ace Hotel Oct. 5-6, along with a record show in the hotel Oct. 6-7. The kickoff "Hip Drop" DJ party will be held at d.b.a. Oct. 5 ($5 admission).
Festival passes are $180 and admit bearers to the music history seminars and both nights of shows. Tickets to the two nights of concerts are $128 plus fees, and there are single-night tickets available for $70 plus fees.