The president of the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR), a private nonpartisan organization, wants to know if the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board's (SWB) bid proposals for the so-called privatization of SWB operations "adequately addresses sabotage and other terrorist threats." BGR president Janet R. Howard says she did not get an answer to that question at last week's SWB meeting, but notes the board met in executive session to consider security measures.
In addition, the BGR is again expressing concern over the timetable for the so-called privatization of SWB sewerage and water operations for the next 20 years at a cost of $1 billion. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, potential bidders must now wait up to two weeks for a security clearance by New Orleans Police before reviewing SWB bid specifications. However, the current schedule still calls for the selection of a contractor by Jan. 23. A special committee is scheduled to review the submitted bids from Dec. 22 to Jan. 4 and grade each according to certain criteria set by the SWB.
Joe Puglia, spokesperson for the SWB, says the police security clearance of potential bidders is essential given the "sensitive material" among board requests for proposals and qualifications. "The entire operation of the plant is exposed in these documents and we don't want these documents in the hands of just anyone," Puglia says.
The SWB has at least four storage sites citywide that store deadly chlorine gas. The Board has separate plans in the event of either an accidental chemical leak or a terrorist attack. "We are on the highest alert," Puglia adds.
Mayor Marc Morial, who is also president of the SWB, and Councilman at-large Eddie Sapir both have pushed the privatization process, citing the rising costs of operations. On Sept. 11, however, Sapir, demurred when asked if any of the private bid proposals he has seen reflected preparation for a terrorist attack.
"I really can't answer that," Sapir said, following a city hall news conference called to calm the public. He referred other questions about chemical accidents to the existing "top management" at SWB.