New Orleans City Council approves $34 million drainage budget after August flooding

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

The New Orleans City Council has approved nearly $34 million to cover drainage repair and flood response in the wake of August flooding and systemic failures throughout the Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) and Department of Public Works (DPW). That $34 million includes $22 million for repairs through DPW and $11.9 from the general fund to target drainage and bulk up future flood prevention.

But members of the Council dodged a vote to approve two new appointments to the S&WB without assurance from City Hall that they're qualified, particularly after the last several days of dysfunction.

More than $14 million from bond funding already is budgeted for catch basin and drainage repair. Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration requested $11.9 million from the general fund, including $7.8 million for emergency drainage repairs, $650,000 for alarm systems and warning signals, $3 million for Homeland Security readiness, and $500,000 for a so-called "after-action" report to determine what went wrong throughout the city's S&WB system before, during and after Aug. 5 floods. Landrieu opened a request for proposals for that report Aug. 15.

High water alarms, warning signals and rain gauges will be installed at 12 underpasses, and a Homeland Security budget covers spending for emergency evacuations. If a federal disaster is declared, FEMA can reimburse up to 75 percent of that city spending. If there's no mandatory evacuation, that money would be returned back to the fund balance.

Dani Galloway, serving as DPW director following the departure of Mark Jernigan, also introduced two emergency bid contracts totaling $22 million to assess and repair the city's catch basins.

Under one $7 million contract, crews will assess and clear 15,000 catch basins. (There are 65,000 catch basins in New Orleans.) Contractors will be fined $1,000 every day after 120 days from the beginning of the project for each basin that hasn't been cleared.

Another $13 million contract will cover major and minor repairs over 12 months.
DPW also will seek a new drain-clearing truck ($350,000) and $1.65 million in construction inspection services.

Councilmembers voted to defer two appointments to the S&WB, however, as
City Council President Jason Williams and District B Councilmember LaToya Cantrell criticized the appointment process in light of recently exposed flaws throughout the S&WB. Landrieu's Director of Council Relations Paul Harang warned delaying appointments could stall decision-making measures at the S&WB.

Harang said without those immediate appointments, the S&WB "is in danger of losing quorum" following recent resignations and threats of resignation. "At this point we just need to fill those positions," he said. "That's not something we can do right now. ... We feel they need to be able to continue to operate."

S&WB member Joe Peychaud's term expired last month, and Stacy Horn Koch was appointed to replace Kimberly Thomas, who resigned after the Aug. 5 flood. Their appointments will be brought up by the Council again next week. (Three other members also have resigned and will need to be replaced.) At-Large Councilmember Stacy Head disagreed with the Council's delay.

"We didn't just get into this situation," Williams said. "I'm gonna need to hear from the mayor about how we go forward with governance."

Cantrell clarified that she's not speaking against the appointees, but explained "it’s clear we need people on the board who are knowledgeable about the S&WB and how it works. Accountability needs to be front and center."


City officials say progress slowly is being made to repair the power sources for the S&WB's drainage pump systems, and DPW is beginning to clear a backlog of backed-up drains.

DPW has cleaned and unclogged 393 catch basins since the flooding earlier this month. There still are 6,000 open calls for catch basin and drainage service from residents calling 311. Galloway says DPW is beginning to sift through those calls now.

S&WB's turbine No. 1 is back online after a reported fire had cut off power in the days after the flood. Turbine No. 3 broke down in March, and turbine No. 4 was taken out of service in 2012 for a rebuild — both are expected to turn on in September. Turbine No. 5, which went out in July, is still not scheduled to return to service. The city has backup generators to power stations for additional redundancies. They'll be there through hurricane season.

Sixteen pumps out of 120 are "under maintenance" — that includes nine major pumps and seven smaller "constant-duty" pumps. One pump came back to service Aug. 15.

S&WB stations with "critical maintenance needs" are in Lakeview, City Park, Broadmoor, Algiers and New Orleans East.


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