Video provided exclusively to WWL-TV reveals raw sewage has been flowing into Lake Pontchartrain at the city’s Municipal Yacht Harbor for months and efforts to stop it so far have been unsuccessful.
Residents at the boathouses that line the harbor’s edge reported the smell of raw sewage as early as last fall. The boathouses are privately-owned structures built on piers over the lake, and the owners lease the water space from the city.
Residents who managed to float on rafts in the 2-foot space between the surface of the lake and the pipes running under their homes discovered massive holes in the Sewerage & Water Board’s sewer line, which is embedded in a floodwall.
The holes appeared where the residential pipes had once connected to the municipal system. The Municipal Yacht Harbor said rough waves and tropical weather last fall likely ripped the connecting pipes completely off the main sewer line.
But when residents complained to the Sewerage & Water Board, the beleaguered agency initially denied responsibility, boathouse owner Maggie Hadleigh-West said.
“They said they didn’t know anything about anything that was going on and they didn’t know who was responsible,” Hadleigh-West said.
It took Hadleigh-West, a documentary filmmaker, squeezing under her house with a small camera and sending the video to the Municipal Yacht Harbor to finally get the Sewerage & Water Board to perform repairs in February.
Video courtesy Maggie Hadleigh-West
“There are … questions about what pipes are privately owned and which are the Sewerage & Water Board's responsibility,” board spokesman Zach Hudson said. “But because of the conditions created by the leaks, the Sewerage & Water Board decided to move forward with repairs rather than wait to decide who was ultimately responsible to fix the problems.”
But those repairs were inadequate. Hadleigh-West still smelled sewage on Feb. 14 and got back under the boathouses on a raft to record another video. That recording shows slipshod cement patches on the main sewer line and more leaks at those connecting joints and elsewhere along the Sewerage & Water Board’s pipe.
“Whoever did the job obviously didn't have any kind of quality control over what they were doing, because if they had looked to see how their patchwork went, it would have been very obvious it hadn't worked,” she said.
The work was done by Sewerage & Water Board contractor Wallace C. Drennan Inc. Hudson said the company was dealing with difficult conditions and has “progressed through a suite of potential fixes that will ultimately result in a permanent solution.”
“The sewer line at Municipal Yacht Harbor is old, over water rather than underground, and attached to a flood wall,” Hudson said. “During past attempts to make repairs, plumbers have had to pull up decking and work while standing in boats. In short, it's complex to fix.”
But Councilmember Susan Guidry says she’s concerned the Sewerage & Water Board is now having trouble performing even its most basic functions as it struggles to address major systemic problems with its computerized billing system and its drainage and power-plant infrastructure.
“Through the last eight years, it was always, when we said there was a sewage problem the Sewerage & Water Board immediately acted,” Guidry said. “And they're not being able to do that now, and of course that's a health issue for the community.”
Not to mention pollution of the environment.
“You know they spent years cleaning the lake up and now all of these houses, and the Sewerage and Water Board, are polluting the lake further,” Hadleigh-West said.
Guidry also questioned the service provided by the contractor.
“There was a lack of oversight and if it was a contractor, we surely shouldn't be paying them,” Guidry said.
Managers at Wallace C. Drennan could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Hudson didn’t answer questions about whether Wallace C. Drennan was docked any pay for the leaky February repairs or if the Sewerage & Water Board would withhold any future payments as repair work continues.
Hudson did say crews sent a video feed into the sewer line Wednesday, but encountered a blockage that kept them from collecting video along the whole pipe.
“We are now evaluating the situation and planning a path forward to make these repairs,” Hudson said.