NEW ORLEANS -- Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Wednesday an army of Sewerage & Water Board employees and outside contractors have begun to make a dent in the sprawling infrastructure problems at the agency, which were thrust into the spotlight in recent weeks after heavy rainstorms revealed a drainage system on life support.
Landrieu said during the S&WB’s Board of Directors meeting that one pump at Pumping Station No. 6, the largest of the nearly two-dozen pumping stations around the city, was back online. Another five of the 15 remain offline at the station that straddles the Orleans-Jefferson parish line on the 17th Street Canal.
Despite that progress, the city still remains vulnerable to flooding if another rainstorm, like those that hit the city on Aug. 5 and July 22, dumps a lot of rain in a little time.
Not only are pumps still out of commission, the turbines that generate the electricity to power them also remain crippled.
New Orleans Pump Crisis
One turbine that shut down after an electrical panel overheated last week is back online, the city said late Tuesday, but another three remain broken.
Two turbines, including one that has been broken since 2012, should be back online by Sept. 5, S&WB said. A third turbine that was supposed to be repaired by next week now faces an uncertain date for when it will return to service after engineers found new issues with it.
Meanwhile, outside contractors working at Pumping Station No. 1 on South Broad Street at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard actually broke another pump in the process of trying to fix two pumps that were already under repair. City Hall said the pump the contractors broke has since been repaired.
City Hall did not immediately respond to a question asking what company was responsible for the damage.
In addition to the pump and power problems, the city will be spending an estimated $22 million to clean and repair some 15,000 of the city's 65,000 catch basins. About 3,700 of those will need extensive work.
And, on the manpower front, Landrieu acknowledged that about 290 positions remain open at the Sewerage and Water Board and about 250 people are newly-eligible to retire.
Landrieu said that while the extent of the problem and the exact numbers are becoming known, the fact that there were issues of manpower and infrastructure is not a new one.
"Ultimately, I am responsible and I am going to fix it," he said.
Landrieu also continued to swat down rumors that he intends to privatize the S&WB.
Following a disastrous presentation during a special City Council meeting on Aug. 8, the mayor called on S&WB General Superintendent Joe Becker to be fired. Becker has since announced his retirement.
Five minutes before that council meeting was set to begin, S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant announced he would retire Nov. 30.
Meanwhile, S&WB Deputy Director Bob Miller, whom Landrieu hoped would run the agency at least on an interim basis, announced this week he has accepted a job in Jackson, Miss., leaving a leadership void. Landrieu said he spoke to the mayor of Jackson, who agreed to let Miller stay with the S&WB until Oct. 15.
Landrieu said an emergency team would be installed to run the SW&B until permanent replacements are named, leading some to fear that stopgap measure could become a permanent management change.
“I am not taking any steps to privatize the Sewerage & Water Board,” Landrieu said.
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